1987 was my first year as President of the Academy and the Grammys were held at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium. Paul Simon’s Graceland won Album of the Year and there were no categories for Alternative, Hard Rock, Metal, Rap… well yawn, you get the picture. The Academy had always used music personalities to host the show (in the previous year it was Kenny Rogers) but this year I proposed that we use a young man who was on a late night network episodic called “Soap”. His character was named Jodie Dallas, and the little known actor-comedian’s name was Billy Crystal. It was Billy’s first hosting gig! Needless to say that many of the Academy’s trustees were apprehensive about the decision, but in hindsight, not a bad choice! I was petrified at the thought of giving this speech and was the most relieved person in the world when it was over! This speech was probably my most institutional and is a good one if you need to be lulled into taking a nap!
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to present to you the President of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, who’s already getting a standing ovation. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Michael Greene.
Thank you. Before I start this speech, I would like for all of us to give a hand to something very special tonight and I think the embodiment of it is on this stage; to the diversity of talent in our music family. Music is one of the indelible watermarks of a time and a civilization, a powerful, powerful symbol of society’s triumphs and its failings. But music is also the life’s work of professionals and has become the lifeblood of a great international industry. That industry requires support and leadership, effective collective action to ensure that the legal environment keeps pace with technology, that artistic freedoms remain secure and that intellectual property, that’s our songs and their performances, are protected. Our industry also requires the understanding of consumers, those of you who are out there who purchase and enjoy recorded music. As we work to ensure that creative people are fairly compensated and remain free to pursue every excursion of their imaginations in these matters, the Recording Academy stands beside other industry organizations and reaches out to the larger society through our National Student Awards, Grammy in the Schools and other educational programs.
The 1990 Grammy Awards were held at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. and were witness to Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath my Wings” winning Record and Song of the year. Bonnie Raitt won Album of the Year for “Nick of Time” and the train wreck of Milli Vanilli briefly took home Best New Artist and created a firestorm of public conversation regarding lip synching (wonder where that same debate is today regarding auto tuning)? As everyone will remember, the word spread throughout the industry that Milli Vanilli (Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus) had been caught lip synching at a concert a few weeks after the Grammys and then everyone who worked with the group came forward to spill the beans that the boys didn’t actually sing on their recordings at all. You talk about a circus… we held a press conference where I rescinded their Best New Artist Grammy and I must have done 200 interviews thereafter. Truth be told, I felt bad for the boys… when all was said and done they were also victimized by music industry pros who worked with them and certainly knew better.
My speech was the formal announcement that the Academy was embarking on a very new course of public advocacy. Advancing music, art, archiving, first amendment protection and arts education were just a few of the issues we were standing up for. This was a very new and controversial agenda item for the old girl, Ms. NARAS. I also announced to the world that Musicares was serving and educating the community on the issues relating to substance abuse intervention and prevention and sent a strong message to legislators that censoring and labeling recordings would be fought vigorously! 1990 was the year when the Academy shed her skin and assumed the role of industry and community advocate!
The recognition of excellence is just part of the Grammy story. Working with our seven chapter cities, our officers and trustees and our national chairman, Mr. Bill Ivy, the Academy is entering a new era of advocacy and involvement in issues facing our industry. We’re working to improve the quality of music education through Grammy in the Schools and the National Student Music Awards programs, and working to ensure that the historical legacy of music on record is preserved for future generations. Through MusiCares, our academy has brought our music community together to issue an effective public statement on substance abuse and most importantly, we are working on behalf of artists and our industry, against the legislative efforts to label and censor our music. Such governmental (interrupted by clapping) such governmental intervention undermines the basic artistic freedoms, which we must passionately fight to protect.