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Greene Tunes Out Grammys Gig

C. Michael Greene has resigned as the head of the organization that hands out the music industry’s most prestigious award, the Grammys, following an emergency board of trustees vote to remove him from office.

Greene resigned Saturday night at an emergency meeting attended by more than three dozen trustees of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Greene, 52, had three years remaining on his contract and will receive a severance package of $8 million, much of which will be covered by insurance and includes his bonus from the CBS Grammy contract. He is the highest paid executive at a non-profit agency in the country.

Grammy board of trustees chairman Garth Fundis, a Nashville-based producer, will run the group while NARAS conducts a national search to find a successor. NARAS is expected to first bring in consultants to evaluate what structural changes should be made before determining who should get the top post. High on the priority list are improved operating structures for the NARAS groups that deal in doling out money and grants: the Grammy foundation, the artist advocacy program and MusiCares.

It was Fundis, perceived as a Greene ally, who called Saturday’s meeting after reviewing the results of an investigation into charges of sexual harassment against Greene. The trustees, who have had to answer for Greene’s behavior and leadership several times during his tenure, clearly decided he no longer deserved support. One individual privy to the discussion said Greene didn’t do much to rally troops the way he has in the past.

Fundis said, in a statement released Sunday by the Recording Academy, “a full and fair investigation of alleged misconduct by Mike was completed and it revealed no sexual harassment, no sex discrimination and no hostile work environment at the Recording Academy.”

Greene will be a full-time consultant for the Recording Academy through September and on a part-time basis until after the Feb. 23 Grammy Awards show in New York. He will aid in the transition and assist with several projects including the third annual Latin Grammys, the Grammy Exposition and Hall of Fame in New Orleans and Encore Hall Los Angeles, a senior living facility.

Greene was in Washington last week to present NARAS’ second annual Washington, D.C., Chapter Heroes Awards, and talk had begun to swirl that that could be his last official act as NARAS president.

The resignation closes a chapter on the Grammy organization that has seen some of its greatest successes and its biggest messes during Greene’s reign.

The academy has experienced tremendous growth since Greene, a saxophonist who rose through NARAS’ Atlanta chapter, was hired as Grammy president in 1988. He boosted its assets to $50 million from $4.8 million, increased membership by 400% to its current 17,000-plus and earlier this year negotiated a five-year contract extension with CBS for the Grammy Awards at $20 million per year.

Most importantly for artists, Greene altered the Grammy nomination process in the early 1990s to bring nominations more in line with contemporary tastes and continually saw to the expansion of categories to represent new musical styles. Performances on the Grammy telecast often lead to hearty boosts in album sales, and Greene has long overseen the hiring of kudocast performers. Three years ago, the Latin Grammys were launched under Greene.

His tenure has also often been contentious. In February, Grammy trustees paid a former female exec $650,000 to settle a sexual abuse case against Greene. At the settlement conference for the suit, two other execs who had left NARAS in the mid-’90s stepped forward with similar accusations, which Greene denied.

Many of the trustees attending Saturday’s meeting saw the settlement as the last straw. A balance of power had shifted at the last trustees election as few, if any, of Greene’s choices were elected to the regional posts. (Trustees are elected to two consecutive two-year terms in cities across the U.S.) There was discussion of postponing the vote on Greene until a May trustees’ meeting, but the trustees did not want to be involved in months of negotiations with Greene.

MusiCares, the philanthropic arm of NARAS, had come under fire when it was disclosed that three-quarters of its income went to administrative and fund-raising costs rather than to the intended recipients. Turnover at MusiCares was also considered exceedingly high.

The Latin Grammys, launched in 2000 when artists such as Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez had emerged as household pop music names, ran into costly trouble in its second year, first when protests in Miami forced the 11th hour transfer of the kudocast to the Forum in L.A. It was slated for the evening of Sept. 11, canceled after the terrorist attacks and never rescheduled. The third edition will be held Sept. 18 at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater.

Dick Clark, who runs the competing American Music Awards, sued Greene and the Grammys for $10 million in December, claiming that Greene threatened artists that they could not appear on the Grammys in February if they performed at the American Music Awards telecast in January. Ratings for February’s telecast of the 44th Grammy Awards were the lowest in the decade.

Greene initially brought peace to the Grammy location wars by alternating the awards show between New York and Los Angeles and bargaining for considerable concessions from the mayors of the two cities. During rehearsals in 1998 at Radio City Music Hall, Greene got into a spat with Gotham’s then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who accused Greene of lying; the kudocast has since stayed in L.A., though next year’s show will be held at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Early in his Grammy run, Greene signed a contract with Mercury Records that raised the ire of other labels. No albums ever came out of the pact.

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