Should music majors be concerned by the decision to significantly alter the Grammy Awards? The 2011 decision by he National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), Grammys’ governing body, eliminates or collapses 31 of the award categories. Those categories include traditional minority music and other less commercial, American-rooted forms: American Indian, Latin Jazz, various Blues and R&B categories, Contemporary Jazz, Gospel, Cajun/Zydeco, Hawaiian, Gospel (you can see the list for yourself by visiting the NARAS website). In addition, gender-based award categories have been collapsed into a single “Best” category.
You can read plenty on the Internet and decide for yourself whether NARAS’ decision is appropriate (eliminated categories tend to be represented by independent labels, and many are minority-related). You’ll find outcries from artists such as Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, Peter Escovedo, Bobby Matos, Michel Camilo, Terrance Simien, and Bobby Sanabria, most of whom are Grammy winners themselves. And you’ll see that Grammy winner Mark Levine, a composer, bandleader, pianist, trombonist, educator and author, has gone so far as to return his Grammy medals and reject a lifetime membership in NARAS.
Why should prospective and current music majors be concerned?
For 54 years, the Grammys have represented success in American music the way the Academy Awards have done so for film. While any of us can argue that winning a Grammy is only one of many marks of success, they certainly inspire and ignite passion and commitment on the part of musicians, aspiring musicians, and audiences alike. Audience decisions in the form of music and concert purchases are often based on the outcome of these awards. Limiting the categories reduces the opportunities for not only the number of musicians able to win but also for the discovery of those lesser-known but equally talented. It also prevents new audiences from learning about musical genres they might otherwise never know about.
You who are young musicians today will be tomorrow’s musical giants. Think about the world of music you want to live and work in and promote. Take action to protect that vision.