In early 2019, Deborah Dugan was selected to become the Recording Academy’s new president/CEO, succeeding Neil Portnow and becoming the first woman to hold the position. Dugan brought valuable experience to the job: Before serving as the CEO of (RED), she spent time working for EMI, Capitol Records, and SBK Records. Dugan assumed her new post on August 1, but her time in the job did not last long: She was recently placed on “administrative leave” by the Recording Academy, just days before this year’s Grammy Awards (which take place on January 26).
An internal memo (obtained by Variety) about Dugan reads, “In light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team, the Board has placed Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave, effective immediately. The Board has also retained two independent third-party investigators to conduct independent investigations of the allegations.”
Dugan’s ousting is not without controversy. Insiders told Variety that her placement on administrative leave was a “coup,” with one saying, “Who are most of the senior executives in the Academy and the board? Older people resistant to change. It was too much change for them, too soon.” Another source also said, “She may have been asking questions like, ‘Why is the board so large,’ and, ‘Why are we spending so much money?’ […] There are people who had been there for years who knew they were going to be let go, and who knew they would not get a job that paid as well anywhere else.”
Dugan’s lawyer Bryan Freedman said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that he and Dugan “will expose what happens when you ‘step up‘ at the Recording Academy,” saying, “What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told. When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”
Dugan has also received support from people not directly involved with the situation. Over the weekend, Chuck D shared a lengthy message backing Dugan, writing, “I salute Deborah Dugan for her truth and courage to try and effect change. As always, a bunch of ignorant, testosterone-fueled, usually old white men stop progress and screw it up. Same old bullsh*t. They want to keep it status quo and make sure things like Hip Hop stay the poster child of their f*ckery.”
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My open letter To The Grammy’s and Hip hop ✊🏾 ………… Figures… I salute Deborah Dugan for her truth and courage to try and effect change. As always, a bunch of ignorant, testosterone-fueled, usually old white men stop progress and screw it up. Same old bullshit. They want to keep it status quo and make sure things like Hip Hop stay the poster child of their fuckery. In 1989 we protested the Grammys because they refused to acknowledge a new art form called Hip Hop/Rap. I responded with the lyric, “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy.” We fought to be recognized and for things to change. We kicked that door in for others to come through. After 35 years in this industry, folks should know that I always defer any individual accomplishment, always giving salutes to those before me and trying to open the door for those after me. In agreeing to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award when Deborah called me was no different. We discussed these issues and what needed to change. Hip Hop can’t be judged by a bunch of old corporate guards who rewrite history to serve their corporate bottom line. But it was obvious she was having her own struggles with an academy that thinks Public Enemy ended in 1992 yet want to give us a lifetime achievement award without acknowledging a lifetime of work. We had to haggle, to educate, to justify why a core member of our group for the past 22 years, DJ Lord, should be part of this award. We had to question why our biggest UK hit and the theme to the global Paralympics Games, “Harder Than You Think,” was left out. Maybe because it was released on my own independent label, SlamJamz, and not a major? Never could I have imagined that pushing for the recognition our art form deserved would turn into artists being coerced into disrespecting the craft, themselves, the culture and other people only to chase the bag and validation from corporations and award shows who don’t care about you. I hope this letter will be a wake-up call for them. New folks but the same ol bullshit pattern doesn’t change a thing. So I’m not surprised that Deborah Dugan is out. I am appalled because it reeks of the same old jive, a New Whirl Odor that ..
Find the full list of this year’s Grammy nominees here.