Jesse Jackson enters fray over Grammy cuts

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jesse Jackson is entering the fray over The Recording Academy’s cuts to its Grammy categories: He’s asking to meet with the president of the organization and has raised the possibility of protests with the awards a little less than two weeks away.

The civil rights activist sent a letter to Neil Portnow, the president and CEO of the Academy, and expressed his dismay over the academy’s decision last April to cut its categories from 109 to 78. In the letter, he said he had been talking to members of the entertainment community and asked that his organization, Rainbow Push Coalition, “meet with you urgently to express our concerns and to see if we might help resolve this conflict … and allow the Grammys to do what they do best.”

Portnow was not available for immediate comment Friday.

Some musicians in the Latin jazz community have filed a lawsuit against the Academy claiming the reductions in categories caused them irreparable harm.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday night, Jackson said he wanted “cooperation, not confrontation” with the Academy. However, he did raise the possibility of a protest of the Feb. 12 Grammys, to be held in Los Angeles, if his talks with the Academy did not go well.

“We are prepared to work with artists and ministers and activists to occupy at the Grammys so our appeal of consideration of mercy really might be heard,” he said.

The Academy decided last year to shrink its voluminous categories, the biggest overhaul in its then 53-year history, after a yearlong examination of the awards structure. Among the changes: elimination of some of the instrumental categories in pop, rock and country; traditional gospel; children’s spoken-word album; Zydeco or Cajun music album; and best classical crossover album. In addition, men to women compete head-to-head in vocal performance categories instead of separate categories for each sex.

The Academy contends the changes simply make the awards more competitive, but do not prevent people from entering into competition.

But Jackson said he’s concerned that it limits participation of those who have been disenfranchised.

“Music of all arts should be expansive and inclusive,” he said. “So much talent comes from the base of poverty and those in the margins. You limit the base, you miss too much talent.”

While some have gone so far as to call the cuts racist, Jackson said he did not believe that.

“I don’t think that we have to prove that to make our point. We’re talking about expansion,” he said.

“Sometimes inclusion is inconvenient but it’s the right thing to do,” he added.