Find tour dates and live music events for all your favorite bands and artists in your city! Get concert tickets, news and more!

Op-Ed: Neil Portnow Must Go
Portnow (Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins)

Op-Ed: Neil Portnow Must Go

2046 0

And he needs to be replaced by a woman.

Neil’s been there over 15 years, longer than most record company execs whose behinds he so busily kisses.

Instead, the Recording Academy continues to look backward, living in the past, just like the recording industry did for so many years confronted with digital disruption, isn’t it time to have someone lead us into the future?

Neil was a caretaker in the wake of the tumultuous reign of Mike Greene. Now it’s time to have a leader.

I could point out Portnow’s flaws, including the ill-advised New York Grammy journey wherein millions were lost, but this is not about his failings so much as an opportunity to move the organization forward, change it for a changed environment.

As for the task force, it resembles nothing so much as a movie cliche, ROUND UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS AND DO NOTHING!

So the Grammy organization needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

And a woman must head it.

The men are gonna say there’s no female qualified. They always say this. They don’t mentor women, they don’t lift them up, they just throw their hands in the air after declaring their hands are tied. The greatest musical artists inform and lead, whereas the Grammy organization is run like the worst of bureaucracies, with little transparency and no change.

So it’s time to give a woman an opportunity! Hell, maybe even hire a manager from the outside, some new blood with fresh insight. Or maybe even a woman musician, like saxophonist Mindi Abair, who has been involved with the organization for years. Not that I’m positing she’s the right person for the position, I’m just saying the net should be cast wide and there are many women who can STEP UP and fill Portnow’s shoes.

But the Trustees are blind, so busy giving Grammys to their cronies they completely miss what is happening in popular music.

The Oscars are castigated for being too white and the organization shakes out dead wood and actively seeks new members, AMPAS reacted immediately, whereas NARAS did nothing, waiting for the storm to pass, which is amazing, since music is more topical and reacts more quickly than film.

Anybody can misspeak.

But not anybody can be asleep at the wheel.

When organizations don’t reinvent themselves, they die, just like the Grammy ratings. Produce those numbers in Silicon Valley and you’re ousted, immediately, because shareholders are afraid of totally losing their investment.

It’s time for the Grammys to pivot. Instead, the organization is staying on its lazy course.

As for Mr. Portnow’s contract/salary, let’s not forget this is the man who moved the organization to new digs without selling the old building. If it was about money, he would have been bounced long ago.

But it’s not about cash, it’s about meaning, it’s about direction, it’s about doing what’s right.

Let’s not allow them to get away with it. Let’s not let the uproar fade. Let’s keep the pressure on. How are we supposed to have faith in the organization if it can’t clean and take care of its own house?

Portnow has to go.

The rolls must be cleaned.

New members must be signed up.

Transparency must be instituted.

This fiasco cannot continue.

Because although the Grammys always lacked credibility, now they’ve become a joke.

The Industry Responds

The goalposts have moved, and men seem categorically unable to acknowledge this. Due process was for last year, protecting men’s livelihoods is for last year. For far too long we refused to listen to women, we demonized them and ruined their careers when they came forward, but usually they just suffered silently and now males are saying that they’re getting a raw deal? Hogwash.

What stuns me in these responses is the men who keep saying we must pick the “best” candidate. I don’t want to get in a war of affirmative action, but unless you give people opportunities they’re never gonna get ahead. Furthermore, no one seems to acknowledge a woman’s perspective, they just think a woman is a mini-man, which shows further blindness. Most men are so inured to the way things have been that they can’t even conceive of them being different. And in our nobody can suffer society the fact that a man might have to take a back seat to a woman is anathema. African-Americans are black all day. Women are women all day. They’re easily identifiable and easily categorized and denied opportunity. Meanwhile, if you’re a man you get all the advantages. Not only is it time for men to put women first, it’s time for men to HELP women. It’s not a zero-sum game, it’s not like if we help women we’re gonna lose, quite the contrary, we’re all gonna WIN! Women listen to music, men can be informed by a woman’s perspective. That’s right, it’s time for us to sacrifice for the greater good of society, and that means making women equal, and that is done by bending over backwards to give them opportunity.

Bob Lefsetz


Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange that none of the articles on this topic ever mention that the “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” category was removed in 2011?

