Grammy Awards Digs in their Heels On Removing Awards Categories


Many blues fans are familiar with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ decision this year to remove (“consolidate”, in their own words,) several revered categories, including one of only two blues Grammy categories, and the only Zydeco category, from their list. Instead,  Zydeco and several other genres will all have to compete in the single new, and unfortunately ambiguous Best Regional Roots Music award, and there will be no differentiation between traditional and contemporary blues. There has been great concern, including from the American Blues Scene writers, that this consolidation does not celebrate nor lend credence to the great diversity of music that exists both in America’s many storied regions, nor the world’s.  Of course, all-purpose categories force entirely different styles of music to compete for the same accolades, and have the potential to damage the ability of voters to make informed votes, since an average voter may likely not know enough about every different competing musical style. Despite strong and warranted objections, the organization has recently released a letter effectively affirming their decision.

From: Member Services
Date: July 6, 2011 5:33:29 PM PDT
Subject: GRAMMY Awards Restructuring

Dear Friends:

As an organization made up of the world’s most talented and gifted music makers, one of our principal missions is to celebrate great music across all genres and styles and to recognize and reward excellence in recorded music.

A GRAMMY Award is recognized as the pinnacle of artistic achievement, and the very definition of musical excellence. Artists who earn a GRAMMY- or who have been nominated for one – know the honor comes after having competed against the very best in the world.

Achieving this measure of excellence is a fluid process, and it requires continuous review of our awards structure. This review process – which has been in place for more than 50 years and includes input from elected, qualified voting members from The Recording Academy’s 12 Chapters around the country, and a broad spectrum of music makers – takes place annually to assure that the competition is fair and consistent across all musical genres. Accordingly, The Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees – who serve as your elected representatives – and its committees spent the last two years researching, analyzing, and discussing years worth of data before deciding to realign the GRAMMY categories. Once this extensive, detailed procedure was completed, we made every effort to be up front, transparent, and painstakingly clear about how and why this was done, and we will continue to reach out and address any questions and/or concerns about the process and these changes.

Here is just one example of the philosophy behind the changes: In the past we have maintained separate categories for some subgenres of music. However, other musical subgenres (like Western Swing music, psychedelic rock, cowboy music, grunge or punk rock, neo-soul, even Christmas music and more) were not represented with their own stand-alone categories. By combining some of the more regionally based subgenres (such as Zydeco/Cajun, Hawaiian, and Native American music) into one overall category (Best Regional Roots Music Album), they are showcased in a larger way than before, creating a more inclusive, diverse category and providing greater exposure for the creators of these robust musical styles. This in turn creates a richer and more vibrant competition for music that shares regional American roots, even if they emanate from different parts of the country.

We are excited and proud to recognize excellence in this way. Artists in these categories who produce great music will continue to stand out among their peers, and will receive the GRAMMY recognition they richly deserve. It’s the same story with many of the other categories that were realigned. Another factor that led to these changes was consistently low entries over the past several years in many categories. The reasons and motives for all of the changes are identical, and your Trustees have no agenda other than how best to advance our shared goal of celebrating great music.

We respect the views of our members, and we will continue to listen to you with open minds. While we expect the dialogue to be passionate and spirited, at a minimum we expect it to be fair, accurate, and respectful. It is disappointing that some individuals chose to make false, inflammatory statements suggesting that this realignment of the GRAMMY Award categories was motivated by race or ethnicity. The Recording Academy, its Trustees, and its staff have worked tirelessly and diligently on this project and as an organization that continuously strives to uphold the First Amendment, we would never tolerate any attempt to advance a racist agenda using our organization, and we were appalled when these provocative, unwarranted allegations were raised.

GRAMMY Award categories have always been based on various genres of music – not on race or ethnicity. People of all different backgrounds and walks of life create MUSIC, and artists are not relegated to making music based on race, background or beliefs. While categories were realigned as part of the awards restructuring, ALL of the genre Fields remain intact. And the GRAMMY Awards still have more categories that recognize musical excellence than any other music award. The current awards changes will remain in effect for the 54th GRAMMY Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, and we will continue to re-examine our awards process and review new proposals as we do every year. To any of you who have questions or may not yet fully understand the changes, please visit for detailed information about the awards realignment, as well as resources to address your

In closing, we know that we have a responsibility to keep our categories fair and representative of all kinds of music, and we strongly believe that we have done that. We welcome your passion, your participation, and your voice in the continuing conversation about how best to recognize and celebrate excellence in recorded music, now and in the future.

We greatly value your continued membership in The Recording Academy, and we’re here to serve you. Best wishes for a wonderful summer.

Warm regards,

George J. Flanigen IV
Chair of the Board of Trustees
The Recording Academy

Neil Portnow
The Recording Academy


While many other categories that are not as profitable as pop and rap are sorely under-represented, the Blues is fortunate to boast a very strong organization in the Memphis-based non-for-profit Blues Foundation. The Blues Foundation hosts several prominent events, such as the Blues Music Awards and the International Blues Challenge, that give due accolades to the wide diversity, continued exploration, and tradition that encompasses the America’s greatest musical accomplishment — the blues. It is for this reason that the American Blues Scene will continue to more strongly focus it’s efforts towards the Blues Foundation’s valuable services, and considerably scale back any Grammy-related coverage in the future.

If you are not a member of the Blues Foundation, consider joining! Your membership, donations, purchases and attendance at these events are what continue to support and grow one of the most culturally important musical genres in the world.

Do you have an opinion on this?? Share it in the comments.