For a diverse group of artists and creatives nationwide, the Recording Academy is no mysterious, abstract entity, or one they only think about once Grammy nomination day arrives. It’s a central part of their lives, because they’re elected members of the academy’s 12 local chapter boards. Each spring, local academy members vote to elect their chapter’s governors, and the chapter boards, in turn, elect their respective officers and trustees. (Term limits vary.) Those board elections empower members at all levels of the industry to take on leadership roles in initiatives with both local and national impact.
Ten of them — from a Grammy-winning veteran hip-hop producer, to an acclaimed country songwriter, to a one-time teen sensation turned chapter president — spoke to Billboard about why getting involved was one of the best decisions they’ve made (and, quite often, good for business, too).
Brandy Clark Singer-songwriter, 47 Nashville Chapter Governor, 2019-2023
Why did you decide to get involved on this level?
The Grammys have done so much for me in my career both as a singer and songwriter, and I saw it as a way to give back.
Have you seen this academy administration’s focus on diversity affect your work locally?
I have seen the makeup of the Nashville chapter board become more and more diverse. As a result of that diversity, I feel like our chapter has been able to more effectively get involved with things like Pride Month and represent some music coming from Nashville that isn’t just country, although I love country music. Or show that country music is being made by all colors of the rainbow. That only happens well when the decision-makers are as diverse as the artists. Being on the board puts you in that decision-maker role.
Have you collaborated with anyone that you met through your work with your chapter?
I met Ruby Amanfu through my service on the Nashville chapter board. She and I, along with several others, collaborated on “Beautiful Noise.” It was recorded by Brandi Carlile and Alicia Keys and nominated for song of the year at the 2022 Grammy Awards.
What’s the biggest challenge your chapter — or the academy at large — is facing?
Fighting for creators to be fairly compensated. This is something that the academy has to continue to fight for in Washington, D.C., and it’s going to take us all fighting.
What’s the vibe at your chapter meetings like?
Our chapter meetings always start with our president, Ruby Amanfu, spotlighting a couple of board members. I have learned so many interesting facts about people whom I know well and people whom I’d love to know better.
What’s your favorite Grammy performance of all time?
Selfishly, the year that I got to perform with one of my heroes, Dwight Yoakam [in 2015]. We performed [my song] “Hold My Hand.” It was maybe the best two minutes and 40 seconds of my life … so far. —MELINDA NEWMAN
Dion “No I.D.” Wilson Songwriter-producer, 51 Los Angeles Chapter Governor, 2021-2023
This is your first time serving in an elected leader capacity. How did you get involved and why?
I have many friends who are involved. I was also a member of the Chicago chapter many years ago, so I was already familiar with the academy. I’m of the mind state that you have to be involved to help evolve things or make changes that you want to see happen. You can’t just talk about it and then ignore the responsibility of doing something.
What’s the most important issue facing the academy?
Getting more people and creators involved to broaden representation as well as improving overall connectivity between creators and the organization that presents them awards. Again, participation is key. There has always been this little narrative that “they” do this. And I’ve gotten around a lot of my co-creators and said, “We are ‘they,’ by the way.” We can make these decisions. We just have to take some time, educate ourselves and be part of the process. If you don’t like what’s happening, then get involved. If you don’t care to get involved, it’s still good to know what’s going on.
How has the academy changed since you became involved?
There’s more awareness; it’s not just business as usual. A lot of great individuals are being vocal about addressing many issues that weren’t focused on before like inclusion for minorities and women.
What are you most proud of having accomplished since joining your chapter?
Educating myself. Education is the cornerstone of all things attempted by any of us. And music is the one area where most people think the only education needed is learning how to play an instrument or a song versus learning about the relationship between life and music, its influence and the power that those who do it can utilize to help people beyond making them dance, smile or be sad. I’ve been meeting people and having/hearing great conversations. Educating myself more helps me talk to the new generation of creators and say, “Hey, you should catch on to this early — not late.”
As a winner yourself in 2010 [for best rap song, for Jay-Z’s “Run This Town”], why do the Grammys matter?
