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Musicians Rally Against Grammys, Calling Category Cuts a "Subtle Form of Racism"

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A group of musicians led by four-time Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria played songs and hoisted banners reading "Grammys Honor All Music" and "It's Not Just About Rap, Rock or Country" outside a board meeting of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at the Beverly Hilton Thursday in protest of recent Grammy category cuts.

If eclectic and ethnic categories are cut, Sanabria argued, it's not likely we'll see marginalized artists winning Grammys, such as jazz artist Esperanza Spalding, this year's winner in the Best New Artist category, who beat out that Bieber kid.

Contemporary blues, Native American, Cajun/Zydeco, Hawaiian, and Latin jazz are among the 31 categories that are being cut.

Sanabria called the category cuts a "subtle form of racism," according to the AP.

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Sanabria told Pop & Hiss:

"Everybody was happy that Esperanza won, but everybody was insulted with the way [jazz has since been] denigrated," he said. "What they did to all of these marginalized categories, let's get real. Once they are cut, the power of independent recording labels goes way down. You're not going to see [someone like] Esperanza Spalding winning again. The way things are now, nobody like that is going to win."

Now a heady roster of Rock n' Roll Hall of Famers have joined the cause. Musicians including Paul Simon, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock have all written letters addressing the issue to Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow."I believe the Grammys have done a disservice to many talented musicians by combining previously distinct and separate types of music into a catch-all of blurry larger categories," wrote Simon. "They deserve the separate Grammy acknowledgements that they've been afforded until this change eliminated them."

Carlos and Cindy Blackman Santana wrote in their letter to Portnoy: "To remove Latin Jazz and many other ethnic categories is doing a huge disservice to the brilliant musicians who keep the music vibrant for their fans - new and old. ... We strongly protest this decision and we ask you to represent all of the colors of the rainbow when it comes to music and give ethnic music a place in the heart of music lovers everywhere."

"You don't make this kind of music because you want awards," Steven Wood of Albertan pow-wow group Northern Cree told the CBC. "It's not going to hurt the music itself. Aboriginal music is the oldest music in the world and we're going to go on making it whether we get awards or not."

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In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this week, Portnow said:

"Not only non-mainstream categories were affected here," he said. "The facts here don't play that out."
[...]
"This is a committee that is made up of members of the academy who include musicians and producers, engineers and experts in the various fields," he said. "There was well over a year and a half discussion within that group, in that committee. They recommended the overall changes to the process to the board of trustees, which was discussed thoroughly."

Sanabria's response: "You don't stick a sword in somebody's back and then when they're bleeding say, let's come together.... He disrespects us. He's so out of touch with everything."

The NARAS board meeting ends Friday. The petition signed by the artists is at grammywatch.org.