Grammys Chop Award Categories, Worrying Some Artists of Color

A number of award categories for Latin and other ethnic music are gone.

By Jorge Rivas Apr 11, 2011

On Wednesday, the Recording Academy announced its decision to consolidate Grammy Awards categories from 109 to 78, leaving more artists competing for fewer Awards. There’s reason for artists of color to worry about the change. The castaway categories include: Best Latin Jazz Album, Best Contemporary Jazz Album, Best Cajun & Zydeco Album, Best Native American Album and Best Hawaiian Music Album. Seven Latin categories were cut to four, citing duplicate categories in the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony and the English-language awards.

The three R&B vocal performance awards for males, females and groups have been merged into a single R&B performance award.

The shifts could be significant. Though the Grammys began as a way to honor excellence in the recording arts and sciences, the annual awards ceremony has turned into a system that can also catapult exceptional artists to the main stage. One example? Esperanza Spalding, this year’s big surprise winner. Mainstream radio DJ’s rarely included the singer on playlists before she beat out Justin Bieber for Best New Artist at this year’s ceremony.

For lesser known artists like Spalding, the awards can make a tremendous difference when it comes to sales and booking performances. But representatives from the Recording Academy say the cuts were a necessary adjustment.

"Every year, we diligently examine our Awards structure to develop an overall guiding vision and ensure that it remains a balanced and viable process," Neil Portnow, the president and CEO of the Recording Academy said in a press release. "After careful and extensive review and analysis of all Categories and Fields, it was objectively determined that our GRAMMY Categories be restructured to the continued competition and prestige of the highest and only peer-recognized award in music."

Sounds like they thought too many Grammys were getting away too easily.