When it comes to race, Grammys have the Oscars beat

Culture Music

“It’s time for big changes.”

So said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, following widespread criticism of the Academy’s failure to nominate any minority actors for the second year in a row.

Changes did follow, with the Academy pledging to double the numbers of women and “diverse members” by 2020, but we won’t know for at least a year if these will make a difference for any future nominations.

In the meantime, if the Academy would like to see how to handle the sensitive topic of race and culture, maybe they should take some lessons from the 58th Grammy Awards, hosted on Monday, Feb. 15.

While #OscarsSoWhite dominates discussion around the awards, a more appropriate hashtag for Monday night’s Grammys might be #GrammysSoDiverse, as the music awards perfectly reflect how multicultural pop culture should be.

There were three minority musicians making up five spots for the coveted Record of the Year award this year, as well as three for Album of the Year and two for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

The most impressive part? This is nothing new.

The Grammys got off to the perfect start when it came to recognizing diversity. At 1959’s inaugural ceremony, Ella Fitzgerald won awards in three categories, winning Best Vocal Performance, Female and Best Jazz Performance.

Fitzgerald followed the next year with two more wins, with Duke Ellington winning three awards and Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington taking home silverware.

Things have only gotten better since, and of the top ten artists with the most Grammy wins, four are people of colour. While film and music awards are hard to compare due to a lack of homogenous categories, it is notable that of the 40 actors that have won more than one Oscar, only one — Denzel Washington — is a person of colour.

Despite the Grammys’ impressive history, the awards show has recently been under fire for a lack of diversity. After the 1990s, a decade dominated by artists like Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole, and Quincy Jones, only one album by an artist of colour between 2000 and 2010 won Album of the Year. Similarly, only one single released by an artist of colour won Record of the Year, and only one song by an artist of colour won Song of the Year.

In 2015 the controversy came to a head. In a year dominated by news stories of racial tension and police brutality, only two of the 20 acts nominated to the Grammys’ four major categories (Song, Record, Album of the Year, and Best New Artist) were people of colour.


While the Grammy’s voting body didn’t need to make any of the changes the Academy did for the Oscars,  2016 looked to be a return to something fitting for the Grammys of old.


While the uproar was nowhere near the level of this year’s Oscars, there was still acknowledgement from artists performing at the Grammys this year. Both Beyoncé and Pharrell led a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” demonstration during their performances, and Prince reminded the Grammy audience that “albums still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter.”

While the Grammys’ voting body, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, didn’t need to make any of the changes the Academy did for the Oscars,  2016 looked to be a return to something fitting for the Grammys of old.

Seven out of the 20 spots available in the top four Grammy categories were occupied by artists of colour, and while only one of them won — Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk for Record of the Year — The Weeknd, D’Angelo, and Alabama Shakes all took home awards in separate categories. And while I have a lot to say about T-Swift winning Album of the Year, I still think 2016 will mark the return of a diversity that has defined the Grammys throughout its 58 years.