After 16 years, Neil Portnow will step down as president of the Recording Academy, the organization responsible for the Grammy Awards, per Billboard.
Portnow is the Academy’s longest serving president. The organization was formed in 1957 by a committee of record company executives who sought a way to recognize musicians who did not qualify for a Hollywood Boulevard Bronze Star.
The Grammys have come under scrutiny in the past few years, as critics have called out the awards ceremony for the lack of diversity and representation in both its nominees and winners. This January, after Alessia Cara was the only woman to receive an onstage Grammy, Portnow commented that in order for more female musicians, engineers and executives to be recognized, ”[They] need to step up because I think they would be welcome.” Yikes.
Portnow’s comments stirred a cloud of criticism. Vanessa Carlton spearheaded a petition calling for Portnow’s resignation, which read:
Neil Portnow’s comments show a complete disregard for the many ways women have been overlooked, discredited and disempowered in music. At a time when women and men across industries are screaming “Time’s Up” for, not only sexual harassment and assault, but also systemic discrimination that subjugates women and people of color, Portnow’s comments are especially tone-deaf.
The petition received over 30,000 signatures in a number of days, leading Portnow to establish a task force intended “to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.” The task force was led by Time’s Up co-founder Tina Tchen.
However, scandal would again plague the Academy when the former MusiCares vice president accused Portnow of siphoning money from the Academy-affiliated charitable foundation to fund a deficit created by Portnow’s decision to host this year’s Grammy telecast at Radio City Music Hall in New York instead of in Los Angeles.
Portnow will fulfill the remainder of his contract as president and will then step down from his position in July 2019. In a statement to Billboard, he said he intends to facilitate a smooth transition in leadership: “Accordingly, I’ll be working with our Board to put the various elements in place that will ensure transparency, best practices, and the Academy’s ability to find the very best, brightest and qualified leadership to take us into our seventh decade of operation.”
Revisit our take on January’s Grammy ceremony here.