I remember asking why at the Grammy meeting that year and the answer was that it was “redundant”. Redundant how? You don’t see Meryl Streep competing against Daniel Day Lewis…

And this year, a year where female pop dominated, we had 4 women up against Ed Sheeran and Ed Sheeran won. Also curious that Ed Sheeran couldn’t be bothered to show up to receive said award; instead he instagrammed a picture of his cat but nobody asked him why. Must be nice to be able to take these awards for granted. The women sure didn’t.

Angelica Cob-Baehler


If they hire a woman I’ll become a member again

Deborah Holland


Last year, for the Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, we were given the mandate  – to which we quickly agreed – to include 50% female artists for both headliners and support bands.  A quick informal assessment of touring acts at that level, however, showed that acts led by or dominated by women make up about 12% -15% of current talent on the road.

So math would dictate that our job had just gotten a lot harder.  And the question arose: would this quota impact the series qualitatively?

I must admit my first response was that given all the factors (excellence, suitability, availability, budget, specific genres, blah, blah, blah) that go into programming our highly-regarded, diverse line-up, the last thing we needed was to cut the talent pool for at least half our dates by 85%.

So what did we do?  We dug down and stepped up our booking efforts.  Warpaint, Valerie June, Bibi Bourelly, Irma Thomas, Mon Laferte, Jah9, Marcia Griffiths, Wilde Belle, and Buscabulla all played the Twilight Concert Series at the Pier to large, enthusiastic audiences.  And we’ll do it again this year.

You can argue: why the gender disparity in terms of touring acts?  I’m not going to go into the reasons here why I think it exists.  The bottom line is we men, in our respective positions, need to step up and make sure those who are worthy and who are not getting the benefits of the established system have the opportunity to develop their talents to the point this conversation is no longer necessary.  You can call that affirmative action, socialism, whatever you want, I don’t care.  And those that don’t agree…can take a long jump off a short pier!


Martin Fleischmann


years ago (like in the early 90s). when I was steeped deeply in the music biz….I was at a talk over at UCLA in one of their classes…. Neil Portnow was the speaker…. he was not at NARAS yet… but he had some interesting stuff going on… so I went and listened…. what he said at the time… was there was really not a lot of room for women in the music biz….we had our place… we can stick to PR and marketing…. but we didn’t have the bite or the balls to do it… as you can imagine… I walked out of the room (not before saying to him that I thought he was full of shit) I walked out of the room fuming…. so here we are in 2018…. and clearly… he really still has no idea WTF he is talking about… he has been at NARAS since 2002 and maybe… it is time for him to step down…. would it be great for a woman to run it.. sure.. if she was the right person for it… what would be better is to have someone forward thinking…. who can take the antiquated music biz… and bring into the now.. and the future….but….weirdly… penis’s are not required for the job…

This sadly is the general feeling in all of the music biz.  There are plenty of smart women out there who can grab it by the balls and bring it in to (well… the 21st century).  Or…..we can let it crumble and rebuild from the ground up.   start paying more attention to the folks like A2IM and all the Indies (since lets be honest….  the big boys in music have been watching what was going on and stealing it from them anyway).  so… kick him out…  or let it crumble…. either way it is time for new blood…and has been for many many years.

Susan Ferris


Bob – thank you for this.

The other person/man that needs to go is Neil’s enforcer, the awards VP, ‘fearman’-in-chief, William Freimuth. He reaches out to members who speak out or post comments regarding  anything he considers unflattering to NARAS and asks if the member ‘values their membership’. Kept me from signing the petition among other things.

I can not allow my personal opinion or behavior negatively impact the label and artists I work with/for…

Please do not use my name.

Thank you for all you do to bring light to darkness.


I agree completely. That “task force” was set up to try and save his job. He has to leave. And it will happen. He’s going through the denial stage right now.

Chris Joseph


Thanks  for your Grammy post.  Know that we think Neil Portnow is a great, hard working, nice guy, as is long-enduring Grammy TV producer Ken Ehrlich, both having done the Grammys for a thousand years.

And of course, the current  Grammy staff and trustees (are bound to) publicly announce their support and circle the wagons as they are doing now.

