A coalition of disgruntled musicians has announced plans for a boycott of CBS and all advertisers on the 2012 Grammy Awards show, calling the Recording Academy's consolidation from 109 to 78 categories "a cultural diversity issue that will affect how music is made for years to come."
The coalition will also file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Latin jazz musicians, said Grammy-nominated drummer Bobby Sanabria, who told TheWrap that he expects the suit to be filed in about two weeks.
Sanabria charged that the Grammy consolidation was planned secretly by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and unveiled without warning, and added that the plan is "racism" because 70 percent of the consolidated categories are in ethnic music fields.
"In corporate speak, what they're doing is downsizing," Sanabria said. "And if it's not rectified, it will lead to the homogenization of American music."
In a statement, the Recording Academy said that its committees and its board of trustees considered the plan for two years in an "up front, transparent and painstakingly clear" manner, and decided to restructure "for reasons that had everything to do with recognizing excellence in music and the integrity of our awards, and nothing to do with ethnicity or race."
Sanabria's coalition, which has created the website Grammy Watch, calls for a boycott of CBS, which last week signed a 10-year deal to broadcast the awards show.
The group has also retained New York attorney Roger Maldonado to file suit. One of the issues in that suit, said Sanabria (right): for the first seven months of the Grammys' October-to-October eligibility period, musicians were under the impression that the recordings they were making would be eligible in the old categories.
On April 6, though, the Academy announced the consolidation, which reduced the number of categories by 31, in effect forcing many of those recordings to compete in larger, newly merged categories.
The cuts included some in the pop, rock, country, R&B and rap fields, where male and female singers will now compete against each other and, in some instances, against instrumentalists.
But the bulk of the consolidation took place in less mainstream areas: jazz, Latin, gospel and Americana, which includes blues, folk and ethnic music categories.
For instance, the Best Hawaiian Music Album, Best Native American Musical Album and Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album were folded into a single category, Best Regional Roots Music Album.
In Sanabria's area of expertise, most of the recordings that in the past would have competed in the Best Latin Jazz Album category will now compete for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, a new category that will also include contenders from the former categories of Best Contemporary Jazz Album and Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.
"The Latin jazz community fought for 19 years, from 1975 to 1994, to have the category created, because no Latin jazz ever got nominated," said Sanabria. "And now we lose it."
Other Latin musicians will find their seven categories reduced to four – with, for instance, Norteno and Banda music combined into one category, Regional Mexican and Tejano into another.
"We are encouraging musicians in all the other categories to do what we're doing and file a lawsuit," said Sanabria. "The mission of the Grammys is to celebrate, propagate and educate people about all kinds of American music, and the current administration has turned its back on that mission."
The coalition's website contains a petition to reinstate categories that currently has close to 5,000 signatures.
Among the prominent artists who have spoken out against the consolidation are Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Alison Krauss, Terrance Simien, Eddie Palmiere and the Grammys' reigning Best New Artist, Esperanza Spalding.
Sanabria also complained about the booking policy on the Grammy telecast over the last several years, in which the vast majority of performers have come from the mainstream pop, R&B and hip-hop fields.
"I think she's great, but having Christina Aguilera singing pop and rock music on the Grammys is not cultural diversity," he said.
The Recording Academy calls Sanabria's charges that the consolidation was planned in secret "demonstrably false," and said he has "no basis" for a lawsuit.