On Wednesday night, at the Recording Academy’s Grammys on the Hill Awards in Washington, D.C., members of Congress from both parties came together — onstage at least.
More than a dozen lawmakers from both parties sang backup for Wynonna Judd, who good-naturedly teased them for not knowing the words to her 1992 hit “No One Else on Earth.” Later in the evening, Blues Traveler frontman John Popper jammed on harmonica with Keith Urban, who accepted the Recording Artists Coalition Award for his work promoting music education programs.
The lighthearted performances had a serious purpose: supporting policies and legislation that would help the music community, from copyright reform to arts funding. On Thursday (April 6), performers, producers and songwriters met with legislators and their aides on Capitol Hill to drive their message home.
Grammys on the Hill is an annual event, but this year it brings creators to Washington, D.C. at a time when Congress is considering a range of important issues — the future of the Copyright Office, royalties for terrestrial radio play of recordings, and the most ambitious copyright reform in two generations.
“There’s momentum that suggests this is a unique moment in history to make change,” Daryl Friedman, the Recording Academy’s chief advocacy and industry relations officer, told Billboard before the event. “So we’re meeting with the upper echelons of both parties, since these are bipartisan issues.”
Creators themselves came out in force. John Popper opened the Grammys on the Hill Awards ceremony with a harmonica rendition of the national anthem, Martina McBride hosted the event and attendees included William Bell, Kara DioGuardi, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, blues singer Bobby Rush and former 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell. (The creators who attended had won 40 Grammys between them.) Television composer Jonathan Wolff spoke about the importance of compensating creators, as well as how he came up with the pops-and-snaps soundtrack to Seinfeld. Aside from the performances, the biggest applause went to comments about why musicians should be paid when their songs are played on radio, and several expressions of support to maintain funding for the NEA.
Urban spoke about the work he was being honored for: supporting music education in schools. “My involvement is specific to music education,” Urban told Billboard before the show. “What I like about talking here is that it allows for a broader perception of the impact of music in schools. I don’t want to say that all schools must do this. It’s complicated. All I ask is that it not be seen as a fringe issue.”
Many comments, from Urban’s about music education, to comments about the president’s proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, touched on the future of music as both a business and an art form. “These artists want to make sure that the next generation can have successful careers,” Friedman told Billboard. “The artist community is waking up, and they want changes.”