I started doing music in an era where Grammys weren’t for us. There were the [Quincy Joneses] and others in the past. But in the late ’80s/early ’90s, it just wasn’t a focus or even a goal because there was no representation in specific types of [rap/hip-hop]. So it was more about, “They don’t represent us; they don’t think about us.” I’ve grown into that space where I don’t make music to win an award. I really make it from my heart. But I’m absolutely not against being given any type of flowers. In becoming a winner, you say “thank you” and then go into another space that’s totally creative and positive, building versus complaining. It’s a great checkpoint to have as a creative — even when you lose. So many great people haven’t won. So to be mentioned by my peers is also a badge of honor. Winning is great, losing isn’t. But you have the motivation to keep growing in your craft and as a human being.. —GAIL MITCHELL
Leyla McCalla Cellist-banjoist-guitarist, member of Our Native Daughters, 37 Memphis Chapter Governor, 2022-2024
Why did you get involved in your chapter?
I got to know Reid Wick, a fellow musician who lives in New Orleans and has been really involved in the academy for years. He was telling me about their advocacy programs, how they’re figuring out ways to support musicians, and was wondering if I’d be interested in being involved. I think everyone knows that in the post-George Floyd era, a lot of organizations are looking at their membership and their leadership and wanting to diversify, and I certainly feel I’m part of that shift. For me, being a part of the academy is a huge way to be connected to other artists, producers, presenters, all facets of the music industry, and learn about how to make things more fair and equitable.
You’re new to your role. What has it been like so far?
It has been pretty wild. I just released an album, I’ve been on the road — I’m in Belgium now — so it has been hard to be a part of meetings, but there’s so much support around that. No one is saying, “Oh, you couldn’t make it to the meeting? You’re terrible!” They’re saying, “We need you out there, doing your art — that is also part of our work.”
What’s the most important issue facing the academy right now?
How can we make this a sustainable career for people at all levels? What does it mean when record labels aren’t making as much money — should we all go independent, or does the infrastructure have to change? I think there’s a lot of having to figure out how to make [streaming] not even more equitable but just fair, in terms of payment models and the business of it. It’s exciting when I get a million streams on a song, but, you know, I’m a thousand-aire.
What would you say to someone who wants to get involved but feels intimidated?
I never thought, “Oh, I can be part of the Recording Academy.” That felt very pie in the sky — definitely some glass-ceiling vibes. Our industry has sometimes felt oversaturated and super competitive, and it’s hard times for a lot of artists right now, especially post-COVID-19. There’s a lot of, “How do we get our voices heard?” Well, there’s strength in numbers. It doesn’t have to be “me against the world” — it can be “me connecting with the right people.” To have a little bit more of a net in the Recording Academy community, it feels like it’s becoming less about gatekeeping and more about community-building.
What’s the best part of being in the Memphis chapter?
I think we really have the best music in our chapter. The Memphis chapter covers the southeastern U.S., and that’s really the cradle of American expression — jazz, blues, hip-hop, rock, all of it. I’ve done a lot of work exploring the Black roots of American music, and my family is from Haiti, so I just get super excited about the people in our chapter. It’s a lot of people who are outside the commercial industry — very few top 40 artists, if any. And I kind of love that.
Have you been especially excited to meet anyone in particular?
Oh, man. I’ve been really excited about Mia X, a New Orleans hip-hop artist who just released a cookbook of all her grandmother’s recipes. I just think it’s so cool she makes music and also cooks, and I cook too. And PJ Morton — I was excited to learn about his music, which honestly, I wasn’t familiar with before joining, but I saw his name everywhere, and he’s a fellow New Orleanian. The more in-person meetings and hangs we have, maybe we will see some collaborations come along.
What are the Memphis chapter meetings like?
Our chapter president is Sean Ardoin, who’s a Creole zydeco accordionist. I’ve only been able to join on Zoom, but the vibe in the meetings is joyful and playful and funny. Everyone is just kind of being themselves.
Do you have a favorite Grammy moment of all time?
