By CRAIG ROSEN
As the Recording Academy and the Grammy Awards celebrate their 50th anniversaries, Neil Portnow moves into his fifth year overseeing the organization with a recent promotion to president/CEO. The former musician, producer, music publisher and record executive took the reins in December 2002.
During his tenure, Portnow has been a stabilizing force, following the high-profile but sometimes controversial leadership of former academy president C. Michael Greene.
Portnow described how the organization approached its golden anniversary and the continuing challenges the academy and the music industry at large face.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in preparing for the academy’s 50th anniversary?
‘‘We have an interesting anniversary year because we’re really celebrating both the founding of the Recording Academy, which was in 1957, and the 50th annual Grammy Awards [first staged in 1958]. In my mind, they are linked, but they’re slightly different propositions.
‘‘In the case of the show, obviously we’re celebrating the 50 years of our awards process and all that is related to that. In the case of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the organization, it’s a bit of a broader consideration and it also spans more than 12 months.
‘‘It’s been somewhat of a daunting task, because there is a lot of ground to cover and then there are practical realities when you begin in your mind with blue-sky ideas and then get down to the reality of what is practicable, and what would be best-received by our membership and the public at large,’’ Portnow said.
In preparation for this year’s show you and your team went back and looked at a lot of archival footage from years past. What did you learn?
‘‘It’s interesting to see the evolution from essentially a presentation, something that was as basic as a dinner done in different parts of the country, to the development over time into an event, then a television event, and ultimately what it has become today, which I would say is the ultimate in recognition and certainly the highest honor that a musician can aspire to.
‘‘Of course, there were all kinds of fun observations. You look at the production values, what’s happened over 50 years. You look at the various wardrobe and style changes that reflect the times. Certainly the music has evolved in a tremendous way. Even in the academy’s own recognition of some of the music, which quite frankly years ago, was admittedly behind the times.
‘‘What I find consistent is the fact that there was really always an effort to look at true artistry and recognize that, and more often than not the Grammys managed to achieve that goal,’’ Portnow said.