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Grammy Awards Head Deborah Dugan Placed on ‘Administrative Leave’

The newly installed CEO was accused of "misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team."

Deborah Dugan Recording Academy Head
Amanda Friedman/Recording Academ

Recording Academy head Deborah Dugan has been placed on administrative leave, ten days ahead of the Grammy Awards.

An internal memo provided to Variety states: “In light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team, the Board has placed Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave, effective immediately. The Board has also retained two independent third-party investigators to conduct independent investigations of the allegations.”

Board chair Harvey Mason, Jr. will step in as interim president and CEO “pending the conclusion of the investigation,” the statement continued. “The Board determined this action to be necessary in order to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s Membership, repair Recording Academy employee morale, and allow the Recording Academy to focus on its mission of serving all music creators.”

It is unclear what those “concerns” are or which “senior female team member” made the allegations.

Dugan took up the position in August following the exit of Neil Portnow, who had led the Recording Academy for 17 years.

Speaking with Variety last week, the 61-year-old Dugan boasted that “Change is afoot” at the Recording Academy, adding that there was “a new tone” in the air. “There’s a lot more communication, and there have been huge efforts to make sure we’re more inclusive and more diverse. I want us to be of the industry, but also ahead of it — pioneering, and not catching up.”

A source contends that the job may have been “too big for her” and that Dugan’s “bold moves really freaked people out [internally]” considering the Recording Academy has traditionally been very conservative and resistant to change.

The Grammys are scheduled to take place at the Staples Center on Sunday, Jan. 26.

Dugan arrived at the Recording Academy with formidable and unique skills. Among the positions she’s held throughout her career: she was a mergers and acquisitions attorney on Wall Street, an executive VP at EMI Record Group, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, and CEO of (RED), the nonprofit co-founded in 2006 by Bono and attorney-activist Bobby Shriver. That organization has partnered with some of the world’s biggest brands — Apple, Salesforce, Starbucks, Bank of America — to raise more than $600 million to help fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa. She also served as senior adviser to the Tribeca Enterprises Board, which includes the film festivals and headed legal services for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

The Academy has been tackling its biggest current challenge for nearly two years — the profound diversity issues that were cast into bold relief by Portnow’s 2018 foot-in-mouth comment that female artists and executives need to “step up” in order to advance in the industry. Dugan had been reaching out to artists who, outwardly or otherwise, felt alienated or underrepresented by the Grammys in recent years. 

As Dugan herself recently described: “I spent my first month in the job, and even before I started, talking one-on-one with dissenters — actually, that’s probably not the right word for them —  people we might have lost, or who had a bad experience or didn’t feel like they were relevant.”

At 9:30 p.m. Pacific time, Harvey Mason, Jr. sent an email to Recording Academy members informing them of the decision and assuring that “Recording Academy operations will proceed as normal … and the Grammy Awards and all related activities will go forward as planned.”