Portnow announced his plans to step down from his position at the Recording Academy’s semi-annual Board of Trustees meeting last week. Portnow will collaborate with the Board to create a transition plan while continuing his work as President of the Recording Academy, and MusiCares, and Chair of the Board of the GRAMMY Museum.
“The evolution of industries, institutions, and organizations is ultimately the key to their relevance, longevity, and success,” said Portnow. “Having been a member of the Recording Academy for four decades, serving as an elected leader and our President/CEO, I have not only witnessed our evolution but proudly contributed significantly to the Academy’s growth and stature in the world. When I had the honor of being selected to lead this great organization in 2002, I vowed that on my watch, for the first time in our history, we would have a thoughtful, well-planned, and collegial transition,” Portnow said in a press statement announcing his plans to step down.
“With a little more than a year remaining on my current contract, I’ve decided that this is an appropriate time to deliver on that promise. Accordingly, I’ll be working with our Board to put the various elements in place that will ensure transparency, best practices, and the Academy’s ability to find the very best, brightest, and qualified leadership to take us into our seventh decade of operation. I truly look forward to continuing my role leading the Academy in the year ahead, and to continue the pursuit of excellence and the fine missions we embrace and deliver,” he added.
Portnow became president of the Recording Academy in 2002 after a stint as President of Jive Records, stepping in for C. Michael Greene, who served as president from 1988 to 2002.
During his tenure, Portnow guided the organization through the digital music revolution and played a significant role in guiding MusicCare’s support of musicians affected by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Harvey, as well as providing financial assistance to music industry figures in need. According to the Recording Academy, MusiCares provided more than $5.9 million to 7,900 members of the music industry in the last fiscal year alone—the largest number of clients served and dollars distributed in a single year in the charity’s history.
However, in recent months, Portnow has also become a lightning rod for controversy. In January, he sparked outrage when he told Variety in an interview following the 60th annual Grammy Awards that if women want to be successful in the music industry that they need to “step up.” Portnow later said the comments were taken out of context, but they were a bitter pill for many women to swallow after the awards show ended with only two women on stage and Lorde, the only female artist to be nominated for Album of the Year, was not invited to perform.
More recently, Portnow was accused by former MusiCares VP Dana Tomarken of steering funding away from the MusicCares charity in order to cover a deficit from this year’s Grammy telecast, in part, due to an expensive venue change. In a letter obtained by Variety, Tomarken also claimed she was improperly terminated over a late payment on an auction item and “after a painful year of trying to protect MusiCares from being exploited, enduring ongoing instances of workplace abuse and harassment.”
The Recording Academy issued a statement seeking to refute Tomarken’s allegations, noting that the “decision as to the venue for this year’s Person of the Year event was made after careful consideration of all options, and input from all appropriate individuals. MusiCares’ interests were not sacrificed in favor of the interests of the Recording Academy” and adding that MusicCares never intended to “reduce, nor will they reduce, the amount of financial support made available to MusiCares clients in need.”
photo: Portnow (Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins)