The Recording Academy, the group behind the Grammy Awards, has announced that president/CEO Neil Portnow is exiting in mid- 2019. He had been the Recording Academy chief since 2002, and he will assist in finding his successor. The announcement comes after a series of controversies involving Portnow, including accusations that he mishandled funds and was insensitive to diversity issues. The resulting diversity and inclusion task force created by the Recording Academy includes several artists, such as Sheryl Crow, Common, Cam, Andra Day and Jimmy Jam.
In addition to the Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy funds several other music-oriented endeavors such as the MusiCares charity and the Grammy Museum. The 2018 Grammy Awards (held Jan. 28 at New York's Madison Square Garden) was embroiled in some controversy because the overwhelming majority of this year's nominees and winners were male, which led to the social-media hashtag #GrammysSoMale. Portnow came under fire when he said in a post-Grammy Awards press conference that women in the industry needed to "step up" in order for them to have a better chance of getting Grammy recognition. He later made a public apology, but in reaction to the controversial comments, several prominent female executives in the music industry signed an open letter demanding that Portnow resigns from the Recording Academy. On social media, P!nk, Katy Perry and Crow also criticized Portnow's "step up" comments. As a result of the controversy, Portnow said that the Recording Academy would be forming a task force aimed at increasing diversity in the Recording Academy and other areas of the music industry.
On May 23, Variety reported that former MusiCares vice president Dana Tomarken sent a letter to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees accusing Portnow of taking money from MusiCares in order to make up for a deficit from this year’s Grammy telecast. Tomarken also alleges that Portnow brokered a deal to hold the annual MusiCares Person of the Year event at the 6,000-capacity Radio City Music Hall instead of the 19,000-capacity Barclays Center, which reduced the fund-raising potential for the event. According to Variety, the 2018 MusiCares Person of the Year event (which honored Fleetwood Mac) raised $1 million, compared to the $5 million that the event raised in 2017 when it honored Tom Petty and was held at the 21,000-capacity Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In a statement announcing his Recording Academy exit, Portnow commented: "The evolution of industries, institutions, and organizations is ultimately the key to their relevance, longevity, and success. Having been a member of the Recording Academy for four decades, serving as an elected leader and our President/CEO, I have not only witnessed our evolution but proudly contributed significantly to the Academy's growth and stature in the world. When I had the honor of being selected to lead this great organization in 2002, I vowed that on my watch, for the first time in our history, we would have a thoughtful, well-planned, and collegial transition. With a little more than a year remaining on my current contract, I've decided that this is an appropriate time to deliver on that promise. Accordingly, I'll be working with our Board to put the various elements in place that will ensure transparency, best practices, and the Academy's ability to find the very best, brightest, and qualified leadership to take us into our seventh decade of operation. I truly look forward to continuing my role leading the Academy in the year ahead, and to continuing the pursuit of excellence and the fine missions we embrace and deliver."
Prior to being named the head of the Recording Academy, Portnow was vice president of the West Coast division of Jive Records.
The Recording Academy says that the members of its diversity task force are volunteers who are not paid by the Recording Academy and are not board members of the Recording Academy. In March, Recording Academy appointed Tina Tchen (Michelle Obama's former chief of staff) to chair the task force. Here are the volunteer members of the task force:
- Stephanie Alexa, vice president of finance and licensing administration, ATO Records
- Michele Anthony, executive vice president and executive management board member, Universal Music Group
- Cam, Grammy-nominated artist
- Common, Grammy-winning artist
- Sheryl Crow, Grammy-winning artist
- Andra Day, Grammy-nominated artist
- Giselle Fernandez, award-winning television journalist
- Jimmy Jam, Grammy-winning artist
- Beth Laird, CEO and co-owner, Creative Nation
- Debra Lee, former chairman and CEO, BET Networks
- Rebeca Leon, co-founder and CEO, Lionfish Entertainment
- Elizabeth Matthews, CEO, ASCAP
- Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
- Ty Stiklorius, founder and CEO, Friends At Work
- Julie Swidler, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel, Sony Music
- Dean Wilson, CEO, SEVEN20