In a major shakeup at the Recording Academy, longtime chief awards officer Bill Freimuth has left the organization, along with VP of communications Lourdes Lopez and chief marketing and innovations officer Lisa Farris, Variety has confirmed. Freimuth, who joined the Academy in 2004 and was named chief awards officer in 2018, had overseen the complex and often controversial nominating and awards process for the Grammy Awards.
Reps for the Recording Academy did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment. The news was first reported by Billboard late Sunday night.
The move comes just two months after Harvey Mason jr., who had been acting as interim chief for nearly 18 months, was officially named CEO of the Academy. It also follows a major outcry over the Academy’s nominating procedures for the Grammy Awards after the Weeknd, who had one of the most commercially and critically successful recordings of the year, was shockingly excluded from all nominations for the 2021 awards in favor of several lesser-known artists and recordings.
At least for the moment, it leaves the Academy without an awards chief just weeks ahead of the beginning of the nomination process for the 2022 Grammy Awards. The eligibility period for recordings ends on September 30, with the first round of voting taking place from October 22 through November 5; final voting runs from December 6 through January 5; the Grammy Awards ceremony takes place on January 31, 2022.
The move presumably is part of a larger restructuring led by Mason, a process that began during the brief tenure of his predecessor, Deborah Dugan, who was ousted in January of 2020 amid allegations of corruption in the nominating process and questions about other long-standing Academy practices. In May, the Academy voted to eliminate the “secret” committees that determined the final Grammy nominees in most major categories had been at the center of the controversy; while Mason had explained the Weeknd’s exclusion as the fair-and-square decision of the committees, the decision of the Academy’s board of trustees, which votes on such matters, to eliminate the committees seems to be an acknowledgement that the process had become flawed.
The committees had been introduced in the 1990s in an effort to provide a final layer of expertise to the nominations, which had been voted upon by the Academy’s general membership and were often embarrassingly out of date (Jethro Tull won the first Best Heavy Metal Album Grammy over Metallica in 1990; a live Tony Bennett recording won Album of the Year in 1995). However, in a legal complaint her ouster (which recently reached a reported multi-million-dollar settlement), Dugan alleged that the process had become marred by “insider dealing.” The elimination of the committees returns the voting to the general electorate in all except a handful of “craft,” or very specialized, categories, such as production, arranging and liner notes.
While a process as vital as Grammy nominations is not the responsibility of just one person, it did fall under Freimuth’s purview, and his exit at the very least signals change.
Lopez had been with the Academy since 2002 and was promoted to vice president in 2019. Farris joined the organization in 2019 as chief digital officer and was named chief marketing and innovation officer last year.
The move follows a series of restructuring initiatives for the Academy that in part seem intended to address longstanding accusations of a lack of diversity and inclusion. Shortly after he was officially named president-CEO, Mason relinquished his roles as chair of the Board of Trustees and the president title, naming Valeisha Butterfield Jones (who joined the Academy as chief diversity officer in 2020) and former Berklee School of Music executive Panos Panay co-presidents. The move made the three top executives at the Academy a Black man, a Black woman and a Greek-American man. Mason has worked to address diversity since he took the helm at the Academy in January of 2020, bringing in Butterfield Jones in April of that year, among many other initiatives to diversify the organization’s membership and voting base. Earlier this month, the Academy announced that the 2022 awards will have an “inclusion rider” in an effort to guarantee the diversity of the show’s production staff.
Last month, the Academy’s staff was officially streamlined into three divisions: the Entertainment / Consumer Division, led by Branden Chapman, the Academy’s new chief operating officer, and the Trade / Industry Division, led by Ruby Marchand, a longtime board member who was named to the new role of chief industry officer, and the Organization / Cross Verticals Division. Around a dozen staffers were laid off last fall as well.
Variety will have more on the situation as it develops.