The inaugural Grammy Week event hosted by the Black Music Collective, a newly launched initiative by the Recording Academy, was held Wednesday evening. The online event was a celebration of Black creators’ and professionals’ countless contributions to the music industry.
Harvey Mason, Jr., chair and interim president/CEO of the Recording Academy, and Valeisha Butterfield Jones, the Academy’s chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer, started the program by detailing the launch of the Black Music Collective before giving way to the performers and speakers.
The event featured performances by H.E.R., who sang “I Can’t Breathe,” a Grammy nominee for song of the year; Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, who performed a song from Alfredo, which is Grammy-nominated for best rap album; and P.J. Morton and Yolanda Adams, who performed Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic “What’s Going On.”
Some of the industry’s top executives spoke briefly about the importance of the Black Music Collective and goals and accomplishments made in the culture of Black music. These leaders included Grammy-winning producers Quincy Jones and Jimmy Jam; Debra Lee, former chairman and CEO of BET Networks; Jeriel Johnson, Black Music Collective executive sponsor; and Riggs Morales, Black Music Collective chair and Atlantic Records executive.
The panelists had lengthy discussions regarding their roles in Black music and how the landscape of social justice is looking in modern times. Jimmy Jam said, “I think the Black Music Collective is a great place to have conversations and for those people, the music community is important to them, the Black community is important to them, and those intersections are important to them. To me, this is a time where we have a bit of time to maybe pause a little bit, maybe take a little more time to figure out what’s important. What’s important is maybe finding our commonalities.”
Lee added: “I think music has always been a reflection of our times. Music helped to integrate our industry and our world. Black musicians and artists who came along early on had to break the racial injustice that they encountered. Even today, hip-hop and other forms of music are telling the stories of our time.”
Singer and philanthropist John Legend had a heartfelt conversation with social justice leader and activist Tameka Mallory about the current civil rights/social justice movement. The discussion centered on the effects of the artists and the music that is the soundtrack for the people involved in the movement.
“Glory,” which Legend and Common co-wrote for Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film Selma, was cited as prime example. The song, which won an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe, continues to resonate with people working for change.
As Mallory told Legend, “We borrowed ‘Glory,’ but we really stole it! We played it everywhere … We were walking down the street blasting ‘Glory.’ That became, really, the soundtrack for the movement — not just of 2020, but, obviously, it’s been years.”
The discussion also touched on defunding the police, community efforts, making sure people of color are getting the help needed to survive and the collaborative efforts between activists and artists.
Mallory stated, “We have to be conscious to find small grass-roots groups that have small budgets, may not be flashy, but doing real serious work.”
This panel involved three powerful women — actor, writer and producer Issa Rae, eight-time Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe and Academy executive Jones — discussing getting through this pandemic and how they are utilizing their talent to stay relevant and impactful.
Monáe talked about initially being told no and that with the music she was doing, people would not “get it” and having to move forward using that as inspiration to succeed through the independent route. She also discussed becoming involved in politics after seeing an election “stolen” from Stacey Abrams, who lost a close race for governor of Georgia in 2018. Monáe used that as inspiration to help Abrams and the movement flip the state of Georgia in the 2020 general election.
Rae discussed how her “weirdness” and feeding off others’ energy propelled her to become successful. She also talked about having to finish the work that she had been doing with Insecure and other projects she worked on during the pandemic.
The 63rd annual Grammy Awards will air live on Sunday (March 14) at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS, Paramount+ and Grammy.com. Online viewers can also stream CBS with free trials on fuboTV and Sling TV. (Billboard may receive affiliate commission through links on our site.)