The campaign to reinstitute all 31 Grammy categories
May 22nd’s press conference at the Nuyorican Poets Café in NYC was energized by the presence of some of the world’s greatest musicians. Accusations of cultural genocide, ignorance, greed – and a plea to save the Grammy’s from itself – specifically, by recanting the recent action of the NARAS Board to eliminate 31 Grammy categories.
The eliminated categories include not only Latin Jazz, Native American, Zydeco and Polka – but approximately one third of American music. The panelists perceived the decision by NARAS to be racist, destructive, divisive and shortsighted.
As Randy Klein, President of Jazzheads Records, pianist, composer, 4-time EMMY winner, stated, “This illiterate travesty means that the music of Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Puente, Gillespie, Don Ho, Joe Falcon, Nicolas Daskalou, Hart Wand, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are on the verge of being eliminated from musical history according to the very wise executives of NARAS.”
With the always eloquent drummer, composer, bandleader, educator and four-time Grammy nominee *Bobby Sanabria at the helm, the press conference brought together producers, independent label owners, writers and music lovers – and members of the press – to participate in a live broadcast on WBAI Radio, introduced by Ibrahim Gonzalez.
The panel included Larry Harlow, David Armram, Arturo O’Farrill, René Lopez, Cándido Camero, Ned Sublette, Ricky Gordon, T.J. English, Chris Washburne, Ramón Ponce. Jochem Becher, Ivan Acosta, Randy Klein, Jackie Harris, Mercedes Ellington, Ben Lapidus, Brenda Feliciano, Jackie Harris, Brian Lynch, and Ileana Palmieri,reading an eloquent statement on behalf of her father, Eddie Palmieri. Those I didn’t personally see in attendance but who also added their names to the list of supporters, included Jimmy Sturr, Pat and Ettore Phillips, and Rachel Z.
Although by and large representing the Latino community, the panel made a point of protesting the elimination of all 31 categories. Sanabria began his statement with a quote from Frank Sinatra made at the first Grammy awards in 1959 “Remember ladies and gentleman, it’s about excellence, not popularity” – and, referencing the once-esteemed organization’s mandate that demands cultural diversity –Sanabria stressed that instead of consulting the leaders of these important music genres, NARAS chose – in secret, behind closed doors, and without notice or consult with the Board of Governors or the membership – to eliminate the categories, 70% of which represent indigenous forms and people of color.
NARAS presented its decision as a fait accompli – which panelists viewed as a snub to the rich cultural diversity of these United States. Shocked and insulted by the NARAS decision, panelists saw it as part of a dangerous and calculated trend of commercialism, profits before people, and the consolidation of power into the hands of the few.
Mr. Sanabria spoke of the resurgence of the study of Latin jazz by today’s youth and sited the astounding musicianship of these young lions who he and other panelists mentor. By eliminating these categories, panelists expressed concern that today’s students are in essence being told that their music and the cultures they represent are unimportant and that they will have no future in the music industry.
Randy Klein, further stated, “The young generations of today are being cheated by NARAS by their decision to erase, eliminate, delete and expunge these musical categories. This younger generation will not feel or experience this music because it will not even be mentioned as a lower third running across the screen of the Grammy TV broadcast.”
Panelists repeatedly emphasized the longevity and historical significance of the music in these categories as compared to the flash-in-the-pan popularity of most popular music. They pointed out that this very same music that has been cut has served and continues to serve as inspiration for the “pop” music that now appears to be taking up all of NARAS’ time, attention and financial investment. Mr. Sanabria also pointed out the absurdity of timing in choosing to cut out categories for Latin music when Latinos represent the fastest rising population in the United States. He also sent a warning out to all jazz musicians that their category will probably be next on the chopping block.
The group demanded the resignation of Neil Portnow, President of NARAS, the Board of Trustees, members of the top echelon of the organization, as well as calling for a boycott of CBS and all the Grammy sponsors.
The panel sent a call out to current NARAS membership to stand with them by agreeing to cancel their current memberships and not renew if all of the canceled categories are not reinstated. Mr. Sanabria also urged the NARAS Board of Governors to stand up and demand across-the board-reinstatement. NARAS members and the general public are encouraged to send a loud and clear message to by signing the petition at this link: Petition to Reinstate Latin Jazz Grammy:
And by sending NARAS President Neil Portnow a personal email demanding the reinstatement of all 31 categories at Neil@grammy.com
Mercedes Ellington, Executive Director, Essentially Ellington Festival and the daughter of Duke Ellington, noted that music is one of the US’s largest exports, and that the very music the Grammy Board wants to cut from its list is represented by musicians who act as US ambassadors worldwide.
Mr. Sanabria expressed his frustration with the lack of “celebrity” artists who have spoken out publically against NARAS’ decision and sited the statements made by Carlos Santana
Rubén Blades (whose statement Mr. Sanabria read at the press conference) as two exceptions. Mr. Sanabria specifically bemoaned the lack of support by Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Esperanza Spalding and the entire Board of LARAS (The Latin Recording Academy) who have all, to this date, remained silent.
Those in attendance chuckled when it was noted that the US Postal Service seems “hipper” than the so-called “musical experts” at NARAS when it saw fit to acknowledge Tito Puente by creating a stamp in his honor. However, the biggest laugh of the afternoon was elicited when 90+ year old Phoebe Jacobs, Luis Armstrong’s former manager, told the packed house at the Nuyorican, “The Grammy’s can kiss my ass!” She also called out to President Obama to get involved in the issue. Although equally as angered by the NARAS decision, most panelists called for the reinstatement of categories, and did want to walk away from the institution, preferring to invigorate the Academy rather than let the organization whither and die.
