Music Industry

Women to the front: Deborah Dugan to become first female Grammy president

A woman will lead the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for the first time.

The move comes a year after the current president tsk-tsk’d criticism that the industry didn’t recognize women enough because female artists needed to “step up.”

Neil Portnow announced last June that the 2019 Grammys would be his last as the president of the NARAS, the Grammy’s parent organization. His contract ends in July.

Deborah Dugan, CEO of (RED), a non-profit AIDS organization, will pick up where and when he leaves off. She’s no stranger to the music world, working closely with Bono at Red and having spent eight years as an executive vice president at EMI/Capitol Records, Billboard reports.

Dugan will be the first woman president and CEO of the academy, but she’s not the first woman in its upper echelons. Christine M. Farnon led the organization’s permanent staff in the 1980s before Mike Greene became its first permanent president. Farnon retired in 1992.

The academy hasn’t been the most female-friendly, however, with only three former senior vice presidents (Diane Theriot, Kristen Madsen and Nancy Shapiro) and two former chairs of its board of trustees (Leslie Ann Jones and Christine Albert) being women. There’s only one woman, Laura Segura Mueller, in the current 10-member executive staff. She serves as the vice president of membership and industry relations.

Portnow stepped in it in early 2018 and angered a lot of people when he said the reason most Grammy nominations and awards during the televised portion of the awards ceremony was because they weren’t trying hard enough.

Portnow said at the time that “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” needed 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 he said this during the #MeToo  and #TimesUp movements, as most women at both the Grammys and Oscars were wearing white roses on their gowns and speaking up on behalf of those who were sexually harassed, infuriated women even more.

But let’s be honest: Women have been stepping up, and out, and speaking up and out, for decades. Madonna was one of the first women to create her own label within a record company and that was back in the 1990s. Let’s look at Blondie and Debbie Harry and their boundary-breaking ways in the 1980s. Let’s look at Beyonce and the incredible ways she’s created a movement, in essence, by being exactly the kind of artist she wants from the get-go, as evidenced by the double release this week alone of a Netflix special and a surprise album.

Portnow later said he misspoke and that “women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music.”

Whether by coincidence or in response, this year’s Grammys were dubbed “Ladies Night” breathlessly by some outlets, given the number of women taking home trophies, including Dua Lipa winning best new artist and sending at direct barb at Portnow, saying that women had really stepped up this year before her speech was cut off. Alicia Keys hosted the ceremony and was the first woman in 14 years to do so, Cardi B won best rap album, Dolly Parton and Aretha Franklin were honored, Lady Gaga brought the house down and former First Lady Michelle Obama even made an appearance.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 516 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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