Showing Off to the Mainstream


In a landmark nod to the growing impact of Spanish-language music in the United States, the first Latin Grammy Awards were held Wednesday at Staples Center.

The new awards are the most visible manifestation of monumental growth in the Latin music market, the fastest-growing segment of the industry--mirroring the growth of the Latino population as a whole. The show's live telecast on CBS marked the first time an English-language U.S. network has featured a bilingual show with musical performances exclusively in Spanish and Portuguese.

The night's big winners were Mexican pop crooner Luis Miguel, who won three Grammys including album of the year, and Carlos Santana, whose three awards included record of the year, a collaboration with the Mexican rock group Mana.

Many in the U.S. had not heard of Miguel, an international superstar, before Wednesday's telecast. Exposing Miguel and others to mainstream U.S. audiences was the goal of the new event, according to C. Michael Greene, president and CEO of both the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the Latin academy, which was created to oversee the new awards program.

Organizers say the Latin Grammys were necessary because the existing seven categories for Latin music in the regular Grammys are not enough.

Producer and songwriter Emilio Estefan Jr. said backstage of his win for producer of the year: "I've won Grammys before, but this one is special. To win a Latin Grammy is closer to my heart." Estefan also picked up a trophy for best music video, having directed for his wife Gloria's "No Me Dejes De Querer."

Several top honorees, however, were not present, including Miguel, Nuyorican singer Marc Anthony, whose "Dimelo" ("I Need to Know") won song of the year, and Ibrahim Ferrer, the Cuban singer who won best new artist on the strength of his debut solo album, recorded at age 72 after his career was resuscitated by his involvement with the Buena Vista Social Club.

Although the lineup of performers in the telecast featured several household names from the English-language pop world, they all performed in Spanish, including 'N Sync, who performed a Spanish-language duet with pop-salsa vocal group Son by Four, and Christina Aguilera, who sang a Spanish translation of her hit "Genie in a Bottle" as a live salsa number. Aguilera, a teen sensation in English, is part Ecuadorean, and her first all-Spanish album was released Tuesday.

Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez was supposed to perform "No Me Ames," her song nominated in the pop duo or group category, but her partner, Marc Anthony, withdrew because his wife is reportedly experiencing problems with her pregnancy. Lopez did appear as a co-host, along with Gloria Estefan and actors Jimmy Smits and Andy Garcia.

The program began with a musical tribute to the late Tito Puente, who received a posthumous award in the traditional tropical performance category for his final recording, "Mambo Birdland."

Most of Wednesday's winners are already major stars in their respective genres, including Dominican merengue and bachata singer-songwriter Juan Luis Guerra, who came away with two wins; Brazilian singer-songwriter Djavan, who won for best Brazilian song; and Colombian rocker Shakira, who took awards for best female vocal in both the rock and pop categories. She also performed her hit "Ojos Asi," which draws on sounds from her Lebanese heritage.

Several of the winners, including Luis Miguel and Milton Nascimento, have won Grammys in the mainstream competition, but the most dramatic dual winner was Santana, the Mexican-born rock guitarist who won eight regular Grammys earlier this year, including best album.

In the highly competitive ranchera category, Mexican superstar Alejandro Fernandez beat out an impressive group of nominees that included his father, the legendary Vicente Fernandez. The younger Fernandez also performed in the telecast, backed by a full mariachi ensemble and dressed in a traditional charro outfit--but without a sombrero on his stylish, gelled hair.

To qualify for one of the Latin Grammys' 40 categories, an artist must record in Spanish or Portuguese, meaning the awards are segregated only by language. They are open to international competition, while the regular Grammys are limited to U.S. releases. The eligibility period for the first Latin Grammys ran from Jan. 1, 1999 to March 31, 2000. Academy representatives would not say how many of its 2,600 members were eligible to vote in the competition.

The national academy and its charitable arms have come under scrutiny in recent years since the publication of several articles in The Times. The stories disclosed that Greene is the highest-paid executive of any not-for-profit organization in the country and that NARAS has consistently overstated the scale of its philanthropic activities.

On Wednesday, The Times reported that several Latin music executives and industry leaders were unhappy about having been inundated with misleading solicitations for a $25,000-a-table Latin academy fund-raiser held Monday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The invitation promised that "a portion of the proceeds from the [event] would benefit the Latin academy's educational outreach and human services programs."

The potential donors were particularly irritated to learn that the Latin academy does not yet operate charitable "educational outreach and human services" programs. Greene would not comment, but a NARAS spokesman, Adam Sandler, said the donations are not tax-deductible as charitable contributions because the money is not going to charity. Sandler added that "100% of the money goes to the Latin academy."

In addition, Fonovisa, the nation's largest independent Latin music label, essentially boycotted the Latin Grammys to protest what label executives saw as a bias against Mexican regional genres and favoritism to artists signed to Sony's Latin labels.

Responding to the Fonovisa criticism, Estefan said backstage that he was disappointed in the lack of unity. "It's been hard for 20 years because of discrimination," he said, adding that now is the time to put aside differences and unite.


Freelance writer Yvette C. Doss contributed to this story.

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