Getting down to brass tacks, Joachim Becker, president of ZOHO Music, stated: “Let me be frank and blunt here: Artists and indie labels know that the smaller, craft-and tradition-oriented categories like Classical, Latin Jazz, zydeco etc (as opposed to the hype, marketing dollars and sex appeal-based categories dominated by the major labels) require respect and a bit of a protective fence to flourish alongside the overwhelming competition of the majors.
If we don’t get this protection, we are going to be trampled to death in the larger generic categories into which we have been merged.”
Others noted that while another award to Beyoncé would not make much difference to her already overwhelmingly successful career, a Grammy nomination or award enables most working musicians in these categories to simply stay alive and earn a living doing what they do best.
Grammy winner, pianist, bandleader, educator Arturo O’Farrill, read a powerful and radical **statement. He warned the Academy, “Notice is being served, your days are numbered. Your corporate lap dance is coming to an end… Real music played by actual human beings, on actual instruments, composed by actual composers, arranged by actual arrangers, sung by real singers will not be denied!”
Ileana Palmieri, concluded the statement read on behalf of her father Eddie Palmieri, the Legendary pianist, 9-time Grammy winner and former NARAS Board of Governors member, and the man responsible for getting Latin Jazz recognized as a category, stating: “These cuts have discredited our historical importance and a source of cultural pride for so very many … some have suggested doing their own independent show in reaction, I can empathize where they are coming from, however, I do not believe that we can become legitimate or effective through segregation … I do not believe in musical apartheid.”
I urge you to support the reinstating of all musical categories. Please see the links below for more information, updates and how you can become involved.
* Full disclosure: I represented Bobby Sanabria as his manager via my artist booking and management agency, ZAMO!, for a five year period, including during the recording, release and nomination for his first Grammy for the album entitled “Afro-Cuban Dream … Live & In Clave!!!.”
To hear the entire WBAI Radio broadcast
– scroll down to Sunday, May 22, 2011 1:00 pm
To get an historical sense of how this decision came about, see
For important information and updates go to:
** Scroll down for the entire statement by Arturo O’Farrill.
Statement by Brian Lynch: “THE LATIN JAZZ GRAMMY TRAVESTY“:
Petition to Reinstate Latin Jazz Grammy: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/latinjazzatthegrammys/signatures
Judith Z. Miller, AKA Artist Soul Speaks
This is Not About a Worthless Little Statue
By Arturo O’Farrill
This is not about a worthless little statue. It’s about solidarity. It’s about standing up to the Neil Portnows of the world. The backroom bullies who think that money is more important than people. They think that no ones going to notice that they line their pockets with cash by selling the American people down the river. It’s about saying to corporate America, CBS, Sony, Warner, and for that matter Chase, Goldman Sachs and the like, that all the thievery they think they do in secret, is ugly, obvious and shameful.
They think that Art is useless because it doesn’t generate billions. They think they have fooled the young people of America with their mediocrity. They think they have won because they can sell young Latinos and African Americans visions of shit they’ll never have. Bentleys, cognac, Piles of cash and gyrating scantily clad women. As if those are important things to desire They have no shame because they think we don’t notice the absolute lack of musical, moral or intellectual value of the crap they sell, or the trinkets they accumulate or the backroom, ole boy backslaps they think they do in secret.
Well notice is being served. Your days are numbered. Your corporate lap dance is coming to an end. The record companies are dying! Hallelujah! The people are not stupid, just lulled to sleep by your lack of relevance. Real music, played by actual human beings on actual instruments, composed by actual composers, arranged by actual arrangers, sung by real singers will not be denied.
If the academy insists on going with your flawed leadership, if the injustice of these decisions, made in secret by a select gang of business people and supposed artists, then the academy no longer represents excellence. Let it be known that the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences no longer represents the highest artistic integrity of the recording arts in America. Let it be know that the Grammy is for sale to the highest bidder. Let it be know that even though our “straight ahead” brethren made no stink about it their category is next. Let it be know that a new and substantially more important organization needs to be created. One that cares about the original vision of the Academy founders.
I admonish Academy members throughout the world to demand that the integrity of our organization be restored. That the flawed leadership of our president and his executive committees be called to task for insulting legions of dedicated artists. These decisions must be rescinded immediately or I am calling on Academy members to tear up their membership cards, put their gold plated tschotkes in a closet and stop aligning themselves with an organization that recognizes excellence only in commerce.
For the soul of our nation, for the humanity of all people, we demand that artists in stand up to the corporate shills and refuse, refuse to sell our children and their children to the industry. Pick up an instrument. Practice on one. Buy a trumpet for a young person, or a guitar or vocal lessons. Stop feeding the machine which lies to you everyday. Demand better of yourself and your leadership. Do it now! It is the single most important issue we face. Say no to Mr. Portnow, say no to the academy, say no to the machine.
And finally, the 800 pound gorilla. No one has spoken of racism but one glaring fact remains. The fastest growing demographic in American history has been categorically denied by these buffoons. In the past few months several of our heroes were honored by the US postal service. One of whom received several Grammy awards for the very category whose cut we are protesting today. Does anyone out there see the huge irony of Tito Puente being recognized by the US postal service as a group of his so called artistic peers disses him. Can it be that the US postal service is hipper than the academy. More socially conscious, more in tune with the times and the realities of our ever changing nation. Or is it obvious that the Academy has finally revealed itself for what it is, a simple commercial device, controlled by commerce and it’s soulless mercenary leadership.
I pray that I am wrong. I pray that good sense, and gentlemanly fairness will prevail. I pray that aesthetic vibrancy, cultural relevancy and a love of integrity and sacrifice will emerge. If not then I call on every National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Member to resign and put an end to this travesty. Let it die, it ain’t making the money it sold its soul for anyway.