Veteran musician and record producer Harvey Mason Jr. was seated Monday in the Santa Monica office he uses as chairman of the Recording Academy’s board of trustees and, for the last seven weeks, as the Grammy Awards organization’s interim president and CEO.
Earlier that morning, Mason and the board had officially terminated its first female chief executive, Deborah Dugan, two months after a spectacular showdown between the board and Dugan that came to public view just 10 days before the 62nd Grammy Awards. Dugan was placed on administrative leave over an allegation of workplace misconduct; she subsequently fired back with a barrage of allegations of her own against the Recording Academy, among them sexual harassment and voting and financial improprieties.
In his first interview since placing Dugan on leave in mid-January, Mason downplayed the turmoil of the past two months. “We see this as a really unfortunate set of circumstances,” he said. “We know it affected people, and we don’t take that for granted. But for us as an organization, it’s a setback, and it’s not something that we’re going to spend a ton more time and energy on. We’re focused on the future, and on transforming the academy.
“This is something I started in May when I came in,” he continued. “I feel really good about some of the steps we’ve taken thus far, and I feel very optimistic about where we are right now and going forward.”
A few hours earlier, Mason and the academy had issued a statement formally severing ties with Dugan.
“After weighing all of the evidence from two independent investigations,” the statement read, “the board of trustees of the Recording Academy voted to terminate Ms. Dugan from her role as president/CEO. We will initiate a search for a new leader who will leverage the Academy’s diverse membership and rich history and help us transform it to better serve our members today and into the future. As we structure this new search, we will look carefully to see where the last one led us astray and make any necessary changes going forward.”
“It was not one thing that led to this action but rather the large number of incidents that demonstrated poor judgment, both before and after Ms. Dugan went on administrative leave,” said Christine Albert, the academy’s chair emeritus. “There was just no way she could continue to serve this organization.”
Through her attorneys, Dugan responded in a statement, “I was recruited and hired by the Recording Academy to make positive change; unfortunately, I was not able to do that as its CEO. While I am disappointed by this latest development, I am not surprised given the Academy’s pattern of dealing with whistleblowers.
“Is anyone surprised that its purported investigations did not include interviewing me or addressing the greater claims of conflicts of interest and voting irregularities?” the statement continued. “So, instead of trying to reform the corrupt institution from within, I will continue to work to hold accountable those who continue to self-deal, taint the Grammy voting process and discriminate against women and people of color. Artists deserve better. To me, this is the real meaning of ‘stepping up.’”
Following Dugan’s termination, Mason said he is moving ahead quickly to interview potential successors for the president-CEO job, a process he said will commence on Friday. Asked how soon he expects to name Dugan’s replacement, he said, “as soon as possible.”
As to whether there will be an effort to find another female chief executive, Mason said, “For us the emphasis is on finding a great CEO. The first and foremost priority will be interviewing a diverse and inclusive slate of candidates.”
That was an allusion to a finding of systemic lack of diversity by a blue-ribbon task force created in 2018, and headed by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, Tina Tchen, to examine “conscious and unconscious bias” in the music industry in general, and at the Recording Academy in particular.
Mason said he is committed to putting his focus on the academy’s primary mission: not handing out awards, but attending to the various needs of the many members of the music community.
“We give away those trophies, which are amazingly awesome,” Mason said. “But what we do that’s even more important than that is leverage the [national TV] show to give back to the music community. For some, maybe that’s help with addiction recovery, or with paying their rent. It’s not all about the speeches, or all about the show.”
The intense public scrutiny faced by the Grammy organization, said Mason, has “given us a chance to inspect a lot of things about the academy,” adding that he is scheduled to meet again this month with Tchen for a progress report on steps taken to address issues within the academy the task force spotlighted in the findings it issued in December. “We are making substantive improvements to everything we’re doing.”
Indeed, Mason said he put his hat in the ring last year for the board chairmanship on a platform of facilitating needed changes.
“I guess I saw a little bit of something coming — but not this,” he said. “I ran for chair because I’ve been involved in the academy for 12 or 13 years, and I felt we could do some things differently. We needed to be more representative of the different genres and people making music. And I was excited that Deb was coming in with that same mindset. My whole objective in being here from Day One was to make sure that we were evolving as an academy, and this CEO issue is not distracting me from that.”