Are Changes To Grammy Categories "Subtle Racism?"

In April, the Recording Academy announced that they were "consolidating" dozens of awards categories, changing some eligibility requirements and rewriting the rule on how members vote. Next year, the Grammy awards will have 31 fewer categories. Sounds better, more streamlined. So why is a coalition of musicians protesting the change? Because they believe the Academy is unfairly targeting ethnic* music.

For instance: Latin Jazz is no longer a Grammy category. Latin Jazz artists will now have to submit their work to the Best Jazz Instrumental Album or Best Jazz Vocal Album catergories.

Also: There are no longer separate categories for Best Hawaiian Music Album, Best Native American Music Album, Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. All of those genres — and polka — are now in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category.

Unsurprisingly, musicians are upset. Carlos Santana, and his wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, wrote a letter to the Academy:

The biggest and most irresponsible cut to us is that you have eliminated Latin Jazz. Apparently the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences down-sizing (even though no categories were removed from the awards) is simply a bad move and makes us wonder if you are doing this for other motives.
Without Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, João Gilberto and countless others, there would be no Santana. These Latin Jazz artists helped launch and craft countless genres of American and World music and are just as vibrant today as they were at any other point in history. To remove Latin Jazz and many other ethnic categories is doing a huge disservice to the brilliant musicians who keep the music vibrant for their fans — new and old.

Paul Simon has also written a letter of protest, and there have been musicians gathering in Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York, to arrange rallys and discuss possibly boycotting the awards.

On the one hand, the Academy's desire to re-focus the awards — especially when there are so many categories — is understandable. And it's easy to think, well, Native American music? Who cares! But Native American musicians care. It's likely that artists in these smaller genres are the ones who would benefit the most from being able to call themselves "Grammy award-winning" — that kind of acknowledgment can equal a boost in sales. In addition, pitting a Hawaiian singer against a polka group and a Zydeco band doesn't make much sense, and might even discourage artists from submitting their work for Grammy nominations. Basically, the Academy is lumping together these "ethnic" artists into a ghetto of "otherness." Bobby Sanabria, a four-time Grammy nominee in the Latin jazz category, goes so far as to call the changes a "subtle form of racism."

In general, it's safe to say that next year's Grammys will be markedly different all around, since men and women will be competing against each other in some of the most popular categories. Grammy president and CEO Neil Portnow states:

The most noticeable changes are in the stripping of gender-based categories in pop, R&B, rock and country. There will no longer be separate awards for male or female vocals, simply an award in each genre for a single "solo performance." Several instrumental categories have been eliminated as well.

This should be interesting. And since the Grammys have been fairly boring recently, maybe that's the point?

Coalition Battles Grammys Over Category Cuts [AP]
Grammys to Have Fewer Categories Next Year [Rolling Stone]
Paul Simon and Carlos Santana Protest New Grammy Rules [Rolling Stone]
Exclusive: Neil Portnow Discusses Grammys' Award Consolidation [Billboard]
Grammy Changes Spark Protest [NBC]

*Yes, this word is problematic.