But articles in the media of NARAS and Portnow apologies, support and walk-backs will not, in any way whatsoever, make this issue go away, or un-ring that bell.

There must be a change, and this is the best (or worst) time to do it.

Gail Roberts PR



Thank you so much.

I’m a bit tired and baffled by the mild, milque-toasty statements of semi-support that have followed the initial one that I participated in.  All of these subsequent efforts have refrained from calling for his resignation, as if Neil were a delicate flower whose refined sensibilities needed to be protected. Artists and minorities and women are the ones who need to be protected, not Neil Portnow.

I don’t mean to be ungrateful to the people who signed those statements – any expression of support is courageous and welcome and we are all on the same side.

I’m just so impressed by and grateful for your clear and unequivocal position which, although it has seemed obvious and righteous to me from the beginning, is apparently way more controversial than I thought.

Again – thank you so much.

p.s.  aren’t you worried about losing subscribers?  I seem to recall there being a number of Neanderthal responders who are not shy about voicing their opinions about any and everything, the more trivial the better.

That makes your position even more impressive.

Rosemary Carroll


Bob, you couldn’t be any more correct. Change is needed. A woman should be the head, and there are many great ones that can do the job in an amazing way.

Paul David Hager


I’ve never replied to your note, but cannot agree with you more. The GRAMMYs are quickly falling into the abyss of irrelevancy and Neil is driving the ship.

There are many, many women qualified to do this job. Who cares if she doesn’t have a brand name.

All best,

Bobby Pilon


Always good for a chuckle, Phil Spector stated this opinion in his 1969 RS interview:

“I was nominated once. I was nominated for putting thunder in “Walkin’ In The Rain.” That’s what they nominated me for. Can you imagine that? People say I set standards in the record industry. Yet NARAS doesn’t know I exist. They literally don’t. The best rhythm and blues record of the year several years ago according to NARAS was Bent Fabric and “Alley Cat.” I mean, can you imagine: Nancy Wilson was best R&B artist of the year! I mean, that’s junk.

They’re trying to change, and when we say change it, they say, “Well, why don’t you come down to our meetings and help us change?” I said, “Well, if I’m gonna go to your meetings, I’d rather form my own committee and get the dues myself. Why the fuck do I have to help you get $50 a person? I’m formin’ my own organization called PHIL, right? And everybody give me $100.”



I admire that you bravely spoke the truth here and everything you said resonates with me.  I agree it’s time for the Recording Academy to wake up and move on with new leadership.  Thanks for not being afraid to voice your opinion in a world where we tend to hesitate because we are concerned with what other people may think.  You are golden, even if we don’t always agree!!!

Richard Honig


The truly troubling aspect of this travesty is Portnow had & probably has no idea what just hit him in the face.

The division is so wide that not  even his pomposity can keep him afloat. Busted.

Michael Des Barres.


Ha ha brilliant piece

Peter Noone/Herman


Right on, Bob. Can anyone remember a task force that actually accomplished anything, outside of some report of recommendations that will forgotten within an hour of them being released?

When I was in the music biz (sales & marketing) I had to take the Grammys seriously and pay attention. I haven’t had a reason to since.

Steve Roth


I like your idea and VOTE for Mindi Abair. SHE ROCKS and has the stamina for the job if she has the desire to move up the chain.

Lisa S. Johnson


“108 Rock Star Guitars”


Let’s face it.  The Grammy’s is a TV show.  A woman running the Grammy’s should have a television production background from a musical perspective. If it’s going to be a show, make it interesting, edgy and entertaining.  Expose new artists.  Extend the art form.

Currently it’s an updated over staged recycled Top Of The Pops.



I think we need new young blood in his seat

Will Baker


Fiona Apple recently performed in LA with a “Kneel Portnow” shirt on

Kristina Armendaris


The “Behind The Grammy Awards Show” was abruptly canceled at Pollstar Live! last week Thursday.  It was slated to feature Scott Goldman (Grammy Museum) as moderator, Ken Ehrlich (Producer) and Portnow.

Andy MacIntyre


It’s not just about the Hammy Grammies – ths is an organization that continues to classify Boston (not much of a “college/music” town, right?!) as not worthy of its own chapter. it’s still an adjunct of New Fucking York.

It’s why I don’t vote any more. And I really used to care and consider it an honour.

