- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - A coalition of musicians is demanding the Recording Academy restore more than 30 categories cut from the Grammy Awards, alleging the reductions unfairly target ethnic music and were done without the input of its thousands of members

A protest was planned Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif., at an academy board meeting. It is part of a campaign by those upset by last month’s decision to reduce the Grammy fields, which this year totaled 109, to 78.

Grammy President and CEO Neil Portnow said changes would be in effect for the 2012 Grammys. He urged dissenters to work with the academy, which would examine the effect of the changes for the 2013 awards.

But protesters hope the process could be reversed in time for next year’s Grammy ceremony if at least one board member asks the academy to reconsider.

“Hopefully during that time, someone will rise and be brave enough and do this,” Bobby Sanabria, a four-time Grammy nominee in the Latin jazz category and a leader of the movement against the changes, said in an interview Wednesday.

“He’s being arrogant in saying that it’s written in stone when we have a chance to get these categories reinstated,” said Sanabria of Portnow. He has called for the resignation of Portnow and the board of trustees.

The Academy announced the changes April 6; the move came after a more than yearlong examination of the awards structure, the first in the Grammys’ 50-plus year history. Portnow said at the time that the changes would make the Grammys more competitive, and the awards more coveted.

But the move upset many Academy members, who were taken off guard by the announcement.

Paul Simon wrote a letter to Portnow asking him to reconsider, writing, in part: “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. … They deserve the separate Grammy acknowledgements that they’ve been afforded until this change eliminated them.”

Sanabria, who is working with musicians including Eddie Palmieri and Arturo O’Farrill, said ethnic music was unfairly targeted, and called it a “subtle form of racism.”

“The effect will be that the music will be very, very homogenous, it’s already starting to sound like that already,” he said. “Society as we know it now is very multicultural and very diverse, and the Grammys always reflected that.”

Portnow, in an interview this week, said he understands the frustration of those affected. However, he denied many of Sanabria’s contentions, including the idea that non-mainstream categories bore the brunt of the reductions.

“In this year’s awards, in the 53rd (annual ceremony), there were 34 mainstream categories. Next year, with the changed revision, there will be 20 mainstream categories. That’s a significant reduction in mainstream areas. In non-mainstream categories … there were 71. In the upcoming 54th awards, there will be 54,” he said, saying that percentage-wise, mainstream categories were more effected.

“Not only non-mainstream categories were affected here,” he said. “The facts here don’t play that out.”

Portnow also took issue with Sanabria’s assertion that the changes were conducted arbitrarily and in secret, saying the changes were implemented by representatives of the members.

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