More than a dozen musicians, community leaders and supporters dropped off a thick stack of documents on Thursday (Feb. 9) with a reported 23,000 signatures at the Recording Academy headquarters as part of an ongoing effort to compel the organization into reinstating 31 categories that were eliminated last year.
The protesting group, comprised mostly of Latin jazz musicians, are also planning to protest the Grammy Awards show on Sunday outside the Staples Center and will later have their own showcase at Mama Juana's nightclub in Studio City at 4 p.m. in an effort to spread the word that their fight is not over.
Grammy-winning Oscar Hernandez, a member of National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) for 10 years, said that the decision to eliminate the categories was a huge mistake that affects the livelihood of many musicians.
"I have respect for what NARAS does and I believe in the process," Hernandez said. "But I feel that in this particular case they have made a big mistake in their decision. I'm not calling it racist, but I think it's more of an economic decision on their part. Sometimes you have to do the inconvenient thing at the expense of having to do the right thing."
A few month's after last year's announcement to eliminate the categories, which affects several genres, four Latin jazz musicians-Ben Lapidus, Mark Levine, Eugene Marlow and Bobby Sanabria-filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court in New York on Aug. 2, indicating that they are severely being harmed by the elimination of their category in a breach by NARAS' "contractual obligations" and that the elimination of Latin jazz causes "irreparable injury to the members of the Recording Academy." They are not seeking compensation.
At Thursday's press conference the group received support from members of Latino advocacy groups including presente.org and the National Hispanic Media Coalition's Inez Gonzalez, the organization's executive vice president.
"Under President Neil Portnow's leadership, NARAS has failed in its mission to honor, propagate and nurture all forms of American born music and to educate the general public about all genres, not giving preference to one over the other," Gonzalez said. "This action not only reduces diversity on the Grammys show, but most importantly it negatively impacts the musicians' careers."
Earlier this week, during an interview with Billboard.biz, Portnow said that he understands that some people will disagree with the changes that NARAS makes every year, but stressed that the Recording Academy has worked extensively to include the feedback from members across the country in conversations about new directions that the organization takes each year.
"We're an open organization where anybody can be a member and join and have a voice and be part of the process," Portnow said. "We prefer those that work with us. "For those who take a hard line with lawsuits and protests, that's their choice. It wouldn't be my preference as a way to work together."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said he was concerned about cuts and sent Portnow a letter over the elimination of categories that went from 109 to 78, changes that included the end of gender-based categories in pop, R&B, rock and country. The Academy also eliminated separate awards for male or female vocals instead having an award in each genre for a single "solo performance."
The protesting group asked a member of NARAS' security team on Thursday whether they could walk the box full of signatures into the organization's building, but instead the employee walked the signatures in and said that they would be delivered to Portnow.
Protesters said that they are hoping that NARAS responds with the reinstatement of all categories or that they would continue rallying.