Plus ca change, Baby. Mike Greene might have behaved appallingly – but he knew how to run a ballroom.

Hugo Burnham


Ross Hogarth here …

I could not agree more with you on this

On so many levels the Grammy’s are out of touch ..

It is truly time for Neil to go .. and has been for quite some time … just saying’ ..

There are so many amazing women candidates Just recently a week ago a bunch of us were saying the exact same thing Its time we get a woman in there.

Names like Maureen Droney who so wonderfully runs the P&E wing of NARAS or our studio matriarch Rose Mann-Cherney were in thrown around in conversation Both of these women would make a huge difference … The list is long and the time is NOW !!

I am not gonna get negative about it all but more like its time for a change and the time for change is NOW ..

Thanks for putting this conversation out in public in your blog all the best Ross


“New members must be signed up”    The first thing I thought when I read that was this statement could be closely tied to your recent post regarding “Discovery is Broken”    Just why would new members sign up?  What’s in it for them?   How do the Grammy’s sell that to an aspiring artist who’s struggling to get noticed?  Especially when they see who wins?   They have their finger on the pulse of music, they are closest to it.  They are the future.  Tough sell for them I bet…

Warm Regards,

Frank Biederer


Someone got swept up in the current lynch mob mentality. Before yelling “off with his head”, will someone please engage women Neil Portnow has worked with for their first hand experience?

Danny Holloway

Ximeno Records


I agree but as I have always said, the best and most qualified person for job must be put in place or resign yourself to possibly fail for the sake of appearances.

You want success or just to “feel” good? Big difference.

Choose the replacement wisely.

Wes Kelley


Stop pandering.  Whether Portnow must go or not is for more informed peeps to decide.  But how about advocating for the BEST candidate to replace him.  That decision should not have anything to do with the genitalia of the candidate or the skin tone or color.  When we all finally get past those prehistoric parameters, we will begin to escape the orbit and gravitational pull of the backward thinking and fear that has dominated decision making for so long and ultimately caused the need for and rise of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter and any other movement that speaks for those who feel disenfranchised because of their biology.

Let’s start making decisions solely based on qualifications and accomplishments, and leave nature to it’s own devices.

Kurt Denny


I get the last thing but it is all about merit

Terry Rhodes


Hey Bob, I think what you meant to say was:

Neil Portnow Must Go, and he needs to be replaced by the best available candidate.

I suggest letting go of that pendulum while it’s somewhere near the center…

-doug trantow


Must be a woman? Why? Idiotic statement with nothing to back it up.

David Reffett


Yes. Neil Portnow’s time should be up.

But why should it not simply be THE BEST replacement?  Woman or man.

That would truly be forward-thinking, no?



Amen !

John Shoup




Wendy B.


Spot on!

Jocelynn Pryor





My esteemed friend and colleague Frank Filipetti voiced the same sentiment on FB recently, suggesting Maureen Droney to head the Academy. She’s been involved with NARAS for years, was instrumental in getting the Academy to focus on producers and engineers, and is a dedicated advocate for music education. I can think of few people, male or female, more qualified.


Daniel Keller


Julie Swidler

John Scher


Couldn’t Agree More!

Becky Mancuso Winding would be an excellent asset to this organization.  Married to long-time Eagles contributor, Jai Winding, she was the first “Music Supervisor” on the film Urban Cowboy which launched a whole new career for many. She is on the Board for several fund raising organizations, including UCLA Hospital and has been around this business forever.  She just received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guild of Music Supervisors.

Fresh, intelligent, diplomatic and knowledgeable is what is needed.  The crony days must end.  Many women will not renew unless he is gone.  Lots to think about.  He’s been there a long time and the organization needs fresh new faces and ideas (and transparency).  Rules are changed annually and it is hard to keep up.  Chapters and categories are summarily dismissed at the drop of a pencil.  These 15 people “panels” who decide what music is nominated, is hidden behind a veil of secrecy.  There is a lot of shuck and jive going on over there and it is time to change the old guard.

Thanks for sending this!

Kerry Gogan


What a great idea! I nominate Susan Meisel, General Counsel Sony. She gets it all, and is an impeccable human being. Please call for suggestions, take it to the next level.

Thank you for keeping on.

