Recording Academy fires president/CEO Deborah Dugan; she files EEOC complaint alleging rape and wrongful termination

January 21, 2020

by Colleen McGregor

The Recording Academy’s ouster of its first female president/CEO, Deborah Dugan (after she was on the job for only five months), has resulted in Dugan filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint with some bombshell allegations, including accusations that top-ranking officials engaged in sexual abuse/harassment and corruption. The Recording Academy (the organization behind the Grammy Awards) announced Dugan’s “administrative leave” ouster on January 16, 2019, and her complaint was filed on January 21, 2020. In the complaint, Dugan alleges that she heard from a Recording Academy employee that Neil Portnow, who was the Recording Academy’s president/CEO from 2002 to 2019, raped an unnamed female artist after the artist performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The artist is only described as a Recording Academy member who’s not from the United States. The year this alleged incident occurred was not included in the complaint.

The complaint also alleges that several unnamed people in the Recording Academy knew that Portnow engaged in sexual misconduct with other women, who are also unnamed. Dugan further claims that Recording Academy executive attorney Neil Fox sexually harassed Dugan by trying to forcibly kiss her and repeatedly calling her “baby.” Dugan’s other allegations are that the Recording Academy engages in corruption in the Grammy voting process and that certain board members overspend and abuse the Recording Academy’s funding.

According to the complaint, the alleged rape was the real reason why the Recording Academy announced in May 2018 that Portnow would be stepping down from the position. After the Grammy Awards in January 2018, Portnow received extensive criticism for saying in a post-Grammys press conference that female artists and producers needed to “step up” if they wanted to be nominated for and win more Grammys. The overwhelming majority of nominees and winners at the 2018 Grammys were men, as are the majority of the Recording Academy’s voting members. Portnow later made a public apology for the “step up” comment, and the Recording Academy formed the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, consisting primarily of women and people of color. Prior to Portnow announcing his resignation, Portnow was accused of mishandling Recording Academy funds for the 2018 MusiCares event. He denied the allegations.

After a year-long search for Portnow’s successor, Dugan was appointed to the Recording Academy’s CEO position, and her official start date was August 1, 2019. According to Showbiz 411, Portnow’s former executive assistant Claudine Little was preparing to file a lawsuit against Duggan for creating an abusive work environment. Unnamed sources also told Showbiz 411 that Dugan’s management style was arrogant, dismissive and not well-received by longtime staffers and board members. Meanwhile, other unnamed sources told Variety that Dugan was forced out by a coup from Recording Academy board members who feared they would lose their positions and perks after Dugan did an audit of the Recording Academy’s finances and was planning to make sweeping changes.

Until a permanent replacement has been announced, Recording Academy board chair Harvey Mason Jr. has been appointed interim president/CEO of the Recording Academy. On January 20, 2020, Mason issued a statement to the Recording Academy’s membership. In the statement, Mason revealed that in November 2019, allegations began that Dugan was creating a hostile and toxic work environment. According to Mason’s statement, the Recording Academy launched two separate, independent investigations, and Dugan “was placed on administrative leave as we complete both of these ongoing investigations.”

Meanwhile, Public Enemy co-founder Chuck D posted an open letter on his Instagram account, in which he expressed support for Dugan. Chuck D commented in the statement: “I salute Deborah Dugan for her truth and courage to try and effect change. As always, a bunch of ignorant, testosterone-fueled, usually old white men stop progress.”

Dugan, a former Wall Street attorney, has held executive positions in various areas of the entertainment industry, including executive VP of EMI Record Group; president of Disney Publishing Worldwide; and president/CEO of the British broadcaster Entertainment Rights. Prior to joining the Recording Academy, Dugan was CEO of (RED), the nonprofit co-founded in 2006 by U2 singer Bono and attorney/activist Bobby Shriver. Dugan also served as senior adviser to the Tribeca Enterprises Board and headed legal services for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

Her attorneys Doug Wigdor and Michael Willeman issued this statement on January 21, 2020: “The complaint that we filed today against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammys) highlights tactics reminiscent of those deployed by individuals defending Harvey Weinstein.  As we allege, the attempt by the Recording Academy to impugn the character of Deborah Dugan is a transparent effort to shift the focus away from its own unlawful activity. This blatant form of retaliation in corporate America is all too common, even post #MeToo, and we will utilize all lawful means necessary to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”

The statement continues, “As alleged, from the very beginning of her employment as the Recording Academy’s first female CEO and President, Ms. Dugan complained about and attempted to remedy the lack of diversity, sexual harassment and other improprieties at the Academy (which were gender based), including egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members, voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards and other misconduct. In response to her complaints, as alleged, the Academy unlawfully retaliated against Ms. Dugan by placing her on administrative leave (only after she indicated her intent to commence legal action and refused to settle her claims on terms dictated by the Academy), threatening Ms. Dugan with termination and publishing false and defamatory statements about Ms. Dugan to the media.  Moreover, as of just yesterday, as alleged, the Academy’s interim CEO and President, Harvey Mason Jr., penned and published a false, retaliatory and defamatory letter designed to ‘get out in front’ of this Charge and further destroy Ms. Dugan’s reputation.”

During all of this controversy, the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony is set to take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 26, 2020. CBS will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will be hosted by Alicia Keys for the second year in a row. It will be the last Grammy Awards executive produced by Ken Ehrlich, who served as executive producer of the Grammys for the past 40 years. Ehrlich, who will still work in television, will be replaced as Grammy Awards show executive producer by Ben Winston, who also executive produces the CBS talk show “The Late, Late Show With James Corden.” Corden hosted the Grammy Awards in 2017 and 2018.

UPDATE: Portnow and Fox have publicly denied all the allegations made against them in Dugan’s complaint.

2019 Grammy Awards: Alicia Keys is hosting the show

January 15, 2019

by Carla Hay

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys (Photo by Trae Patton/NBC)

Alicia Keys is set to host the 61st Grammy Awards, which will take place at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on February 10, 2019.  CBS will have the U.S. telecast of the show. It will be the first time that Keys, who has won 15 Grammys, will host the show. She is also an actress and is a coach on NBC’s “The Voice.” She hosted the Soul Train Music Awards in 2004. James Corden hosted the Grammy Awards in 2017 and 2018.

In a statement, Keys said: “I know what it feels like to be on that stage, and I’m going to bring that vibe and energy. I’m so excited to be the master of ceremonies on the biggest night in music and celebrate the creativity, power and, magic. I’m especially excited for all the incredible women nominated this year! It’s going up on February 10!”

Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow added, “A dynamic artist with the rare combination of groundbreaking talent and passion for her craft, Alicia Keys is the perfect choice as host for our show. Throughout her exciting career, I have watched her become a powerful force within the music industry and beyond. As an artist who speaks to the power of music for good, a role model, and a spokesperson for change, we are thrilled to have her on board for what’s sure to be an unforgettable GRAMMY Awards.”

Grammy Awards executive producer Ken Ehrlich commented: “Alicia is one of those rare artists who meld true musical genius with heartfelt emotional lyrics to create a unique approach to everything she does. We have no doubt that she’ll bring all of that as she guides millions of GRAMMY viewers through what we believe will be a very special show in February.”

Keys won her first five Grammys for her 2001 debut album, “Songs in A Minor.” She has sold 30 million records worldwide, according to Sony Music.

Recording Academy announces exit of Neil Portnow after controversies over diversity, MusiCares

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.


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.

For more information about the Academy, please visit For breaking news and exclusive content, follow @RecordingAcad on Twitter, “like” Recording Academy on Facebook, and join the Recording Academy’s social communities on InstagramTumblr, and YouTube.

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