Neil Portnow, the longtime president of the Recording Academy and chief overseer of the Grammys, has announced his resignation.
In the middle of an extremely rocky year, embattled Recording Academy president and chief executive Neil Portnow has decided to resign. Portnow’s contract with the Recording Academy ends in July of 2019, and it will not be renewed.
Portnow offered the following statement early this (Thursday) afternoon, confirming the decision.
“The evolution of industries, institutions and organizations is ultimately the key to their relevance, longevity and success. Having been a member of the Recording Academy for four decades, serving as an elected leader and our President/CEO, I have not only witnessed our evolution, but proudly contributed significantly to the Academy’s growth and stature in the world. When I had the honor of being selected to lead this great organization in 2002, I vowed that on my watch, for the first time in our history, we would have a thoughtful, well-planned and collegial transition.
“With a little more than a year remaining on my current contract, I’ve decided that this is an appropriate time to deliver on that promise. Accordingly, I’ll be working with our Board to put the various elements in place that will ensure transparency, best practices, and the Academy’s ability to find the very best, brightest, and qualified leadership to take us into our seventh decade of operation. I truly look forward to continuing my role leading the Academy in the year ahead, and to continuing the pursuit of excellence and the fine missions we embrace and deliver.”
Portnow has been rocked by multiple scandals this year, starting immediately after this year’s Grammy Awards.
The heavily-hyped showcase was heavily criticized for overlooking a number of women, particularly Erika Ender, one of the key writers behind ‘Despacito’. When queried about why the Grammys seemed so male-heavy, Portnow urged women to ‘step up’.
“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”
That was the start of a torrent of protest, with Portnow defending himself for weeks. Ultimately, the Grammys president issued an apology and coordinated a task force to examine issues of gender inclusion.
In Portnow’s defense, the ‘step up’ comments may have been misconstrued as sexist. And Portnow himself had only limited control over the nominees and winners. But perhaps timing is everything, and the Grammys were getting attacked as biased and out-of-touch.
In the end, the Grammys gave just one major award to a woman — fueling anger towards Portnow’s off-the-cuff quip.
Throughout, the Recording Academy Board of Directors stood by Portnow.
The executive is well-regarded inside and outside of the organization, with staffers often praising Portnow’s leadership style and ability to draw attention to key industry concerns. The Grammys itself remains an incredibly high-profile and relevant event, which isn’t easy considering the award show format and an avalanche of competitive media options.
Portnow may have survived the ‘step up’ blow. But just as he was getting up, a pissed-off ex-employee dropped a bombshell, 4,500 word scathing letter against the CEO.
The letter, from former MusiCares VP Dana Tomarken, blasted Portnow for funneling money away from the charitable organization to cover Grammy 2018 deficits. MusiCares is operated by the Recording Academy, apparently enabling transfers between the charitable and for-profit entities.
Tomarken herself was fired from MusiCares for financial improprieties of her own, though the letter certainly wasn’t helping Portnow’s cause. Instead, the attack highlighted a disastrously expensive Grammy Awards event in New York, one that reportedly cost $6-8 million more than the 2017 event in Los Angeles.
Of course, New York is an expensive locale, especially for an organization based in Los Angeles. But Tomarken alleged that Portnow was grossly mismanaging the affair, while squirreling funds from the charitable pot to cover his mistakes. The Recording Academy ultimately responded and focused more on Tomarken herself, including her firing, though perhaps the damage was already done.
More as this develops.