Melinda Fishman


I nominate Shirley Manson (Garbage) for new President of the Grammys. KneelPortnow, your “step up” comments demonstrate that that you are long overdue to Step Down!

Jim Berkenstadt

Voting Grammy Member


Siedah Garrett for President!

Michael “FISH” Herring


I believe Cheryl Boone Isaacs is available.  In her four years as Academy president she increased the membership by almost 50%, made it younger, more international and brought much more diversity to the ranks.  She also dealt with the historic #OscarsSoWhite movement (as swiftly as humanly possible) and made a bold statement against the Muslim Ban which affected a number of nominees last year.  She wasn’t perfect, but she was damn progressive and the membership would have kept her if they could have.  She was term limited out last year.

Just sayin’.

Gregory Ellwood


I nominate Lou Taylor!

Deb Fenstermacher


Cheryl Mc Enaney!


Mardi Silva


And the woman is Lizzie Moore.

Brian Malouf
Producer | Mixer


Grammy winner Frank Filipetti has been advocating for Maureen Droney to helm NARAS. She’s qualified, capable, experienced (NARAS P&E wing founder) and a great person.

Doug Osborne


Mindi Abair would be amazing! Great call Bob!

Tom Hedtke


I nominate Sue Drew. A classical musician, A&R macher in her 20’s, youngest Vp of A&R in Electra’s history. Signed Phish before anyone’s heard of “jam bands” and on and on, then ran Ascap, and now totally forward thinking running A&R for Kobalt. She knows the business from all sides. Just saying.

Steve Jones


I am a long time reader of yours and first time writer, but I wanted to say  how right on I think your piece on Neil Portnow and Naras is.   I say this having been a member (as U imagine most of your readers are for over 15 years,  I was so excited when I joined feeling like I was going to make a difference in my industry and in my art. Cut to 15 years later the only thing useful in it was voting in the Grammies itself,a private that as the awards became less and less important I comparison to the calvcade of CBS Stars pimping their versions and sundry shows for AARP members.

I figured that maybe if I got involved, I could at least feel like part of the solution – I talked to friends who had been on various boards within Naras and who suggested I get involved.  Made the attempt my local chapter is in Chicago as I am in Minneapolis (for some reason NAras never does much here  even back in the day when more than half the major us distro went through here with Targets, Best Buy and Musicland)  The whole thing was pretty amazing in the terms of seeing how little they cared, and actually wouldn’t let me run- which regardless of credits  I should have been able too, but not to  try and sound bratty but I came in as the former Director of Artist & Product from Twin/Tone Records Group,  same at Innova which at the time was the 3rd largest non profit label in the us, was in the P&E wing, with credits ranging from academic classical, to jazz, techno,  and Indy rock. I might  not be the heaviest bat but a solid 300 hitter. When I asked why I wasn’t even allowed on the ballot I was told “well we have a guy from the Plain White tees running,” as if that was a reason.   I tell you this rather long winded story to make an observation about NARAS, that they tend to be the worst kind of star Fuckers, they only care about the names.

The vast majority of NARAS members aren’t the stars or the hit makers, they are the working musicians, the dying breed of the industry the musical middle class if you will.

NARAS, like the RIAA, has so lost the plot, old men who stick to old ideas and have been destroying the industry, from a complete flub on digital, to treating potential consumers as criminals,and all but ignoring the independent world, one that makes a up a lot of it is membership. there dated idea that the only cities that make music hat matters are New York, Nashville and Los Angeles  (maybe that’s why they Didn’t include Husker DU’s legendary drummer who defined hardcore Grant Hart in the In Memorial reel). Portnow’s. statements have always been cringeworthy  but now its a wonder  that there isn’t a bigger uproar, and I think that in itself is a testament to the impotence of  NARAS in its current state. a country club organization  that has just can’t figure out “why music matters”.  I think it’s time not just send Mr. Portnnow to go destroy a company in the private sector, but it’s time to reimagine NARAS for the 21st century.  To be more than just a once a year commercial for the soon to be misremembered, to lobby for innovation, celebrate music, all music not just what they hope 18 year olds will buy,  and to honor and recognize members of our craft who make it all possibile. To build careers and create real impactful art and not just memes.

Thanks for your writing,  you are gem.

Chris Strouth


Related Post