As the music industry continues to explore ways of addressing longstanding racial inequality, the Recording Academy is partnering with civil rights nonprofit Color of Change for a series of new initiatives, atop a $1 million donation to the organization, the two organizations announced on Tuesday.
Color of Change will work with the Grammys’ parent organization on several diversity-based initiatives. It will help the Academy create a black music advisory group, which aims to get more black voters into the Academy, as well as develop a diversity summit for the music industry and tackle legislative issues. Color of Change will also help create the Academy’s inclusion rider, which will set internal diversity goals for the music group and give the organization a plan for how to implement the changes. Valeisha Butterfield Jones, the Academy’s recently appointed chief diversity officer, tells Rolling Stone that this rider will be completed in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Butterfield Jones and Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. are both thinking critically “about how this organization that’s 63 years old can be more diverse and inclusive,” she says. “A part of that is [figuring out] how we strengthen our relationship with the black music community, which is of course a cornerstone of all music worldwide. It’s about having honest and transparent conversations about where we’ve been, but more importantly where we’re headed. We want to build with everyone.”
The new music advisory group, which is still in early stages, aims to address a longstanding criticism about who’s casting votes for the Grammy Awards each year. Over the years, critics have accused the Academy of being biased and insular in its voting process — and particularly when it comes to black artists and black music industry employees. Butterfield Jones says the purpose of this new group is to increase awareness about who is eligible to vote and reiterate the importance of voting so that ballots represent a more diverse voter pool. (The Academy membership currently totals into the thousands, but the voting process is distinct from the process of becoming a member.)
Before Butterfield Jones was hired into the new role earlier this year, the Recording Academy housed multiple diversity-related controversies in a row — one due to former CEO Neil Portnow commenting that women needed to “step up” in the industry, which led to his departure from his post in 2019, and another one more recently when the Academy placed Deborah Dugan, its Portnow replacement, on leave earlier this year right before the annual awards show; Dugan subsequently filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, detailing multiple allegations of organizational misconduct, along with sexual assault allegations against Portnow and Academy general counsel Joel Katz.
Portnow and Katz denied the allegations, and the Academy has repeatedly defended its voting process — but has acknowledged it needs more transparency. Butterfield Jones echoed that sentiment.
“It’s a lot of excitement, but we have a clear understanding that the community is asking us for action. That means increased transparency,” Butterfield Jones says. “With the recent rulebook announcement, we feel that we’ve started to take some really bold steps as an organization to be more transparent about our rules and our practices. Transparency is definitely something we’re hearing a lot of feedback about.”
The Academy is still searching for its next full-time CEO; Harvey Mason Jr. has held the interim post since Dugan’s ouster at the beginning of the year. Butterfield Jones, who is on the committee for the CEO search, says the Academy will be looking through a diverse slate of candidates, and that the CEO will be announced sometime in the first quarter of 2021, around the Grammy Award ceremony, which is currently scheduled for January 31st, 2021.
Today’s projects aren’t the first diversity-related shift the Academy has recently announced. In June, the Academy renamed the Grammy Award for “Urban Contemporary Album” to “Progressive R&B.”