When I played in The Carolina Chocolate Drops, we were nominated for the album Leaving Eden, and it was exciting to go to L.A. and attend the ceremony. But to tell you the truth, I really don’t watch the Grammys. I don’t even have a television! You’re talking to a banjo- and cello-playing folk musician here. I usually hear about them after — especially if Beyoncé is performing. —REBECCA MILZOFF
Bun B Rapper/entrepreneur, 49 Texas Chapter Trustee, 2021-2023 (Vice President, 2020-2021; Governor, 2018-2020)
How did you get involved in your chapter and why?
Paul Wall. In maybe 2010, Paul reached out to me about being a member. He had been a member for a few years, and he thought that I’d be a great addition to the Texas chapter. I became a member, and a couple of years after that, I was courted about an elective position. I ran for governor and got elected. After a few years, I ran for vice president, and I won that position. And then recently, a few years ago, I ran for trustee, and I won that position. So now I’m a national trustee for the Recording Academy.
Have you made any friends or collaborators through working in your chapter?
I made some great friends with people that I never thought I would have met or gravitated [toward] like Taylor Hanson, who’s now our chapter president, and he elevated quickly in the chapter because of his passion. [From] the day he became a board member, he spoke at every meeting. He gave ideas. He was always engaged in the conversation. I don’t think we could have a better president for our chapter. He has a very deep care and concern for musicians, content creators and venues. He showed that when he fought to keep many music venues open in his home state of Oklahoma. I’m excited to not only get to know him somewhat professionally, but more so personally.
And we have some amazing members in our chapter I’ve been able to get quite close to, like Yolanda Adams, a member for many years now who’s also a national trustee. She has given me such insight about what’s expected of me and not to put too much pressure on myself. It’s good to have someone as respectable and knowledgeable as Yolanda Adams on speed dial.
What would you tell someone who’s reluctant to get involved in the academy?
I think a lot of people don’t really know what the academy is. That’s the first thing. But beyond that, particularly in my culture of hip-hop — it took a while for us to be acknowledged and accepted. There’s this idea that people who make good hip-hop music won’t be acknowledged by the academy, and I disagree. I’ve always said, “If you make good music, it’ll be recognized and acknowledged,” and I believe us people making music right now are reflective of the people who end up with the nominations from the academy. —CARL LAMARRE
Laura Jane Grace Singer-songwriter/activist, 42 Chicago Chapter Governor, 2022-2024
What sets the Chicago chapter apart from others?
It’s harder to be a musician in cities like New York or Chicago, just because the majority of people are living in an apartment. And you’re a musician. What do you do? You make loud noises. That fosters a different approach to music. Then you have the extreme-weather aspect of it, and you also have it being more of a centralized point [geographically] than New York or L.A. So you have this real confluence of sounds and perspectives. There’s just a really diverse music scene in Chicago that is unique to Chicago. I’ve already met lots of people [in the chapter] who I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t know anything about you! I didn’t know what you were working on, and you’re very accomplished. You have rad things happening.”
How does improved diversity bolster the academy’s relevancy and credibility?
Not to tokenize myself, but I’m a transgender person, so I am transgender representation with the academy. My point of view — where I’m coming from, what I’ve seen working in the industry, the kind of music that I listen to, where I listen to music and how I listen to music — is, I feel, unique. At this point in my life, not even just working in the music industry, but having listened to music for all of my life, I feel like I have a good amount of knowledge when it comes to music, that I’m not just drawing straws out of a hat or something.
What important initiatives has the Chicago chapter undertaken recently?
There has been a lot of focus on the HITS Act and trying to get that passed. That has been a real struggle. That boils down to asking Congress for a little more allowance of tax deductions with recording, specifically relating to indie recording artists — not indie as a brand of music, but bedroom recording artists. Reading about that was even mind-blowing to me because several times I was like, “Wait, I thought you could write off these things. I can’t write off these things?”
Why do the Grammys still matter?
