In the six weeks since the anti-racism awakening began its sweep across the United States, nearly every industry and its members have been forced to address their shortcomings and commit to strategies that mitigate racial inequality. The music business was among the first to confront its ways, with artists and labels immediately condemning racist behavior and some executives even spearheading solidarity campaigns, like #TheShowMustBePaused. But on Tuesday, the world’s largest society of music creators, the Recording Academy, debuted the most forceful plan of action yet. The Grammy’s parent organization announced it will join forces with civil rights nonprofit Color of Change for a set of sweeping initiatives that seek to bring inclusivity to both the organization and to the industry at large.
After years of criticism, diversity has become a major priority for the Academy in the last year, and when Valeisha Butterfield Jones was appointed in May as Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, a new position for the organization, she was already focused on pioneering new opportunities for underrepresented groups. But just a few weeks into her new role, George Floyd was murdered, and his death quickly sparked a whole new dialogue around race. “We started thinking of ways that we as an Academy could use our voice and leverage our platform to drive change, and part of that strategy was investing in an organization like Color of Change” Butterfield Jones says. “They’ve done great work in the TV and film industries, and we saw opportunity for us to do similar work to drive change and amplify the voices of Black people and creators in music through a partnership.”
The Academy will work with Color of Change on a number of ongoing efforts, atop a $1 million donation to the online racial justice organization. “First, it’s really about doing an assessment with Color of Change across our organization,” says Valeisha Butterfield Jones, the Academy’s newly-appointed Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. “I always say we have to do the work from the inside-out, so working closely with Color of Change will help us set a base line to better understand where we are as an organization and what are the opportunities across gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and even genre and region.” At present, the organization is about 53% diverse across all entities, including the Recording Academy, the Latin Recording Academy, the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation, the Grammy Museum, and Musicares, though it did not distinguish what percentage of its employees identify as Black.
Since joining the Grammy’s parent organization in May, Butterfield Jones has begun hosting internal listening sessions with employees and partners in order to gauge what work needs to be done. Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s CEO, will then join by leading training sessions and discussions within the Academy to educate its staff on how to lead inclusive teams and imbed those practices across the organization.
Color of Change will help the Academy in creating and implementing its previously-announced inclusion rider, which, when completed later this year, will include specific goals for the organization and plans for achieving them. “The end goal for us is equitable outcomes for all, so through the data we compile and feedback we receive from within our organization, we will not only set goals but make sure that we really are building a multi-year inclusion strategy,” Butterfield Jones explains, noting that through the planning process, these diversity and inclusion goals will become clearer. “The rider will help us in determining where we want to go, where we need to go, and how we’re going to get there, and then it will hold us accountable.”
Color of Change will also aid the Academy in creating a Black music advisory group, which will focus on driving new Black members to the society, and develop an industrywide diversity summit and partnership in addressing legislative issues. In recent years, the Academy has come under fire for its voting process, which is notably distinct from its membership process, so part of the aim with these new initiatives will be to increase awareness about voter eligibility and highlight the importance of voting. Butterfield Jones hopes that these steps especially will help deepen the organization’s ties with the music community. “We know that we can’t do it alone,” she says, “so it’s thinking about who those leaders are in music, who those leaders are in the Black music community, and how we can show up as better partners to work together.”
The Academy’s partnership with Color of Change comes about a month after it announced a set of changes for the 2021 Grammy’s Awards, currently scheduled to take place in January, and released rules and guidelines. “Transparency is key, so I was so proud that as a 63-year-old organization, we, for the first time in history, shared our Grammy rulebook,” says the Diversity and Inclusion Officer. “That to me was a bold and necessary step toward building and earning trust because the changes in rules were made directly in response to the industry’s feedback.” In addition to renaming several categories, including the controversial ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ and ‘Best Rap/Sung Performance,’ the Academy eliminating the rule that prohibited artists from entering the ‘Best New Artist’ category if they exceeded the maximum number of releases during that year. Butterfield Jones thinks removing this barrier will particularly help artists in the Rap genre, who were often excluded by the limit. “It was a necessary step overall for the Academy but certainly for our diversity and inclusion efforts because it’s so important for us not only to be transparent but to keep up and evolve as the music industry evolves,” she says.
As the Academy’s work with Color of Change begins to take shape, Butterfield Jones thinks we should start to see the fruit of their labor as early as this fall. “It’s in progress now, but we’ll start to roll things out more broadly in August and September,” she says. “We are moving swiftly, but we want to make sure that we’re moving with intention and that we’re focused and have a bias for action in the work that’s ahead.” The organization expects many of these changes will be implemented by Grammy’s season, but the Diversity & Inclusion Officer remains adamant that in its efforts to be more transparent, the Academy plans to be more frequent in its communication of goals and progress along the way. “You’ll be hearing a lot more from us because we really see it as the only way for us to be a good partner,” Butterfield Jones explains. “The Academy is ready for this change, and I’m so glad to be a partner in it.”