Are the Grammy’s Racist?
by Sheldon Rocha Leal
After the dust had settled, on this year’s Grammy ceremony, I read various articles that insinuated that the body that hosts the awards, NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), is racist. This is something over which I have been actively reflecting since the ceremony. Initially I thought that it may be possible, but then I remembered all the black musicians, that have won multiple awards over the years, and I started thinking that it may not be true…
It all started with Adele’s ridiculous speech at the Grammy awards, where she stated that Beyoncé deserved to win the Album of the year award. What?! Why?! She has 22 Grammy Awards…
It was then followed by Solange’s comment that only 2 black musicians in the last twenty years had won the Album of the Year Grammy. What?! But 4 black/African American artists have won the award in 20 years: Herbie Hancock; Lauryn Hill; Ray Charles; Outkast.
It was then followed by a barrage of Beyoncé fan tweets and posts claiming that the Grammy Awards are racist.
I therefore decided to do some research, to lay my mind at ease and to once and for all determine if the Grammy awards are truly racist. If there is one thing I can’t handle is misinformation and ignorance. So I set out to determine the truth based on actual numbers.
Before I got into the research I conducted, it is important that the reader understand how the Grammy’s work: there are about 30 different fields, these fields represent various genres and within every field there are a number of awards in which an artist can win (e.g. R&B song of the year; R&B album of the year; R&B performance of the year in the R&B field). There is one field that is not genre specific, the General Field. This field contains the 4 most prestigious Grammy awards: Album of the Year; Song of the Year; Record of the Year and Best New Artist. The Grammy’s are voted for by the Voting Members of NARAS. In order to be a voting member you need to have made a significant contribution to the music business in the USA: release an album, have a hit on the charts, win a Grammy etc...
I guess the awards in contention are the big 4 in the General Field. There are only two artists in history that have ever won the Big 4 and only one has done it in one night (this can only be achieved once in an artist’s career): Christopher Cross (1980). The other was Adele, who won her big 4 over various years and has won 3 of the 4 twice.
So are the Grammy’s racist? I decided that I would look at the winners of the Big 4 dating back to 1959, the year the first Grammy’s were handed out, to determine whether they are indeed racist.
Record of the year
All in all 17 black artists have won in this category. That means that black/African American represent 28.8% of all the winners in this category. Those odds don’t seem great, until one compares the win rate to the population demographic in the United States. According to the 2010 US census, the white population accounts for 72% and the black/African American accounts for 12% of the entire US population. According to this statistic black/African American winners are overrepresented in this category. Listed below are the 17 black/African American winners who have won Record of the Year:
1. The Fifth Dimension: Up Up and Away (1968)
2. The Fifth Dimension: Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (1970)
3. Roberta Flack: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1973)
4. Roberta Flack: Killing Me Softly (1974)
5. George Benson: This Masquerade (1977)
6. Michael Jackson: Beat It (1984)
7. Tina Turner: What’s Love Got To Do with It (1985)
8. USA for Africa: We Are The World (1986)
9. Bobby McFerrin: Don’t Worry Be happy (1989)
10. Natalie Cole: Unforgettable (1992)
11. Whitney Houston: I will always love you (1994)
12. Seal: Kiss From a rose (1996)
13. Eric Clapton and Babyface: Change the world (1997)
14. Ray Charles and Norah Jones: Here We Go Again (2005)
15. Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rogers: Get Lucky (2014)
16. Sam Smith, Rodney Jerkins: Stay With Me (Darkchild Version) (2015)
17. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars: uptown Funk (2016)
Song of the year
Only 7 songs written by black/African American artists have won in this category. This therefore means 11.8% of the winners in this category have been black/African American. Black/African American winners are slightly underrepresented in this category based on the US population demographic. Below is a list of the black/African American winners in this category:
1 Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie: We are the world (1986)
2. Bobby McFerrin: Don’t Worry Be Happy (1989)
3. Seal: Kiss from a Rose (1996)
4. Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Tommy Sims: Change the world (1997)
5. Alicia Keys: Fallin’ (2002)
6. Richard Marx and Luther Vandross: Dance with my father (2004)
7. Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash, Christopher Stewart: Single Ladies (put a ring on it) (2010)
Album of the year
In this category, black/African American artists have won 13 times. This therefore means that 22% of the winners in this category have been black/African American. Black/African American artists are, therefore, overrepresented in this category based on the 2010 US census. Below are the black/African American winners in this category:
1. Blood Sweat and Tears: Blood Sweat and Tears (1970)
2. Stevie wonder: Innervisions (1974)
3. Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1975)
4. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the key of life (1977)
5. Michael Jackson: Thriller (1984)
6. Lionel Richie: Can’t Slow Down (1985)
7. Quincy Jones: Back on the block (1991)
8. Natalie Cole: Unforgettable…with love (1992)
9. Whitney Houston: The Bodyguard (1994)
10. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1999)
11. Outkast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2004)
12. Ray Charles: Genius and friends (2005)
13. Herbie Hancock: The Joni Letters (2008)
Best New Artist
Although this Award has been in existence since the first Grammy ceremony, in 1959, the award was not presented in 1967 and was revoked and not reawarded in 1990, when Milli Vanilli were asked to return their award after defrauding the music industry. This means that the award has only been presented 57 times. In this category, black/African American winners have won 13 times, which means that they represent 22% of all the winners in this category. This therefore means that black/African American winners are also overrepresented in this category, as they were in three of the Big 4. Below are the black/African winners in this category:
1. Natalie Cole (1976)
2. A Taste of Honey (1979)
3. Sade (1986)
4. Jody Watley (1988)
5. Tracy Chapman (1989)
6. Mariah Carey (1991)
7. Arrested Development (1993)
8. Toni Braxton (1994)
9. Lauryn Hill (1999)
10. Alicia Keys (2002)
11. John Legend (2006)
12. Esperanza Spalding (2011)
13. Chance The Rapper (2017)
All-time winning black/African American artists
The numbers look even better when we look at the top overall winning artists in the history of the Grammy Awards. Five of the Top 17 winners of all time are black/African winners (29% of the overall top winning artists):
- Quincy Jones, has the second higher number of Grammy Awards, 27
- Stevie Wonder, has the eighth number of Grammy Awards, 22
- Beyoncé Knowles, has the tenth highest number of Grammy Awards, 22
- Kanye West, has the eleventh highest number of Grammy Awards, 21
- Jay-Z, has the thirteenth highest number of Grammy Awards, 21
Together these 5 artists own 113 Grammy Awards, and husband and wife team, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, own a combined 43 Grammy Awards.
When considering the all-time winning female artists, 10 of the 19 Top females are black/African American:
- Beyoncé is the female with the second greatest number of Grammy awards, 22
- Aretha Franklin is the female artist with the 3rd highest number of Grammy Awards, 18
- Alicia Keys is the female artist with the 5th highest number of Grammy Awards, 15
- Ella Fitzgerald is the female artist with the 6th highest number of Grammy Awards, 13
- Leontyne Price is the female artist with the 7th highest number of Grammy Awards, 13
- Shirley Caesar is the female artist with the 9th highest number of Grammy Awards, 11
- Chaka Khan is the female artist with the 10th highest number of Grammy Awards, 10
- CeCe Winans is the female artist with the 14th highest number of Grammy Awards, 10
- Mary J Blige is the female artist with the 15th highest number of Grammy Awards, 9
- Natalie Cole is the female artist with the 16th highest number of Grammy Awards, 9
These female artists have, combined, won a total of 130 Grammy Awards and represent 52% of the Top female winners.
Out of the all-time winning male artists, 4 of the Top 18 are black/African American, which accounts for 22% of the Top18:
- Quincy Jones is the male artist with the second highest number of Grammy Awards,27
- Stevie Wonder is the male artist with the 6th highest number of Grammy Awards, 22
- Kanye West is the male artist with the 8th highest number of Grammy Awards, 21
- Jay-Z is the male artist with the 10th highest number of Grammy Awards, 21
Combined these male artists have won 91 Grammy awards.
When considering the top winning bands of all time, 5 of the Top25, winning bands are black/African American, which accounts for 20% of the bands on the list:
- Take 6 are the 11th highest Grammy Award winning band of all time, 8
- The 5th Dimension are the 17th highest Grammy Award winning band of all time, 6
- The Black Eyed Peas are the 18th highest Grammy Award winning band of all time, 6
- Earth, Wind And Fire are the 21st highest Grammy Award winning band of all time, 6
- Outkast are the 22nd highest Grammy Award winning band of all time, 6
Combined these bands have won 32 Grammy Awards. Finally the top winning females, males and bands of all time, have won over 250 Grammy Awards.
Therefore in summation, based on the above figures and compared to the population demographics, as per the 2010 US census, one can safely say that black/African artists are proportionately represented and sometimes overrepresented at the Grammy Awards.
It is also only logical to surmise that in a country, which has a predominantly white population, that white people would inevitably identify more strongly with white artists, therefore accounting for the greater number of white winners at the Grammy Awards. I personally do not feel that, that is racist, it is purely a matter of taste, preference and possibly cultural association. That would be like saying that in categories like R&B or Hip-Hop the majority of winners are predominantly black/African American and therefore NARAS is racist toward white artists as they are proportionately underrepresented as winners in these categories. It’s just an illogical argument.
So therefore based on my research and the figures that I have identified I do not believe the Grammy’s are racist. Discuss…