The push for diversity in the Emmys’ music branch has made significant progress, as voters nominated a record number of people of color and a near-record number of women this year.

More than 26% of all nominees in the seven music categories were non-white, up from 15.5% last year and from 22% the year before. Women constituted nearly 25% of all nominees, a slight dip from last year’s 26% but a marked improvement since the 2018 total of 18%.

For only the second time in Emmy history, at least one person of color was nominated in every music category (16 of the 61 total); that also happened in 2018. Six of the seven had at least one female nominee (15 of 61).

Television Academy executives find the numbers heartening.

“There are, frankly, more people of color and females working on shows that are getting recognition,” says TV Academy governor Jeff Russo. “The cream rises to the top, and when there is really good work, it gets recognized.”

That may be oversimplifying this year’s results, however, considering how the current national conversation about issues of race has impacted every facet of entertainment so far in 2020. “People are doing a lot of self-evaluation this year,” notes documentary-score nominee Amanda Jones, a co-founder of the Composers Diversity Collective, whose credits include BET’s critically praised series “Twenties.” She says the higher profile created by her group, as well as the Alliance for Women Film Composers, has also contributed to the rise in numbers.

AWFC founder Laura Karpman agrees, noting that “we made a specific plan to increase our membership in these organizations,” referring to the TV Academy, Motion Picture Academy and Recording Academy.

“These diversity [organizations] are very important,” adds Jones. “The studios can tap into these groups as a resource for staffing shows. The more progress we see, the more conversations we’ll have surrounding this topic.”

Michael Abels, co-founder and president of the Composers Diversity Collective, currently about 50 members strong, says: “Just in the last two years, a lot of people have been getting hired from our group on projects of various levels of visibility. To the extent that people know we’re out there, and we’re no longer outliers but part of the conversation, then we all feel like everyone’s getting a fair shot.”

TV Academy governor Rickey Minor (a double Emmy nominee this year, as music director for both the Kennedy Center Honors and the Oscarcast) says the improved showings are the result of “more women and people of color getting opportunities, therefore you’re seeing the numbers go up.”

Minor also co-chairs the Academy’s Diversity Committee and is convinced this is the result of “the new regime of people coming into power positions. They are looking for diverse stories that reflect the world, and those projects call for someone who may have experience in helping to tell those stories.”

When Minor become governor in 2014, he and fellow governor Michael Levine shook up the status quo, rebalancing the music peer-group executive committee by adding more women and people of color to the group in charge of making key decisions about music Emmys.
Veteran observers also note the two newest music categories, for music supervision (in its fourth year) and documentary scores (its second), are far more female-friendly than the male-dominated categories that preceded, particularly when it comes to composing.

Many of the town’s top music supervisors are women, and it’s estimated that about 100 supervisors joined the TV Academy when the music branch opened its doors to that discipline in 2015. Also, women composers are much more prominent in the documentary world than in big-budget feature scoring.

The men seem all for it. “Hollywood needs to continue telling stories that reflect the true American experience, and that experience is the story of immigrants,” says composer-songwriter Siddhartha Khosla (nominated this year for “This Is Us”). “It’s appropriate to see these numbers. Whether it’s enough, I don’t think we’re there yet, and I think we’ve got work to do.”

Adds Nicholas Britell (nominated again this year for “Succession”): “It’s a good start, but that said, there’s still so much farther to go. I’m happy to see the improvement. But there’s a long road ahead.”