Since Recording Academy CEO/president Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 16, Board of Trustees chair Harvey Mason Jr. has been leading the organization. In his first public action as interim president/CEO, on Monday (Jan. 20), Mason issued a statement to members of the Recording Academy addressing the news surrounding Dugan’s suspension ahead of the Jan. 26 Grammy Awards.
“I’m deeply disturbed and saddened by the ‘leaks’ and misinformation, which are fueling a press campaign designed to create leverage against the Academy for personal gain,” Mason wrote. “As GRAMMY week is upon us, I truly hope we can focus our attention on the artists who’ve received nominations and deserve to be celebrated at this time of the year, and not give credence to unsubstantiated attacks on the Academy. To do otherwise is just not right.”
Though Mason is now managing damage control for the Academy, by trade he is a well-known producer and songwriter with credits working for iconic artists including Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. He is also a producer on the forthcoming Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson and acts as executive music supervisor for the new NBC show Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
Son of noted jazz drummer Harvey Mason of the group Fourplay, Mason grew up around music. But basketball became a passion that he followed to the University of Arizona from 1986-1990, playing in the 1988 Final Four. Later, he began working as a songwriter and record producer, with early works including the song “Truthfully,” which was produced for Brandy‘s 1998 album Never Say Never, and Tyrese?’s 2001 single “I Like Them Girls” with Damon Thomas and others. Mason and Thomas began working together steadily as The Underdogs with tracks for Omarion, B2K, Chris Brown and others, including the Dreamgirls soundtrack.
Since then, Mason has also worked on film productions including the Pitch Perfect franchise, Straight Outta Compton, SING, Shrek and live TV including The Wiz Live! and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.
In Mason’s letter, he notes that he and Dugan “were in sync about taking a fresh look at everything and making any and all changes necessary to improve the Academy as well as making it more current and relevant to the creative community we serve.” But he goes on to note “abusive work environment complaints” alleged against Dugan in November 2019 and a letter sent by an attorney representing a staff member — understood to be director of administration Claudine Little — detailing “serious allegations of a ‘toxic and intolerable’ and ‘abusive and bullying’ environment” that Dugan created towards staff. After this, he says, the executive committee launched an independent investigation into Dugan’s alleged misconduct.
Then, Mason continues to claim, Dugan made allegations against the Academy, and her attorney informed the executive committee that she would “withdraw” her allegations and resign from her role, if the Academy paid her “millions of dollars.” (Billboard has learned the total amount was $22 million.) After that, Dugan was placed on administrative leave while the Academy completes its investigations.
“I encourage anyone who is truly interested to go beyond the sensational sound bites and teaser headlines and look at what the Academy actually does and how it functions,” Mason’s letter continues. “Don’t buy into headlines generated for personal gain but seek the truth as I am doing. As I mentioned we have initiated two independent investigations to explore all claims and present objective findings. My pledge to you is that I will address the findings of these investigations fairly and honestly and work to make needed repairs and changes while ensuring we have an Academy that honors diversity, inclusion and a safe work environment for all concerned.”
Read his full letter to members here.