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Elimination of Grammy Categories

By Gergana Miteva

This year the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (The Recording Academy) granted far fewer Grammy Awards than those awarded in previous years. The 54th annual Grammy Awards were reduced and consolidated from 109 to 78 awards within their respective core genres of R&B, American roots music, classical, Latin, jazz, country, pop and rock. (See a full list of consolidated awards here: http://www.grammy.org/recording-academy/announcement/category-list) The overall effect of the restructuring was to eliminate the separate male and female soloist awards, lump together collaborative works with group works, and solo performances with instrumental solo performances, as well as combine sub-genres into broader genre awards.

In its letter to its members announcing the restructuring, the Recording Academy cited as one of the reasons to reduce awards was to make each category more competitive, since it had experienced "consistently low entries over the past several years in many categories." Among the 31 eliminated awards was the Best Latin Jazz Album category, which sparked a class action lawsuit against the Recording Academy soon after it announced the consolidation. In his complaint, well-known Latin jazz percussionist Robert (Bobby) Sanabria and three other notable Latin jazz recording artists, charged, among other claims, the Recording Academy with breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty owed to members of the Recording Academy, and asked the court to reinstate the Best Latin Jazz Album category. The musicians describe this category as having granted "the long-overdue recognition to the highly-regarded artistic work of musicians who blended the improvisationary leaning of jazz with the native music and cultures of the Caribbean and Central and South America." (See complaint, available at: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/fbem/DocumentDisplayServlet?documentId=OmzvfJBEeIvKr7VdrnkQMQ==&system=prod) This category was originally introduced in 1994 and its first recipient was Arturo Sandoval, a renowned jazz trumpeter and composer. (http://www.grammy.com/nominees/search?page=2&artist=&title=&year=All&genre=16)

Among the plaintiffs' main grievances against the Recording Academy is the manner in which it chose to carry out the restructuring. They accuse it of not engaging its members in the process, of not keeping them informed, as well as of not using consistent criteria in evaluating the award categories, and as a result making the process discriminatory. Further, the plaintiffs allude to the detrimental effect the elimination of the category would have on their careers and on their chances of ever getting a Grammy, thus depriving them of a "meaningful opportunity to gain broad exposure of their music to the general public..." and devaluing past nomination recognitions they have received in the eliminated category. (See complaint: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/fbem/DocumentDisplayServlet?documentId=OmzvfJBEeIvKr7VdrnkQMQ==&system=prod)

Last week New York State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Oing granted the Recording Academy's motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit without issuing an opinion. The Recording Academy welcomed the judge's dismissal of the case and announced that they anticipate to make some "individual tweaks and adjustments" to the 2013 Grammy Awards during their meeting in late May, but they will not alter the overall award restructuring. (http://www.goldderby.com/forum/topics/view/2217#). Bobby Sanabria has already expressed his intention to appeal, however this may be a battle better fought in the court of public opinion, rather than in the court of law. While the law may not be coming down on Mr. Sanabaria's side, numerous prominent musicians and activists, such as Carlos Santana and Rev. Jessie Jackson have supported the lawsuit and have strongly criticized the consolidation as diminishing the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Grammy Awards. (http://allhiphop.com/2012/02/03/mordr-cornel-west-jesse-jackson-join-fight-against-grammys-over-eliminated-categories/)

It is very possible that artists previously eligible for the eliminated categories would be negatively affected and might be marginalized as a result, but this is not necessarily the case. Musicians who were once eligible in both an eliminated subcategory and a broader category only competed in the narrower category, which may also have marginalized them because they were not considered for the generic categories. These musicians will now have the opportunity to be nominated in the broader, and arguably more competitive and prestigious categories, which may serve as an even stronger boost for their careers. This said, eliminating awards for music sub-genres which traditionally do not enjoy commercial success but carry powerful artistic and cultural value, could very well have deprived certain artists of their last venue of global public exposure.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 3, 2012 5:08 PM.

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