MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
We're going to hear now about a Grammy controversy. Nominations for this year's Grammy Awards aren't due until later this fall, but there are already protests and a lawsuit.
As NPR's Felix Contreras reports, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, or NARAS, is under fire for eliminating over 30 categories.
FELIX CONTRERAS: Last year, NARAS awarded over 100 of the little gold-plated gramophones.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For best Native American music album, the nominees are...
CONTRERAS: At the first ever awards ceremony in 1959, 17 awards were handed out. The number of awards in categories ballooned over the years. Videos were added in the '80s. The rise of hip-hop created multiple categories in the '90s. Native American, Hawaiian, Zydeco and Cajun were given their own categories in the early 2000s.
Neil Portnow is CEO of NARAS.
NEIL PORTNOW: It's got to be the highest possible achievement and when you begin to dilute that in categories where, for example, there are very few submissions or there's very little recording activity or the same artists continually receive the Grammy year after year because it is such a small community, then that puts a question mark on what is the value of Grammy.
CONTRERAS: So, two years ago, the NARAS board of trustees appointed a committee of academy members to rethink the categories. Last April, it announced the number of awards would shrink from 109 to 78 and that's when people who normally make music started making statements.
Pianist, composer and educator, Mark Levine, has been nominated twice in the Best Latin Jazz Album category, which has been eliminated. Now, he'll have to compete with better known mainstream jazz artists.
MARK LEVINE: I cannot compete with Herbie Hancock. I cannot compete with Wayne Shorter. Go down the list. It's extremely unlikely that a Latin jazz artist will ever have the popularity of those people.
CONTRERAS: To protest the changes, Levine renounced his NARAS membership and he and three other Latin jazz musicians filed a lawsuit against NARAS. They claim the academy is being negligent to its members through a decision that will make it harder for them to earn a living by taking away a shot at recognition they might use to promote themselves.
Band leader Arturo O'Farrill is not part of the lawsuit. He won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2009.
ARTURO O: Latin jazz is not a subset of jazz. Latin jazz is not a cousin of jazz, a small sibling, a red-headed stepchild. Latin jazz is part and parcel of the definition of jazz. You know, to look at it and say, well, this is just a category of jazz that we can do without is to deny jazz itself.
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CONTRERAS: NARAS has also eliminated standalone categories for Native American, Hawaiian, and Zydeco and Cajun music, putting them head-to-head under the new category of Best Regional Roots Music.
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CONTRERAS: Canyon Records has been recording and releasing Native American music for 60 years and earned one Grammy amid 30 nominations. Robert Doyle is the label's CEO.
ROBERT DOYLE: On one hand, we did understand the rationale behind the cuts. On the other hand, we were deeply disappointed. Really, what we wanted to do was figure a way to work within the system to get the category back. What did we have to do?
CONTRERAS: The academy's Neil Portnow is not backing down from the need for change at the Grammys, but he is leaving the door open just a little.
PORTNOW: We'll be reviewing the awards rollout after this year's cycle and we'll be talking about the things that worked, the things that didn't, the changes we want to make.
CONTRERAS: But band leader Arturo O'Farrill sees a larger task facing NARAS and other cultural institutions as this country's cultural profile expands.
BLOCK: Challenge yourselves, challenge the nation, challenge all of us to look at the different flavors that are part of this world, part of this nation.
CONTRERAS: Grammys for music recorded this year will be presented next February. Felix Contreras, NPR News.