Under Fire: Recording Academy Interim Chief Harvey Mason Details Steps Towards Diversity & Inclusivity

Harvey Mason Jr.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy Harvey Mason Jr. speaks onstage at the GRAMMY Nominations Press Conference at CBS Studios on Nov. 20, 2019 in New York City. 

The memo comes after Sean 'Diddy' Combs declares 'Black Music has never been respected by the Grammys'

The morning after Sean “Diddy” Combs admonished the Recording Academy to “get this shit together” at Saturday night’s (Jan. 25) Clive Davis and Recording Academy’s Pre-Grammy Gala, the 25,000 members of the organization woke to a missive from interim CEO and board chair Harvey Mason Jr. detailing specific steps to become more inclusive and diverse.

In the memo released Sunday (Jan. 26) of the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, songwriter/producer Mason announced five initiatives, many of them based on recommendations from the Tina Tchen-led Diversity Task Force, including a commitment to hire a diversity and inclusion officer within the next 90 days, the establishment of an Academy-funded fellowship devoted to independent review and reporting on the Academy’s inclusionary efforts and  the the creation of a fund distributed annually to different “women in music” organizations.

“Six months ago, when I put my hat in the ring to be your Chair, I did so because I believed that the Academy could do better-- could be better,” Mason wrote in the opening of the letter. “The music we create has always reflected the best of ourselves and our world. But what was true of music has historically not been true of the music business as a whole. Too often, or industry and Academy have alienated some of our own artists -- in particular, through a lack of diversity that, in many cases, results in a culture that leans towards exclusion rather than inclusion.” 

Mason, who wrote the memo Saturday but did not release until Sunday, added that since taking the post, he was “fortunate to be building on courageous and inspiring work. Artists -- especially women and artists of color -- had long begun demanding transparency and taking on our traditional power structures. They have fond allies across the industry who believe that we can do better and have joined the fight for change.”

The Recording Academy Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion responded to Mason's memo with the following: "While the work of the Task Force was originally intended to end with the release of our report, we are committed to see real and lasting change urgently implemented at the Recording Academy. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with the leadership at the Academy to urgently enact reforms that will last, including those outlined this morning by Board Chair Harvey Mason, Jr., which are a first step toward this renewed effort."

The letter comes after a terrible 10 days for the Recording Academy that started Jan. 16 when it announced the organization’s board has placed CEO/president Deborah Dugan on administrative leave after accusing her of misconduct toward a female staffer. 

Dugan fired back with a 44-page scorched-earth Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that called the Recording Academy a “boys club” so entrenched in its way of thinking that she was not allowed to move the organization forward, despite its allegedly “corrupt” Grammy voting procedures beset with conflicts of interest. She also lobbed a sexual harassment allegation against the organization’s general counsel, Joel Katz; accused the Recording Academy of paying “exorbitant” legal fees to Katz’s firm, Greenberg Traurig, and another firm, Proskauer Rose; and brought to light an allegation of rape -- investigated and dismissed by the board -- filed against her predecessor, Neil Portnow. Katz denies Dugan’s allegations and Portnow called that allegations “ludicrous and untrue.” 

On Thursday (Jan. 19), the Tchen-led Task Force issued its own blistering statement calling for the organization to “immediately commit themselves to real reform, take concrete steps to implement all of the Task Force reforms, and transparently and regularly report on their progress -- including transparently reporting on the pending investigations they have announced are underway.”

The Task Force was established in early 2018 after Portnow said backstage following the 2018 Grammy Awards that female artists needed to “step up” if they wanted to win more Grammys. 

Read Mason’s message is in full below: 

Six months ago, when I put my hat in the ring to be your Chair, I did so because I believed that the Academy could do better – could be better. The music we create has always reflected the best of ourselves and our world. But what was true of music has historically not been true of the music business as a whole. Too often, our industry and Academy have alienated some of our own artists – in particular, through a lack of diversity that, in many cases, results in a culture that leans towards exclusion rather than inclusion.

The Academy is recognized for our excellence. We are a leader. And being a leader means taking responsibility even when it feels like the problems at hand are bigger than us.

This is hard. Some might feel that responsibility is unfair, while others might feel it’s not going far enough. But in the end, we must take on this work. Because it’s the right thing to do.

I ran for this position because, as a music creator, I wanted to help bring this organization in line with the values I know this community shares. I asked for your trust – and your help – as we continue to push the Academy towards a place where everyone is valued, respected, and included. That’s the Academy that we – artists and fans alike – deserve.

In entering this role six months ago, I was fortunate to be building on courageous and inspiring work. Artists – especially women and artists of color – had long begun demanding transparency and taking on our traditional power structure. They have found allies across the industry who believe that we can do better and have joined the fight for change.

In February 2018, we empowered a Diversity Task Force, led by Tina Tchen and made up of distinguished individuals from outside the Academy, to take a hard, independent look at our organization specifically and the music industry as a whole. They detailed the ways in which we were falling short, and laid out 18 recommendations for change.

Since I took office, we as an organization have agreed to 17 of those 18 recommendations. I know some will feel that we’re not doing enough fast enough. I understand the urgency. For me personally, and for this organization, these immediate steps are a continuation of our ongoing work.

But it’s not enough to pledge ourselves to change. We must take action. There is no excuse for waiting, especially when so many of our members have been tirelessly advocating for a bold new direction for so long.

That’s why I’m proud to announce these new initiatives, initiatives developed in partnership with the Diversity Task Force and other champions of change. They include the following:

  1. The Academy will hire a dedicated Diversity & Inclusion Officer. This person will be hired within the next 90 days.
  2. We will establish a fellowship, funded by the Academy, that will be responsible for independent review and reporting of the progress of the Academy's Diversity & Inclusion efforts. This will be in place within 120 days.
  3. We will create a fund to be distributed annually to different “women in music” organizations that will be managed by the D&I Officer. This will go into effect immediately.
  4. The Academy will recommit to meeting all 18 of the Task Force Recommendations as outlined in the full report and in a manner that will endure, with the caveat that we will have a deeper exploration, along with the Task Force into voting processes for the GRAMMYS.
  5. We are committing to meet with the Task Force to review our progress on these as well as the rest of their eighteen initiatives. This first meeting will happen in 45 days. There will be subsequent follow ups to review progress.

 

It’s been a challenging week for our Academy family. I’ve heard from many of you who feel betrayed and hurt by the untruths being spread about our motives and actions, the integrity of our process and the artists who've rightfully earned their GRAMMY Nominations, and the reminders of the hard truths we do have to face as a community. We can all be proud that we are recommitting ourselves to transparency, to independent investigations, and to following the facts wherever they lead. And I want to thank the incredible Academy team that, through it all, work day and night, from staff, artist support services, member relations, chapter leaders, MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum and Foundation, and to those putting on a spectacular show and the week’s events.

The movement to ensure that the Academy – and the music business – is truly representative of artists and their audiences has been going on for a long time. And that struggle will continue, not just for women and people of color, but for members of the LGBTQ+ community, for artists struggling to make ends meet, for those suffering from addiction or mental health challenges, for people of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds, and for groups we may not even recognize today. As a leading voice in the industry, we have an obligation to be on the frontlines of that change. To build a system that continuously evolves with our changing society – a system where every artist, no matter who they are, feels welcomed and supported. That’s what it will take to not just survive but thrive in an industry that’s transforming as quickly as ours.

This won’t be easy. But here’s the thing: I know we can do this together. Because that’s what we have always done. We are collaborators. After all, as a peer-based community, the Academy truly represents music at its best. It has always reflected the very artists who grapple with the issues that shape our times, and push society to live up to our ideals. That’s what it means to be a part of this extraordinary community of artists – people with integrity, people with passion, and people who, above all, are committed to music and its possibilities.

Tonight, many of our colleagues will take the stage on Music’s Biggest Night, be honored by their community of peers and thank the Academy. On behalf of the Academy, I’d like to thank them. Thank you for the authenticity you bring to your craft, the dignity with which you carry yourselves, and the love you show to each other and our world.

I look forward to working side by side with you to continue building an Academy that reflects the best in us, and honors the incredible artists who lift us up every day.

Respectfully Yours,

Harvey Mason Jr

2020 Grammy Awards

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