Business

A Letter From Recording Academy Chair Harvey Mason Jr.

Host Alicia Keys at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Host Alicia Keys at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards.

The chairman and interim CEO on the importance of supporting musicians through a time of hardship.

When life is at its most challenging, we’ve always turned to music to find the words for what we’re feeling, for a call to action, for a soundtrack to our times.

Millions of civil rights activists joined Nina Simone in wishing they knew how it felt to be free. Joan Baez made us believe that we would overcome. Kendrick Lamar wrapped the joy and pain of Black America into a reminder that we gon’ be alright.

Such challenges also affect the music industry. The year 2020 has upended all of our lives — but music creators have been hit especially hard. And through it all — a global pandemic, systemic racism, loss of income, the inability to connect and perform in person — creators are doing what we’ve always done: adapting, changing, collaborating and reflecting in our work the new world forming around us.

At the Recording Academy, our urgent mission is to do the same.

In the past year, we began a transformational journey to be better and do more — not just for the industry we’re proud to serve but also for the world we want to live in. And now, at this moment of transition, we have a chance to further take stock of how we’ve fallen short and how we can grow into a better version of ourselves.

The academy’s first priority will always be to advocate for music creators. Without tours, musicians were some of the first to lose income to the pandemic, and once it’s over, musicians will be among the last to go back to work. In response, the academy and its members have testified at congressional hearings and written tens of thousands of letters to Congress to ensure that music professionals were included in stimulus legislation. We created the COVID-19 Relief fund with our foundation, MusiCares, raising over $20 million in partnership with the industry to help thousands of music people pay rent, feed their families and stay afloat. And we’re committed to continuing this effort until the pandemic is over and our community can finally get back to work.

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Harvey Mason Jr.

Like many other industries, we’re also working to fully acknowledge structural barriers in the pursuit of racial equity and inclusivity. The Recording Academy should reflect the diversity of people and music in our community. To that end, we’ve appointed our first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, and we’re advocating for music companies and major labels to do the same. We’ve committed $1 million to the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, Color of Change, and we’re learning from its leadership and counsel as we advance our own diversity strategy.

To ensure that the Grammy Awards remain the gold standard of excellence in music, we have made changes to our guidelines that reinforce our standards of fairness and integrity. In the spirit of better transparency, the official Grammy rules and guidelines are now, for the very first time, available for the public to see. And if the pandemic demands that we reinvent the 63rd Grammy Awards ceremony entirely, that’s what we’ll do — with confidence, humility and the belief that lifting up the work of artists is one of our most important contributions.

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Not even a pandemic can change the fundamental truth that music is one of the most powerful, universal forces humanity has ever harnessed. We need it now more than ever. And given the record number of Grammy submissions this year, creators have shown they are meeting that need with some of their most profound work yet.

So it’s no wonder streaming is up, sharing and engagement are up, and millions of people around the world have tuned in to virtual performances to make it through the long days and nights of isolation and uncertainty. Even when this is long behind us, the music we create now will forever reflect the struggles and hopes of this moment.

Thank you for doing what you do best, bringing us closer together, united through music during these tough times.

We gon’ be alright.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19, 2020 issue of Billboard.