NEW YORK — A coalition of musicians that has protested the Recording Academy’s decision to drop 31 categories from the Grammy Awards is stepping up the pressure, calling for a boycott of the Grammys’ telecast partner, CBS, and hiring a lawyer to explore legal action.
“We will ask people to stop watching CBS, boycott their sponsors and then write them,” said Bobby Sanabria, a Grammy-nominated Latin jazz musician and the leader of the coalition, in an interview Wednesday night. “We’re at a critical juncture.”
The changes have drawn complaints from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon and Bill Cosby. They also have gotten attention from organizations like the National Institute of Latino Policy, which issued a statement Thursday in support of Sanabria’s coalition.
Sanabria has claimed the reductions unfairly target ethnic music and called the Academy’s decision racist.
In response, the Recording Academy said Thursday evening that while it respected the coalition’s right to disagree, it rejected its allegations.
“The Recording Academy’s board of trustees and its committees — made up of elected, qualified voting members from The Academy’s 12 chapter cities around the country and a broad spectrum of music makers — spent two years researching and ultimately making the decision to restructure the Grammy Awards categories for reasons that had everything to do with recognizing excellence in music and the integrity of our awards and nothing to do with ethnicity or race,” said a statement from the organization.
CBS is scheduled to broadcast the Grammys next February from Los Angeles. The network declined to comment, a representative said Thursday.
In a move that came as a surprise to some, the Academy announced in April that it was reducing the number of award categories from 109 to 78. While the changes involve mainstream categories such as eliminating the male and female divisions in the pop vocal category to one general field, the Academy also reduced specific categories, including some of the instrumental categories in pop, rock and country; traditional gospel; children’s spoken-word album; Zydeco or Cajun music album; best Latin jazz album; and best classical crossover album. Artists in those categories will now have to compete in more general fields, making the process more competitive.
Sanabria said the Academy made the changes without the knowledge of its members and has not released minutes from its meetings regarding the changes.
However, Grammy President and CEO Neil Portnow has said the changes were properly implemented after an examination by a committee, then voted on by a board that represented its members.
The statement Thursday reiterated his contention.
“We were up front, transparent, and painstakingly clear about how and why the awards restructuring was done, and any allegations that the process was carried out in secret or without warning are demonstrably false,” it said.
Sanabria said the Academy can still reverse the cuts if enough members of its board of trustees decide to act. But in meetings in San Francisco and New York earlier this month, he said the Academy said the changes would remain in effect at least for the 2012 Grammys.
“They say, ‘Well, next year, we’ll see how it goes and maybe possibly we can readmit some of the categories,’” Sanabria said. “Again, they obfuscated us, insulted us.”
Attorney Roger Maldonado has been hired by Sanabria, but no action has yet been taken. The Academy said it would not comment on a hypothetical lawsuit and said there “is no basis for any kind of legitimate legal claim.”