Music Exec. Talks #OscarsSoWhite and why the Grammys aren’t

While the media firestorm continues to swirl around the “white-washed” Oscar nominations, Hollywood is gearing up for another major awards ceremony on Monday: the Grammys.

Voices within Hollywood and the mainstream media have criticized the Oscar committee over recent weeks for their lack of diversity within their nominations: not a single actor or actress of color received a nomination this year.

Grammy Nominee Robin Burgess is the president of the New Orleans-based music management company Burgess Management, which houses 5x Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard. As an African-American herself, Burgess was particularly struck by the issue and added her voice to the discussion in a Facebook post criticizing Hollywood, and those trying to brush off the Oscars’ oversight by undermining the value of the awards themselves: 

“For those who say the Oscars don’t matter… The Oscars DO matter. It is a measurement of success which validates that you belong–in an industry that knows you belong, but won’t publicly acknowledge you.” She continued, “I personally know many, many great writers, directors, and producers of color who have approached studio executives of all shades, including their own, only to be told their projects weren’t mainstream enough.”

As Burgess gears up to attend the Grammy ceremony in Los Angeles on Monday, her aforementioned client Terence Blanchard is currently vying for the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Album, she told Critic of Music about how the Grammy awards have managed to reflect the diversity of the music industry:

“By the nature of the music industry, the Grammys are definitely more diverse than the Oscars,” she said, “there is a “colorlessness” to music, meaning you are relying on sounds, not sights, to validate your selections… more importantly, you have more executives of color and gender making decisions to traditionally produce or independently produce records that speak to more voices and people like themselves.”

The Grammys have also been known to snub artists in their selection process though perhaps not to the degree the Oscars did this year: after the 2014 ceremony, rapper Azealia Banks criticized the foundation for awarding white rap duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album over African-American Kendrick Lamar (who scored the most nominations of all artists this year: 11). 

“The term “right artist” can be completely subjective. There are so many deserving artists in every genre of art. It would be impossible to always recognize the right ones each year for the right project. Sometimes, the timing just doesn’t work out and you have to hope that whatever accolades or praise you receive will recognize your contribution to your art or acknowledge your body of work. And there will always be a struggle between artistic merit and commercial appeal.”

Even then she notes, winning an award might not be the most important thing, rather inspiring and trail-blazing for other artists: “One of the most touching Grammy moments I can remember was when Ornette Coleman received his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was being introduced by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers…Flea gave Ornette Coleman the most moving tribute by sharing how Coleman’s music inspired and impacted Flea’s own artistry. If that wasn’t enough, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out to perform, they had a giant spray-painted banner on stage that said “LOVE TO ORNETTE.” For me, that moved me more than the award.”

The Grammy Awards air from the Staples Center in Los Angeles Monday on CBS at 7 PM CST. Terence Blanchard’s latest project, Breathless featuring the E Collective, is available now via iTunes and Spotify. 

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