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The Grammys: Behind Closed Doors

Grammy Award trophy.

[OffBeat gave NARAS’ Bill Freimuth a chance to respond to some of the questions raised in the story below. They didn’t arrive in time to be included in the physical magazine, but they’re included at the end of the story.]

Did you hear the one about the guy that went to a fight and a Grammy meeting broke out? It almost happened June 21 at Vermilionville in Lafayette at a Grammy 101 meeting.

The gathering was the first local meeting of NARAS members since April, when the Academy streamlined its categories from 109 to 78. The Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album Grammy, which was only four years old, was among those “consolidated,” as NARAS puts it. Approximately 50 musicians, producers and music fans attended the meeting, where Bill Freimuth, the Academy’s Vice President of Awards, outlined important deadlines and requirements for the Grammy process.

In the sometimes heated question-and-answer session that followed, producer Todd Mouton called Freimuth “ignorant” several times before Freimuth asked him to leave. Mouton symbolized the frustration and disappointment of many, who grilled Freimuth for answers about the lost category.

Zydeco and Cajun submissions will be lumped into a new Regional Roots category, which will also include Hawaiian, Native American and other ethnic styles. Musician Terrance Simien, along with his wife/manager Cynthia, fought for seven years to get the zydeco/Cajun category, and he has doubts about the fairness of the Regional Roots category. “I know zydeco and Cajun music,” he says. “I don’t expect them to know my style.”

Freimuth responded that a factor in merging the categories was to ensure each one reached the new minimum of 40 entries, up from the previous 25. Singer/songwriter David Egan countered that the new standard was announced after the fact.

“We could have used a warning about this,” said Egan. “We could have stoked up the membership. We had no way of knowing the category was going to be taken away.” Freimuth said a “confidential process” to re-evaluate the categories started two years ago. “If we would have reached out to any music community, they would have never wanted any changes,” he said.

After the meeting, Mouton said that secretive process was among the issues he had with Freimuth and the Academy.

“In Los Angeles, we produced events for every year we’ve had a category,” said Mouton. “They never told us that we needed to do anything differently as things were being reviewed. These changes have all gone on behind closed doors, anonymously, and now no one is taking responsibility. I’m glad they’re at least coming clean about that, although it hasn’t straightened it out.”

Cynthia Simien ended the meeting on a positive note, urging all to work with the Academy to restore the category.

“We’re in this together,” said Simien. “It’s not over. We decided to be in it seven to 10 years ago. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll all conquer it together.”

 

In response to David Egan’s question asking why the Cajun/zydeco community wasn’t given a chance to reach the new threshold of 40 entries, Freimuth wrote via email:

“There are a couple of things that need clarification here. The first is that we’d like to encourage everyone to step back and take a look at the larger picture—the vision behind the restructuring. When one looks at the entire list of categories from the 53rd GRAMMY Awards (this past year) next to the list for the 54th Awards, that vision starts to become more apparent. There’s an overall clarification and balance that hadn’t existed before. This was the guiding force behind the work and helps to explain, I hope, why reaching out to each genre or subgenre community for their opinions would not have been appropriate nor fruitful. Secondly, it needs to be made clear that the number of entries in a particular category was but one factor in the decision-making process that led to the restructuring.

That said, anyone who was a Voting Member of The Recording Academy was told every year exactly how many entries were in each category through the entry list accompanying the first ballot. I know that Cynthia paid close attention to that number for the category in question and worked diligently to spread the word and solicit more entries for the category.”

 

In response to Terrance Simien’s concern about the difficulty voters will face in the new Regional Roots category, where they’ll be asked to choose the best from genres that have differing aesthetics, Freimuth wrote:

“Yes, I think this new category will pose some challenges for our voters. Of course there’s no way of knowing until the voting season commences, but my suspicion is that for the first ballot, people voting in this category may be more inclined to vote for their ‘home’ subgenre (even though all or nearly all of this music is likely just a few clicks away from them via the Internet). For the final ballot, however, The Recording Academy provides a service through which all nominated recordings are available for streaming to our voters. When these recordings are placed side-by-side, it is hoped that ‘the cream will rise,’ so to speak—that the highest quality recording will be apparent. I’ve spoken to several voters already who are very much looking forward to the challenges of voting in this category.”