THE SOUND OF MUSIC: NEIL PORTNOW IS PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF RECORDING ARTS AND SCIENCES.
Lana K. Wilson-Combs
LOS ANGELES, CALIF-- When you mention the Grammy Museum to Neil Portnow, the President and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), his eyes light up and a big smile fills his face.
That's because Portnow envisioned a state of the art music facility much like the Grammy Museum ever since he replaced the Academy's former president Michael C. Greene in 2002. Now, that it's here he says it's a "thrill to see."
Portnow along with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villagranosa, music producer Jimmy Jam and other special guests were on hand for the official Grammy Museum ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 5. The impressive 30,000 square foot museum which is located at the corner of Olympic Blvd. and Figueroa Ave., across the street from the Staples Center opened to the public Dec. 6.
"I'm delighted about the Grammy Museum because not only does it showcase a rich musical legacy, but it's also a tremendous asset to the city of Los Angeles and for music lovers worldwide who will come to visit it," Portnow explained to N2Entertainment.net. during a one-on-one interview in Los Angeles prior to the Grammy Museum opening. "The Grammy Museum, Portnow added, "celebrates our past and embraces our future."
The Grammy Museum pays tribute to all sorts of music as well as the creative, art and technology of the recording process. "It is truly an impressive state of the art operation," said Portnow. "There's something for every single musical taste."
The one-of-a-kind "21st Century Museum" features interactive, permanent and traveling exhibits — with four floors of dynamic and engaging multimedia presentations. The Museum also has some thought-provoking educational and public programs featuring films, lectures and performances in its 200-seat state-of-the-art Grammy Sound Stage which will host special programs and private events throughout the many L.A. Live venues. The Grammy Museum's rooftop terrace offers spectacular views of downtown Los Angeles.
Portnow added that the Museum allows guests a behind-the-scenes, in-depth look at the backstage preparations, excitement, energy and power of the Grammy Awards.
Seeing the Grammy Museum come to fruition is just one of the many lofty plans and goals Portnow set into motion since his presidency at the Recording Academy. "Neil (Portnow) came aboard and hit the ground running with some fresh and innovative ideas," said Maureen O' Conner, Executive Vice President Of The Music Group at Rogers & Cowan and Grammy Awards Spokeswoman. "He has a keen business sense of the music industry and is well respected."
Portnow earned much of that respect in the music industry long before joining the Recording Academy. He began in the business as a record producer and music supervisor. He worked at RCA, Arista, 20th Century Fox, Screen Gems Music & EMI. Portnow's leadership and business acumen led him to the Jive/Zomba label in 1989 where he served as the Vice-President of the West Coast Division. He successfully made the company a viable and dominant player in the industry. He helped launch some of the biggest musical artists of the 1990s including Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and NSYNC among others.
"Neil (Portnow) has such insight and has kept his pulse on trends and concepts in the industry," said music producer Jimmy Jam who also serves as the Chairman of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. "He's committed to the Grammys and especially reaching out to schools and the community. He's not afraid to step out of the box and bring new ideas to the table or allow colleagues to contribute as well."
For starters, Portnow created the organization's first marketing department to increase corporate sponsorships which enabled the Grammy telecast to extend its agreement with CBS through 2011. He launched "What's the Download?" an educational campaign against illegal downloading and established the MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund in the wake of Katrina to help displaced musicians and their families. The MusiCares programs and resources offer a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergency assistance to musicians.
In addition to establishing these important programs, Portnow has worked diligently to bring more diversity, youth and just an overall cool quotient to the Grammys.
Keeping a step ahead of the competition, like the BET Awards and the American Music Awards is the name of the game. And giving audiences the most entertaining music show around is important to Portnow. "We look at every show and analyze it and see what worked and maybe what didn't work as well as we might have liked," explained Portnow. "Each time we try to better it and come up with new and exciting things that we feel audiences will enjoy watching."
And as much as Portnow loves to see the Grammys telecast run smoothly, he is equally proud of the Recording Academy's community outreach events like The Grammy Signature Schools program which spotlights schools across the country that are dedicated to offering exemplary music programs. "Music has a profound impact on the lives of young people," said Portnow. It's very important that music remains a vital part of the schools curriculum. "It's inspiring that these schools strive for musical excellence and continue to generate positive effects for their students."
Portnow believes The Grammy Jazz Ensemble is another outstanding program. "It's unique in that it brings together exceptionally talented vocalists and instrumentalists from high schools across the country to form a jazz choir, combo and band. These young people come to Los Angeles to play with their peers and Grammy nominated and Grammy-winning artists. They get the opportunity to perform at the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute and at a range of Grammy events. For many of these students this type of exposure is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Those chosen for The Grammy Jazz Ensembles are eligible for more than $2 million in college scholarships which are made possible through the Grammy Foundation's college partners: Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and USC Thornton School of Music.
"There's so much leading up to the actual Grammy broadcast and so much involved throughout the community," said Portnow. "It's really a great and exciting week. The Grammys celebrated its 50th anniversary this past February. And the Grammy Museum provides a perfect retrospective and captures all the amazing accomplishments of these musicians who continue to impact the world. And it's a tremendous honor for me to be part of it all."
Editor's Note: The 51st Annual Grammy Awards will air at 8 p.m. PT/ET on CBS February 8, 2009 from The Staples Center. Neil Diamond will be the recipient of the MusiCares Person of the Year award.
For more information and a list of the Grammy nominations, log on to www.Grammys.com. Some information used in this feature story supplied by the Grammys publicity department.