The academy named six honorary chairs – three multi-Grammy-winning artists (John Legend, Jimmy Jam and Quincy Jones) and three veteran executives (Debra Lee, Sylvia Rhone and Jeffrey Harleston). Jam and Lee previously served together on the Recording Academy’s diversity and inclusion task force.
Legend has been critical of Grammy voting patterns. Asked by Entertainment Weekly this summer about Diddy’s blunt comments in January -- at a high-profile Grammy event -- about how Black music doesn’t get its due at the annual Grammy Awards, Legend replied: “It’s almost impossible for a Black artist to win album of the year. It's like, how many years do we have to see Beyoncé getting snubbed? Kanye [West] has never won album of the year. It’s kind of insane, actually…We’ve got to do something, because that’s a terrible record, and Diddy is right to complain about it.”
The Academy has been aggressively addressing the issue in recent years. Now Legend, who recently became a trustee of the Recording Academy, is lending his name to the effort.
“The Black Music Collective is necessary to help drive the Recording Academy into a new era,” Harvey Mason Jr., chair and interim president/CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement. “Creating an open space for Black music creators can only benefit our membership as a whole. Through the past few months, I’ve been personally invested in propelling this collective along with chapter leadership within the Academy. Together, we will elevate Black music creators within our organization and the industry at large.”
Valeisha Butterfield Jones, who on May 11 became the academy’s first chief diversity & inclusion officer, said in a statement: “As Black music continues to drive culture, it is essential we grow and maintain representation within the Academy and the music industry. We’re thrilled to help develop the leaders of tomorrow with impactful educational and experiential programs that we will announce in coming weeks.”
A leadership committee will be confirmed in the coming weeks and will work with the six honorary chairs to propel the collective’s mission. Leaders will meet regularly and initiate programs to encourage participation and boost Black membership in the Recording Academy. Riggs Morales, a Recording Academy trustee (elected by the New York chapter’s board of governors), and Jeriel Johnson, executive director for the Washington, D.C. chapter, will lead the initiative internally.
In March 2018, the Recording Academy established a diversity & inclusion task force to examine these and other related issues, both within the Academy and in the broader music community. Since Dec. 12, 2019, when the task force announced its recommendations, the Academy has taken action on a variety of fronts. Recent initiatives included the hiring of its first chief diversity & inclusion officer, a $1 million donation to and partnership with Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, alignment with #TheShowMustBePaused movement created by music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang and the development of an industry inclusion rider and toolkit to be released later this year.
Here are thumbnail sketches of the six honorary chairs announced today:
John Legend: Legend, 41, is an 11-time Grammy winner—and an EGOT, to boot. He was elected this year to the Recording Academy's 40-member board of trustees.
Jimmy Jam: Jam, 61, is a five-time Grammy-winner. He and his partner Terry Lewis received 11 Grammy nominations for producer of the year, non-classical from 1986-2005—still the record for the most nods in that category. Jam was the first Black chair of the trustees, a position he held from 2007-09. (Mason is the second.)
Quincy Jones: Jones, 87, has won 28 Grammys, more than any other non-classical musician (and more than any other living artist, from any genre). He won album of the year twice, as co-producer of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983) and as an artist on his own Back on the Block (1990) album. Jones is the only person to win Grammys in six different decades (the ‘60s through the ‘10s).
Debra Lee: Lee, 66, was the chairman and CEO of BET, the parent company for Black Entertainment Television, from 2005-18. She was presented with the ultimate icon award at the 2018 BET Awards in recognition of her contributions.
Sylvia Rhone: Rhone, 68, is the chair and CEO of Epic Records. Rhone has held senior positions at all three major record companies, and was the first woman to be named CEO of a major record label owned by a Fortune 500 company.
Jeffrey Harleston: Harleston, 59, is general counsel and executive vice president of business & legal affairs for Universal Music Group worldwide. Harleston is a key member of the senior executive team and responsible for overseeing all business transactions, contracts, and litigation related to UMG’s operations.