About 400 Recording Academy members and their guests gathered at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nashville Wednesday (Sept. 22) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Academy's Nashville chapter. Formerly known as the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), the Recording Academy is the organization that bestows the Grammy awards.
Highlighting the evening celebration was singer Mandy Barnett's performance of classic pop and country songs, backed by members of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Saxophonist Arian Avery entertained the crowd before and after the main program with breezy renditions of such varied country fare as "El Paso," "I Fall to Pieces," "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" and "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under."
Among the familiar and influential faces in the crowd were recording artists Brenda Lee, Danny Davis, Becky Hobbs, Gail Davies, Sherrié Austin, Mark Collie, Coley McCabe, Benita Hill and Darlene Austin; songwriters Frank Myers, Don Rollins, Jim Photoglo and Alan Rhody; producers Kyle Lehning, Garth Fundis, Chris Farren, Dennis Scott, Will Rambeaux and Bil VornDick; Grand Ole Opry manager Pete Fisher; Country Music Association executive director, Ed Benson; Country Radio Broadcasters executive director Ed Salamon; Universal Music Group Nashville co-chairman Luke Lewis; and former National Endowment for the Arts chairman Bill Ivey.
The programmed part of the evening started with a short film depicting the history of the Nashville chapter. Then Suzanne Kessler, who heads the chapter, welcomed the guests and introduced Dan Carlin, president of the Academy's board of trustees. Carlin reported on the new categories added to the Grammys -- best Hawaiian music album, best gospel performance, best surround sound album and best electronic dance album. He also emphasized the importance of keeping music in the educational curriculum. "You cannot cut music out of the schools," he said, " and expect to have a decent culture."
Academy president Neil Portnow praised the 20 years of service Nancy Shapiro had given the organization. She recently moved up from the post of executive director of the Nashville chapter to vice president of regional management. The crowd gave Shapiro a standing ovation.
Portnow explained that the MusiCares Foundation, the Academy's charitable arm, has taken over the Musicians' Assistance Program, a similar organization. "We are going to become the charity of choice for our industry," he promised.
Turning to the Academy's lobbying efforts, Portnow asserted, "Music-makers want their work respected." Toward that end, he said the organization is working with members of Congress to curtail illegal file sharing. One such measure is the proposed Inducing of Infringement of Copyright Act, which would shift the responsibility for illegal downloading from individual users to the companies that promote copyright violations. To date, he said, the most effective deterrent to copyright infringement has been suing the individual downloaders.
In addition, Portnow continued, "the time has come for radio stations in the U.S. to join the rest of the world and compensate artists for the use of their work on the air. ... We call on Congress to correct this inequity as soon as possible."
American radio stations pay songwriters -- but not the recording artists -- for using their music. While acknowledging this absence of payment has become a tradition with radio, Portnow said it is a spurious practice. He asked the audience to imagine the uproar if a movie studio used a novelist's works without paying him -- and then argued that such unpaid usage was fair because it promoted the sale his novels. Portnow stressed that radio should pay recording artists without reducing its payments to songwriters.
Daryl Friedman, vice president of advocacy and government relations for the Academy, urged members to petition their Congressional representatives to pass the Inducing of Infringement of Copyright Act and noted that they had all been sent e-mails on how to make the petitioning process easier. He said local pressure is important, quoting a congressman who once remarked, "When I feel the heat at home, I see the light in Washington."
In spite of Portnow's contention that musicians want and deserve respect, the crowd wasn't very respectful to the musicians who performed. The partygoers began drifting out of the room while the speeches were still going on and were distractingly noisy when a string quartet from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra began playing. The clamor lessened when Barnett took the stage, but still Academy staff members occasionally had to shush the celebrants.
Barnett opened with the bluesy "Cry Me a River" and continued through "September in the Rain," "If You Love Me," "All of Me," "Tweedlee Dee," "Crying," "Blues in My Heart," "It's Over," "Any Old Time" and "I Can't Stop Loving You." The portion of the crowd that remained to listen to her was clearly ecstatic. But Barnett was competing with food and drink. By the time her show ended, most of the people had drifted downstairs and were advancing on the lavish buffet.