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The Recording Academy Made History Electing Tammy Hurt as Chair

Recording Academy Logo
Courtesy of The Recording Academy

After she follows Harvey Mason Jr. in the role, this marks the first time in academy history that back-to-back chairs have been people other than white men.

At each year's Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy distributes a program book to attendees. It's mostly devoted to nominees and special merit honorees, but it also includes a full page of head shots of past chairs of the academy’s board of trustees. The list goes all the way back to James B. Conkling, who was acting national chairman from the academy’s founding in 1957 to 1961. The joke among Grammy insiders is that it’s a sea of white men until you get to Leslie Ann Jones, who served as chairwoman from 1999–2001.

That isn’t quite true. The roster of past chairs includes Nesuhi Ertegun (1964-65), a Turkish-American who was born in Istanbul when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, and George Avakian (1966-67), an Armenian-American who was born in present-day Russia.

But if it isn’t literally true, it sure feels true, as you can see on page 131 of this year’s program book.

But things are changing in the Recording Academy, just as they are in America. The announcement on Wednesday (June 2) that Tammy Hurt has been elected to succeed Harvey Mason Jr. as chair marks the first time in academy history that back-to-back chairs have been people other than white men.

Jones, the first woman to serve as chair, was followed in that post by three white men: Garth Fundis (2001-2003), Daniel Carlin (2003-2005) and Terry Lickona (2005-2007).

Jimmy Jam, the first Black man to serve as chair (2007-2009) was followed by a white man, George J. Flanigen IV, who served a double term (2009-2013).

Christine Albert, the second woman to serve as chair (2013-2015), was followed by a white man, John Poppo, who also served a double term (2015-2019). Poppo was followed by Mason and now Hurt.

The changes go beyond just the chair role. As Billboard reported, for the first time in academy history, no white men were elected to any of the four key board positions. Two Black men, Rico Love and Om'Mas Keith, were elected vice chair and secretary/treasurer, respectively. Albert continues as chair emeritus.

The academy didn’t call attention to these history-making moves in its press announcement. Nor did Mason, who was named the academy’s president/CEO last month. They preferred to let the moves speak for themselves.

"I'm in awe of the amazingly talented group that's been elected to lead this new era of the Academy and really excited at the possibilities as I start this journey with Tammy, Rico, Om'Mas, and Christine," said Mason in a statement. "I know this group is going to do great work as we continue to transform the Academy and support the music community."