(L-R) Jimmy Jam, Rep. Ted Deutch, Sofia Carson, Rep. Michael McCaul, and Terry Lewis
Photo: Paul Morigi / Getty Images
How The 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards Brought Joy, Healing & Reverence For Music People
Just before a performance where Jimmy Jam played an enormous keytar and Sen. Amy Klobuchar playfully shook a maraca, Jam laid down his stone-cold genuine feelings about his chosen artform. "Music is the divine art," he told the crowd at the packed GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 27, as they munched on dinner and dessert and enjoyed an open bar. And he meant it.
"Imagine a life without music," the five-time GRAMMY-winning producer continued. "It would be like breathing without oxygen. It would be like thirst without water. It would be life without the aural sustenance in our souls." Fellow five-time GRAMMY winner Terry Lewis, his decades-long partner who together form the legendary duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were this year's artist honorees at the GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards, concurred: "This is the thing that God gave us to pull us together."
This balance between tireless work and divine play — a bunch of musicians jamming out a few blocks away from the hub of U.S. democracy — epitomized the vision of the GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards, Washington, D.C.'s premier annual celebration of music and advocacy. On the surface, it seemed to simply be musicians having a ball with lawmakers, connecting the spheres of music and politics. But there was nothing at all frivolous or superficial about the intent, as encapsulated in Ledisi's passionate question in her performance: "What can be higher than this?"
Much like MusiCares, the Advocacy division of the Recording Academy is predicated on helping music people in need — in this case, creators and artists who aren't fairly compensated for their labor. This happens to songwriters and music creators, who are regularly financially neglected, too often.
At this year's GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, this urgent issue was front and center.
Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. is one of music's most vocal advocates for fair compensation for creators. A GRAMMY-nominated songwriter and producer by trade, he knows the inner workings of the music business.
"You have to remember, I'm a songwriter," Mason jr. said in an interview on the red carpet at the 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards. In his experience, he's been paid for his songwriting work. But the landscape is increasingly tilting toward exploitation of his peers. "To get paid $7,000 or $10,000 is not acceptable," he continued. "So that's something I'm very passionate about — in my experience, but also knowing what it takes to be successful."
Other songwriters at the event also echoed this sentiment: Whitney Phillips, Lupita Infante, Emily Warren, Nnenna Freelon, Gramps Morgan, Autumn Rowe, and Emily Bear, the latter three of whom have won GRAMMYs. Although they spoke individually, they came together for a collective higher purpose: a path toward fair treatment and fair compensation for music people, especially after a detrimental pandemic, that can no longer wait. (Gospel singer Yolanda Adams, rappers Bun B and Cordae, gospel group Take 6, and singer/actress Sofia Carson also performed at and/or attended the event.)
"They asked for me to come out here and speak and advocate, and it was a no-brainer for me," Phillips said. "I think what's most frustrating about the songwriter experience is that nobody has known what to do, what to say, who to talk to — what's going to be the most effective way to get this message across that we need to be fairly compensated."
DJs Amira and Kayla performing at the 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards. Photo: Paul Morigi / Getty Images
Infante, the granddaughter of Mexican ranchera legend Pedro Infante, agrees — and this reality compelled her to become a brand-new Advocacy participant. "I think my music genre is a little bit incoming; I do Mexican music, and there's a big community out there," she says. "I think it's important to have that music protected."
Warren, who co-wrote Dua Lipa's GRAMMY-nominated hit "Don't Start Now," initially tried to highlight advocacy for music people via online posts, but she hit a wall. "I think people don't understand what the [pay] rate is for [music] streaming — why it is that way, what the history of that is, and why it's so hard to change," she says. "I think just making it simple and educating people so they know what to ask for and what they deserve [is important]."
Jazz luminary Nnenna Freelon, who was most recently nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2022 GRAMMYs, boils it down to eternal family lessons. "What did grandma say? 'Actions speak louder than words,'" she says. "Often, people don't think of the material value of the creation as anything that should be compensated," she added, speaking of the often-invisible role of the songwriter.
Reggae master Gramps Morgan articulates the problem less in terms of dollar signs than of sheer visibility. "If you're not acknowledged, it makes you feel bad," he says. And when he does discuss financial compensation, it's more in terms of the overall system than of applying Band-Aids: "The last time these laws were changed was in the '40s. Now it's time to, as the music has changed and moved forward."
Sofia Carson performing at the 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards. Photo: Paul Morigi / Getty Images
As singer/songwriter, DJ and activist Rowe puts it, "I got involved with Advocacy, because how can I not? If not, I'm just sitting at home complaining about why things are the way they are." She connects this to our era of no-skin-in-the-game online activism: "You can post all day, you can tweet all day, but you've got to really get out there and get with the people that can actually change your life."
Bear, a pianist straddling the spheres of classical and jazz, says she feels like she regularly gets "the short end of the stick" when it comes to compensation. "I've seen and felt firsthand in the streaming industry era how we can't make a living right now." What of her talented friends? "They have to go back and move in with their parents," Bear laments, "because all of a sudden, touring was gone."
How did these sentiments bear out at the actual GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards ceremony? Through passionate performances and gripping speeches. The 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards celebrated artist honorees Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for their decades of creating iconic songs from artists like Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, and Boyz II Men, as well as Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) for their leadership in supporting the rights of music creators. Despite political party lines, a fierce devotion to music binded them all as friends and colleagues last night.
Rep. Deutch, who spoke first, is the lead Democratic sponsor for the American Music Fairness Act, which, if passed, would pay royalties to artists and producers when their music is played on the radio. (If you didn't know this is a problem, read about it — you'll never listen to the radio the same way again.)
Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. speaking at the 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards. Photo: Leigh Vogel / Getty Images for The Recording Academy
"Our nation must nourish the songwriters struggling to make a living and support the producer and artist working in studios with the next potential hit," Deutch said in his riveting acceptance speech. And we do this, he declared, by making sure technology operates equitably to properly compensate creators. Proving his passion is on the line, he proclaimed his decades-long love for Bruce Springsteen, Faith Hill, and the greats of Motown, among other artists.
McCaul has co-sponsored key legislation like the Help Independent Tracks Succeed Act (HITS Act), which updates the federal tax code to bring in line music production with other industries and create parity. He noted that his big-band-loving parents were confused by his love of AC/DC and the Who — and he now feels the same about his kids' obsession with hip-hop. But it's all music, Rep. McCaul said in his acceptance speech — and it adds up to an intergenerational mode of expression.
The night also featured speeches from Todd Dupler, Acting Chief Advocacy & Public Policy Officer at the Recording Academy, as well as Recording Academy Board Of Trustees Chair Tammy Hurt, GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter Jon Secada, and others.
But what ultimately bridged the music and congressional universes at the GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards? The music, of course: an opening performance of the national anthem with mind-bending harmonies by Take 6 and spectacular performances by Ledisi and Co-Chair of the Recording Academy's National Advocacy Committee and four-time GRAMMY winner Yolanda Adams. And to boot, the house band for the night was composed of Recording Academy members from various Chapters across the country.
By the time everyone in the house got on their feet and the stage erupted into a dance party while Adams performed "Open My Heart," the message of the 2022 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards was abundantly clear: material change beats big talk any day. It's exactly what GRAMMYs on the Hill has advocated and accomplished: Over the past 20 years, the annual event has led to several major legislative wins for the music industry, most notably the Music Modernization Act in 2018.
And as long as that change is charged with a genuine love of music and music people, nothing can stop that righteous tide.