Story at a glance

  • The American music industry is confronting a long history founded on racism and inequality.
  • This summer, the Recording Academy partnered with Color Of Change and made a $1 million donation to the nonprofit.
  • The two organizations announced a commitment to investing in Black artists, leadership and representation in the music industry.

Almost one year ago, Sean “Diddy” Combs threw down the gauntlet while accepting an award at the 2020 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons.

“Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys," he said. "So right now, with this current situation" — referencing the ouster of Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan — "So right now in this current situation, it’s not a revelation. This thing’s been going on. It’s not just going on in music. It’s going on in film, going on in sports and going on around the world. And for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now” 


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Now, the Recording Academy is answering in the form of a partnership with Color Of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization formed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Admitting that Black contributions to the music industry "have been and continue to be undervalued," the initiative issues a call to action. 

“In a year of uprising, sickness, and distance, music has been both a healing force and a call to action. It’s helped us process our pain and drive social change. This moment offers an unparalleled opportunity to change patterns of exclusion and degradation and take action toward progress,” says Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. “To honor and amplify Black artists’ past, present, and future contributions, the music industry must tear down the barriers that have been up for far too long. #ChangeMusic is our first step.”  

This summer, Black Lives Matter protests prompted a racial reckoning across numerous industries, including the entertainment industry. Actor and activist Michael B. Jordan collaborated with Color Of Change to start the "#ChangeHollywood" Initiative, which the nonprofit is now expanding into the "#ChangeMusic" efforts. 

“This roadmap is just the beginning of the journey to racial justice," the Black Panther actor said at the time


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The next step in that journey involves a commitment to investing in Black talent and careers through not only money but opportunities and support. The roadmap outlines several commitments, including to transparent reporting of Black representation, aligning and partnering with the Black community and promoting civic advocacy and participation. Beyond platitudes, the announcement also includes specific actions, from inclusion riders to paid time off for civic reasons.   

“For decades, the music industry has been built on the backs of gifted Black creators and professionals and there’s been an awakening as the groundswell for equity and racial justice grows in volume and urgency,” said Riggs Morales and Jeriel Johnson of the Black Music Collective in the release. “Representation is the gateway to equity, and at the heart of the Black Music Collective’s mission is the acceleration and sustainability of Black representation within the Recording Academy and music industry at large.”  

The music industry has historically profited off of Black talent behind the scenes while putting white artists in the spotlight. Decades after the genre “race music” was renamed “R&B,” the industry has used labels to limit emerging Black artists from expanding their audiences. Just this summer, the Recording Academy made changes to four Grammy categories that traditionally include Black and Latinx artists using language that, as one music journalism outlet said, was "inextricably linked to a history of exclusion and segregation within the music industry." 

“Change cannot wait. We believe this #ChangeMusic Roadmap will be key to driving progress in the Academy and the music industry. It was developed over the last few months with the goal of holding ourselves accountable. The roadmap is intended to serve as an important tool to support the changes we must urgently make together in music,” said Harvey Mason Jr., chair & interim president/CEO of the Recording Academy. “This is a new era of the Recording Academy and we won’t stop until the work is done. The Recording Academy and Color Of Change invite our peers and partners to join us on this transformational journey.” 


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Published on Dec 17, 2020