May 31, 2018
by Mary Gardner
Neil Portnow, the president/CEO of the Recording Academy since 2002, will be leaving the company sometime in 2019. According to a Recording Academy Press release, Portnow will be involved in the Recording Academy’s leadership transition by helping choose the person who will replace him. The Recording Academy is the organization behind the Grammy Awards, the MusiCares charity and the Grammy Museum.
Portnow has been embroiled in controversy since the beginning of 2018. At the 2018 Grammy Awards on January 28, the Recording Academy received a lot of criticism on social media and elsewhere because the majority of the Grammy nominees and winners were male. The hashtag #GrammysSoMale began trending during and after the award show. When asked about the Grammy gender disparity in a press conference held after the Grammys, Portnow said that women needed to “step up” in their talent and motivation in order to have better standing in the industry. Several female artists (such as Pink, Katy Perry and Sheryl Crow) and high-ranking executives expressed outrage at Portnow, who later said that his words were taken out of context and he didn’t intend to offend anyone. Still, some of those who were offended signed an open letter demanding that Portnow resign from the Recording Academy.
The Recording Academy then formed a task force whose goal is to improve diversity and inclusion in the music industry. The mostly female volunteer task force includes a mixture of artists (such as Crow, Common and Andra Day) and executives. But within a few weeks after announcing who was on the task force, Portnow faced another controversy over MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s charity for people in the music industry. Variety reported that former MusiCares VP Dana Tomarken has accused Portnow of unethically using MusiCares funds to cover a financial deficit caused by the 2018 Grammy Awards and making a venue choice for the MusicCares Person of the Year that significantly decreased the funds that the event could raise.
Here is the full Recording Academy press release about Neil Portnow’s exit:
The Recording Academy™ announced today that President/CEO Neil Portnow will begin preparing for a leadership transition after choosing not to seek an extension on his current contract, which expires in July 2019. Portnow shared his plans at the Recording Academy’s semi-annual Board of Trustees meeting last week. Throughout the next year, Portnow will work with the Board to chart out an organizational succession and transition plan, while continuing his current work as active President/CEO of the Recording Academy and MusiCares®, and Chair of the Board of the GRAMMY Museum®.
“The evolution of industries, institutions, and organizations is ultimately the key to their relevance, longevity, and success,” said Portnow. “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.”
Portnow, who, prior to serving as President/CEO, served on the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees, is largely credited with strengthening the Recording Academy’s financial health and brand.
“Since taking the helm in 2002, Neil has been instrumental in evolving the Recording Academy to address the needs of our creative community in a changing music landscape,” said John Poppo, Chair of the Board. “From critically-important music advocacy initiatives and financial assistance for our music community, to the music education and preservation programs of the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY Music Education Coalition, Neil has not only advanced the Academy’s mission, he’s extended its reach and impact. The Board and I are indebted to Neil for his years of heartful stewardship and visionary leadership. And, as we thank him for all he’s done, we also look forward to finding the right person to build on our solid foundation as the Recording Academy continues its work to ensure that music and the recording arts remain a thriving part of our cultural heritage.”
Key milestones achieved under Portnow’s 16-year tenure include:
- The Recording Academy established advocacy as a hallmark of its Washington, D.C., office, giving music creators a voice on Capitol Hill, and stressing the need to update federal music laws, especially in the wake of the digital music revolution. Last month, after 15 years of advocacy work, and on the heels of the organization’s GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards and Advocacy Day, the Music Modernization Act, which helps bring copyright laws and artist protection into the 21st century, was passed in the House of Representatives and introduced in the Senate.
- As the Recording Academy’s leading charity, MusiCares provided more than $5.9 million to 7,900 members of the music industry in the last fiscal year alone—the largest number of clients served and dollars distributed in a single year in the charity’s history—and anticipates it will provide $6.3 million to nearly 9,000 members of the music industry this fiscal year, again reaching new milestones. Since its inception in 1989, MusiCares has distributed approximately $60 million to music people in need. During Portnow’s tenure, MusiCares provided relief efforts to the music community impacted by Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, and the recent natural disasters in Florida, Puerto Rico, and California.
- As a part of Portnow’s vision of preserving, crafting, and sharing music stories with people around the world, and amplifying the Recording Academy’s already robust, innovative, and impactful music education programs for youth, the Recording Academy established the first GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles in 2008. The Museum has since expanded its presence domestically and internationally.
- Portnow oversaw a landmark 10-year broadcast deal with CBS to keep the show—one of television’s major entertainment events, ranking as one of the highest-rated and most-watched specials—on CBS through 2026.
- In addition to presiding over the GRAMMY Awards®, Portnow expanded the Recording Academy’s telecast portfolio, more than tripling the organization’s television footprint, with a number of new specials, including GRAMMY Salutes to Elton John, the Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, and Whitney Houston, as well as the PBS “Great Performances” series honoring GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and Special Merit Award recipients.
- In 2017, the GRAMMY Music Education Coalition united more than 30 of the nation’s most forward-thinking music education organizations with the goal of increasing the number of youth actively participating in creating, playing, and performing music in U.S. public schools.
- After 58 years of traditional balloting, the GRAMMY Awards successfully moved to an online voting platform.
Portnow is the longest serving President in the Recording Academy’s 60-year history.
ABOUT THE RECORDING ACADEMY®
The Recording Academy represents the voices of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and all music professionals. Dedicated to ensuring the recording arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, the Academy honors music’s history while investing in its future through the GRAMMY Museum®, advocates on behalf of music creators, supports music people in times of need through MusiCares®, and celebrates artistic excellence through the GRAMMY Awards®—music’s only peer-recognized accolade and highest achievement. As the world’s leading society of music professionals, we work year-round to foster a more inspiring world for creators.
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