Embattled head of Grammys, Neil Portnow, to step down in 2019

Neil Portnow, a former record executive, has largely been seen as a stabilising force for the Grammy organisation since he took over in 2002.
Neil Portnow, a former record executive, has largely been seen as a stabilising force for the Grammy organisation since he took over in 2002.PHOTO: AFP

(NYTIMES) - Neil Portnow, the embattled head of the Recording Academy, the organisation behind the Grammy Awards, will step down in July 2019 at the end of his current contract, the academy announced Thursday (May 31).

Portnow, a former record executive, has largely been seen as a stabilising force for the Grammy organisation since he took over in 2002. His predecessor, Michael Greene, was forced out after a series of scandals, including accusations of sexual harassment and improper management of the finances of a Grammy-affiliated charity.

But this year Portnow, and the Grammy institution itself, have again been engulfed in controversy, particularly over the representation of women. After the 60th annual Grammy ceremony in January, at which only one woman won a major award in a televised category, Portnow told reporters backstage that women in the industry should "step up" to advance their careers.

A swift backlash followed, with some prominent women in the business calling for his resignation. Portnow said he regretted his choice of words, but - in a move that stoked further anger - stopped short of making a full apology.

Last week, Portnow again came under attack when it emerged that a high-ranking former employee had accused him of steering money away from the Grammys' charity, MusiCares, to help cover a financial shortfall related to the awards' move to New York this year. The academy denied the accusations.

Portnow, the academy's longest-serving chief, has been a familiar face at Grammy-related events, and typically addresses the awards' television audience each year on topics like artists' compensation. Behind the scenes, he has pushed the academy to take a greater role in the industry's lobbying battles in Washington, and two years ago Portnow helped negotiate a lucrative deal to keep the Grammy telecast on CBS, its longtime home, through 2026.

But his departure will also come as the Recording Academy is under close scrutiny. In response to complaints over his "step up" comments and an academic report showing gender inequality at the Grammys and in the industry at large, the academy created a task force to identify the "barriers and unconscious biases" at the academy and in the wider music business.

 
 
 

In music circles, Portnow's decision not to pursue an extension to his contract has been seen as a way to create a graceful exit from the academy's troubles. But in a statement, Portnow also made clear that he would remain a presence over the next year, including working with the academy's board on a succession plan.

"The evolution of industries, institutions, and organisations is ultimately the key to their relevance, longevity, and success," he said. "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."