Grammy organizers aim to reflect many voices of recording community

February 20, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Everybody knows that the Grammys are given out in a annual awards ceremony like the one being broadcast from New York tonight (the show, hosted by Garry Shandling, begins at 8 p.m. on CBS, Channel 11 locally). Most people understand that, with 79 categories in all, only a handful get announced live on TV; the others are awarded in an afternoon ceremony.

But how many of us know who actually votes on the awards?

No, it isn't the accountants at Price Waterhouse who do the deciding. Nor is the voting done by a telephone poll of average music fans, as is the case with the American Music Awards.

Instead, the Grammys are decided upon by recording professionals, the 6,000 or so voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).

"These are people who have contributed either creatively or technically on over six commercially released records," explains NARAS president Michael Greene. That means not only singing stars like Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand, but also producers, session players, recording engineers and the like.

"We have quite a few technical people," he adds, "but I would say they are probably 15 percent of the total membership. The balance is pretty much creative people."

As a result, NARAS has a built-in bias against industry types. In fact, says Greene, "most record company presidents and vice presidents can't join the academy."

Record companies can nominate recordings, though, and do so with a vengeance. Any recording released between Oct. 1, 1989 and Sept.30, 1990 was eligible for this year's Grammy competition, says Greene, and by the time all the submissions had been collected, screened and categorized, there were "somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 entries" in the 79 categories.

All voters have a voice in the top four categories -- Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist -- but are then restricted to only nine of the 27 Grammy fields. "A field is like the pop field, the rock field, or the classical field," he explains. "So that keeps riff-raff out of fields that they don't know anything about."

After that first vote, the nominating ballot is boiled down to five entries per category -- the list which was announced Jan. 10. "Then it goes to the membership, and on Feb. 9, the voting closed," Greene says. "They are now in the process of tabulating, and we'll know the winners at the same time you do."

In short, the Grammy process makes every effort to maintain its identity as the voice of the recordings community. Even so, not everyone is happy with the way things turn out. Earlier this month, singer Sinead O'Connor, who was nominated for

four awards this year, announced that she would have no part of the Grammys ceremony, to the point of refusing any award she might win.

Why? Because, as a letter she sent to NARAS put it, the Grammys "acknowledge mostly the commercial side of art."

Greene disagrees.

"It's unfortunate, after she got blown away by [the] over-commerciality of the MTV Awards and the American Music Awards, that she decided to [attack] the Grammys," he says. "Because if you look at our performances this year -- Bob Dylan, Living Colour, Tracy Chapman, Aerosmith, a tribute to Marian Anderson with Kathleen Battle -- you're looking at performances thatare not overtly commercial."

Besides, he says, it's not that the less-commercial recordings go ignored. "It's just that the voting membership many times keeps them categorized out of those top four categories.

"Those are the only categories, those four, that the entire membership votes on," he stresses. "And when you consider that we are such a pluralistic music society within the Academy -- we've got Hispanics, contemporary Christians, metal heads, rappers, classical and jazz musicians all voting in those four categories -- you're getting a more populist consensus than you get in the other categories."

Tonight's Grammy ballot

The following awards will be

announced during tonight's broadcast.

The list is subject to change.

Record of the year:

* "Another Day in Paradise," Phil Collins

* "From a Distance," Bette Midler

* "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor

* "U Can't Touch This," M.C. Hammer

* 'Vision of Love," Mariah Carey

Album of the year:

* "Back on the Block," Quincy Jones

* ". . . But Seriously," Phil Collins

* "Mariah Carey," Mariah Carey

* "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em," M.C. Hammer

* "Wilson Phillips," Wilson Phillips

rTC Song of the year:

* "Another Day in Paradise," Phil Collins

* "From a Distance," Julie Gold

L * "Hold On," Chynna Phillips, Glen Ballard and Carnie Wilson

* "Nothing Compares 2 U," Prince

* "Vision of Love," Mariah Carey and Ben Margulies

Pop vocal performance, female:

* "All Around the World," Lisa Stansfield

* "From a Distance," Bette Midler

* "I'm Your Baby Tonight," Whitney Houston

* "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor

* "Vision of Love," Mariah Carey

Pop vocal performance, male:

* "Another Day in Paradise," Phil Collins

* "Downtown Train," Rod Stewart

* "Georgia on My Mind," Michael Bolton

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