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The Women Behind Grammy Week’s Biggest Initiatives

For all its supposedly liberal leanings and loose attitudes, the music industry is as sexist as most of them and more so than many. For Grammy Week, Variety is shining a light on four senior executives at the Recording Academy who happen to be female. Neda Azarfar, Rita George, Laura Segura Mueller and Dana Tomarken (pictured left to right, above) lead initiatives and departments that are absolutely essential to making the show a success and keeping the 60-year-old Academy running year-round. In a year that’s been paradigm shifting for women on the societal, professional, political and cultural fronts, these women are among those leading the charge. 

Neda Azarfar
Recording Academy VP of marketing and communications

Envisioning and implementing innovative change is Azarfar’s mission at the Academy. “It’s a 60-year-old organization; it’s a massive, globally-recognized brand, and I’m a steward of it,” says Azarfar, who joined the Academy in 2014 with the goal of integrating its communication and marketing efforts. Her accomplishments include steering a company-wide rebrand initiative, creating an new social-media strategy for the Academy’s audience of 14 million followers, and launching voter-awareness campaigns that have contributed to a marked increase in participation. “My goal is to take all the vision and energy and skills that I have, make change and positive improvements and leave the Academy in a better place than when I got here,” she says.

Rita George
Grammy Museum COO

Integration, expansion and education are the focal points of George’s work at the Grammy Museum, where she oversees its four main sites — Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Mississippi and the newest outpost in Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center — and staged exhibits celebrating such artists as Frank Sinatra, Taylor Swift, Leonard Bernstein and John Denver. “We recently merged with the Grammy Foundation and to bring those units together and reach more people — students in particular — is, to me, really important work,” says George. “While we still have more road to travel and more properties to build, we have set the groundwork to expand and continue to do outreach wherever we are. It’s literally a global thing now.”

Laura Segura Mueller
Recording Academy VP of membership & industry relations

The Academy “strives to have a very diverse membership,” says Mueller, who is responsible for running a department that serves the music industry across geography, musical genres and vocations. To that end, over the past year she has restructured the Academy’s 12-city chapter system, which includes offices all across the country. “Women are certainly a major demographic that we want to engage further,” she says. “So we’ve really been thinking about what a woman’s career in the music industry looks like, what we can build together and how we can get them more involved. Many women are very busy professionals with a lot to handle with their careers and on the homefront, so we think carefully about what the Recording Academy can offer.”

Dana Tomarken
MusiCares VP

“When I first started with the Academy 25 years ago, there were very few female leaders,” says Tomarken, who oversees all aspects of MusiCares’ annual fundraising event, Person of the Year, which has raised more than $90 million to date.  Her work, which includes organizing online auctions and tribute concerts, has nearly doubled MusiCares’ revenue over the past decade, money that goes toward creating health and human-service programs that benefit Grammy Academy members. “I was asked on a number of occasions, ‘What do you do?’” she recalls of those early years. “I had a choice: either to be offended by it, or try to correct it. Well, I chose to correct it. I told the male leadership to sit back and watch.”

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