The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences revoked Milli Vanilli’s 1989 Grammy for best new artist on Monday, marking the first such action in the 33-year history of the recording industry award.
The Burbank-based academy’s board of trustees took action after admissions last week by Milli Vanilli performers Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan and their German producer, Frank Farian, that the photogenic pop duo did not sing a note on their album, “Girl You Know It’s True.” It sold 7 million copies.
“I hope this action signals loudly and clearly to producers, record companies and packagers that the academy cares deeply about this issue,” said Mike Greene, president of the recording academy. “I hope this revocation will make the industry think long and hard before anyone ever tries to pull something like this again.”
Greene said the academy will not physically confiscate the Grammy--a trophy shaped like a vintage phonograph--but will inform the duo’s attorney that it must be returned. While the Grammy carries no cash award, it is seen as a prime marketing device for future musical endeavors.
The recording academy, Greene said, has not decided what it will do with the award--pass it on to another artist or leave the “best new artist” category blank in its record books.
Milli Vanilli was awarded the Grammy for best new artist during nationally televised ceremonies at the Shrine Auditorium in February. The duo, which lip-synced in a live performance during the program, beat out nominees Neneh Cherry, the Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul and Tone Loc for the award.
The duo also won three American Music Awards in January.
The announcement rescinding the Grammy came after Pilatus and Morvan told The Times over the weekend that they intended to give back the award at a press conference today in Hollywood.
“I guess the academy stole our thunder,” said Alan Mintz, an attorney representing Pilatus and Morvan. “We intended to give it back (today).”
Pilatus and Morvan suggested that the Grammy should be given to Johnny Davis, Charles Shaw and Brad Howell, the vocalists they credit with actually singing on the record.
“We know that we were involved in something that was wrong,” Morvan told The Times.
“Fabrice and I want to give the Grammy back to the real singers,” Pilatus said.
The Grammy is considered a symbol of recording excellence. Winners are selected by approximately 6,000 voting members of the academy, which is made up of a broad spectrum of singers, musicians, producers, engineers, songwriters, conductors and other creative figures in the recording industry.
Members of the academy rely on album credits provided by the record companies as they make their decisions; they do no independent verification of information contained on the credits.
The Milli Vanilli fiasco hinges on the vocal credit given to “Rob and Fab” on the Arista Records album. But neither Pilatus nor Morvan actually sang on the album. Singers Davis and Shaw are credited as background vocalists; Howell is not mentioned at all.
Pilatus and Morvan allege that top officials at New York-based Arista and its parent company, the German conglomerate Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), were aware of the false album credits before the Grammy was awarded.
The academy’s Greene said Arista officials assured him two weeks ago that lip-syncing allegations, which have long haunted Milli Vanilli, were untrue.
On Monday, Arista executive vice president Roy Lott denied the singers’ assertion that the company was aware of the lip-syncing on the album six months before the Grammy was awarded and pressed on with its marketing of it.
“Arista did not know before last week that Rob and Fab did not sing on the Milli Vanilli album,” Lott said in a phone interview from New York. “We believe that the relinquishment of this Grammy will help preserve the integrity of the Grammy awards and procedures.”
Lott added: “I called Mike Greene this morning to tell him that we agreed with Frank Farian and recommended to Mike that Rob and Fab relinquish the best new artist Grammy. Mike advised me that the academy intended to rescind the Grammy.”
Farian, who produced the Milli Vanilli album, insists that Arista officials were never informed of the fabrication.
“I never told anyone Rob and Fab didn’t sing,” Farian, in responses to questions posed by The Times, stated in a fax sent from his Frankfurt studio. “In good conscience, Rob and Fab should return the Grammy. By returning the Grammy, they can put this episode behind them and mark the beginning of a new career.”
At the performers’ press conference scheduled for today, they are expected to describe what directions their careers might now take. Their lawyer said Pilatus and Morvan will play for reporters a tape of their own singing.
The recording academy’s decision Monday was unexpected. On Friday, Greene said the academy’s awards subcommittee was scheduled to meet Dec. 5 in New York to discuss revoking the award.
The board of trustees was not slated to meet until later that month to make a final decision.
But over the weekend, as the duo let it be known that it wanted to give the award back, the academy’s trustees decided to act quickly and voted by telephone to rescind the award.
Meanwhile in Oakland, a woman sued the group, claiming that her 14-year-old son and other Milli Vanilli fans were defrauded by the musicians and their managers.
“The entire Milli Vanilli success story is a fake foisted upon unsuspecting consumers by the defendants in this action who bilked untold numbers of consumers, many of them children, out of tens of millions of dollars,” contended the lawsuit filed by Sheila Stalder in Alameda County Superior Court.
Stalder is asking for unspecified punitive damages from the duo, and demanded that Pilatus and Morvan, their agents, and Arista records refund the purchase price of the album, compact disc, tapes and videotapes to consumers.