The 2001 Michael Greene Grammy Speech

2001 was a year that the Grammy Awards highlighted diversity and was my last Grammy speech. U2, Destiny’s Child, Steely Dan and Eminem were some of the big winners and rap and hip hop lyrics continued to be a hotly debated social enigma burning across many social and political circles. One of the most notable and controversial performances was the duet Stan by Eminem and Elton John. When we decided to approach Elton and Eminem about doing the duet I knew the backlash from the gay community would be a heat seeking missile, and I would be in its cross hairs. Never the less we all felt that it was an important way to advance the public discourse and move the conversation toward a potential positive outcome. When Elton and Eminem agreed to perform, the production company went to work on the staging and concept with Eminem and Elton and I conducted over 50 separate interviews and town hall style meetings about extreme lyrics, censorship, homophobia, and in some cases the accusations that we were doing it as a ratings stunt. The speech you will see here is entitled, “It Takes Tolerance to Teach Tolerance”. There were 8 separate gay and lesbian organizations who picketed the show at Staples Arena, I was hung in effigy (not the first time) and the anticipation of the performance was electric. Eminem had been getting a lot of bad press from the gay community because of some of his extreme song lyrics and our hope was that by him performing with one of the world’s most celebrated openly gay performers, Elton that some modicum of understanding and healing could begin… the world collectively held its breath. A heartfelt hug was exchanged between the two singers at the end of the Grammy performance and I believe the dialogue generated by the event was ultimately very positive. Once again the bully pulpit of the Grammys was used to remind the world-wide public that art is many things, and certainly not viewed through the same cultural lens by everyone… art soothes, angers, incites, entertains and makes some people recoil… but that’s its job and we must fight for its right to be all of those things and against the constant pressure to censor out things we don’t agree with.

Transcript

Welcome back ladies and gentleman. This obviously is the moment we have all been waiting for. Are you ready to meet the President of the Recording Academy? Are you ready?

He’s the Pres.., Michael Greene.

Thank you John. On behalf of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, welcome to the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards. First I want all of you to help me congratulate this year’s producer of the year, Dr. Dray. Stand up Dr. Dray. This has certainly been a dynamic year for music. All you have to do is look at the diversity represented on this stage here tonight to witness the walls of division crumble under the weight of a connected world. Of late, the controversy over extreme lyrics has been a heat seeking missile, and it’s important to remember that the Academy is not here to defend or vilify, commercialize or censor art. We are here to recognize those recordings that are notable, noticeable, and ofttimes controversial. People are mad and people are talking and that’s a good thing, because it is through dialogue and debate that social discovery and progress can occur. Listen, music has always been the voice of rebellion. It is a mirror of our culture, sometimes reflecting a dark and disturbing underbelly obscured from the view of most people of privilege; a militarized zone, which is chronicle by the CNN of the intercity, rap and hip-hop music. We can’t edit out the art  that makes us uncomfortable. Remember that’s what our parents tried to do to Elvis, the Stones, and the Beatles. The white teenagers from the suburbs buy a majority of the music in question. They live out their rebellion, and delineate their right of passage vicariously through this music. And most of the adults who pass judgment, have never listened to, or more to the point, have never even engaged their kids about the object of their contempt. This is not to say that there is not a lot to fear in this violence drenched society of ours. We should genuinely be concerned about the younger kids; the latchkey kids, who are not experienced and don’t have a relevant parenteral connection to help them understand what’s real, and what’s shock theater. And accept the fact that musicians, movie stars, and athletes are not perfect. They make mistakes and can’t always be counted on to be role models. Art incites, it entices, it awes and it angers. It takes all it’s various incarnations to maintain the balance, vitality and authenticity of the artistic process. Let’s not forget folks that sometimes it takes tolerance to teach tolerance.