I’ve always seen the Grammys or awards for art in general as being important for highlighting works of importance that didn’t necessarily have any correlation to their financial earnings or their chart positioning. There’s always records or songs that happen within a year that will define a year that weren’t necessarily the biggest chart-topping hit but that are definitely works of importance, whether that’s the achievement in audio fidelity or the craft of songwriting or even just like vocal performances. I am of the belief that a certain amount of competition in art is important.
Do you have any favorite Grammy moments?
I definitely was that kid who would stay up and watch the Grammys. I would watch the Oscars. I’d watch the f–king Emmys — I liked awards shows. I want to say there was a moment when Guns N’ Roses presented an award when they were in their height of cool and looked really just f–king cool. I almost enjoyed those presenting moments more so than the performances. —ERIC RENNER BROWN
Terrace Martin Multi-instrumentalist/producer, 43 Los Angeles Chapter Governor, 2022-2024
How did you decide to get involved the Los Angeles chapter?
I grew up in the ’90s. I went to school at Locke High School — that’s on 111th and San Pedro [in South Central L.A.] — when all the scary rappers [were afraid to come to that area]. All these artists that were using our stories to be successful weren’t coming down. [But] the Grammys would send a whole team of people to talk to [kids]: “Hey, you know, we could get tutors for y’all. Oh, you don’t know how to read music? Pair him up with this person.” They wasn’t teaching us about a trophy. They was teaching us about what it took to be a working artist in this field. A lot of us, like myself, Kamasi Washington, Zane Musa, Thundercat, all these different artists that we all grew up together with, we all had some run-in with the Grammys. Since I’ve had a positive experience most of my career with the Grammys, I wanted to be a vessel, a bridge between the community and the Grammys.
What connections have you made in the chapter?
Well, I’m already well connected. I’m not going to play with you on that. (Laughs.) I’m usually the connector! I’m not really so much connecting with my peers because I already know them; I’m in the field at all levels, from the guy that’s playing $35 gigs, playing his ass off at a blues club on Crenshaw and Adams, all the way up to [Sean Combs’] house, all the way up to Quincy [Jones’] house, to Herbie [Hancock’s] house. My whole thing is I’m gathering information. I’m like a squirrel. I’m just gathering all my nuts, getting ready, and I’m taking it back down. I learn so much from my peers that are involved; I’m able to take that information, gather it up and take it back to the musicians that don’t have an understanding of how the [academy] works.
Do you have any favorite Grammy moments?
I’ve been involved with the Grammys on all levels — even from outside with a camera hoping to catch my favorite stars, at 16. I snuck in one time, just to see what it felt like to see everybody there, and I got to see Erykah Badu walk to the stage; the Grammys had great security, and they said, “Hey you!” I was 17, I had to run. I worked at restaurants at 16, 17 years old where the Grammys party was — I only got the job just to see who was there. So I’ve been to the Grammys not invited, invited, winning, losing and everything.
And any standout performances?
Herbie Hancock, the “Rockit” performance [in 1984]. Herbie was well into his 40s, and he was onstage with robots and all kinds of stuff going on. The world had never seen that. Herbie was unapologetic, doing something new that had never been done before. He wanted something that could inspire children, inspire humans and inspire the whole world. The Grammys allowed that — that’s a lot of courage. —E.R.B.
Lecrae MC/producer/entrepreneur, 43 Atlanta Chapter Governor, 2021-2023
You’re currently serving as a first-time governor. What prompted you to get involved?
A lot of it was about understanding. I’d been involved in the Recording Academy’s outreach, like Grammys in the Schools. However, I didn’t realize the other types of offerings they have for music artists, from education to helping people going through mental health or COVID-19 issues. I was really blown away by that, which is what really drew me into wanting to serve my peers. I wasn’t able to make the trip this year, but I was excited about taking part in Grammys on the Hill in Washington, D.C. Advocacy involving the rights of music-makers is a strong aspect of who I am.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen or been a part of since joining the board?
One of the most awesome changes is the diversity, equity and inclusion meetings that we’ve had; understanding that it’s not just about ethnicity or gender but also about people who have disabilities and fighting to protect their rights, too. It has also been pivotal for me in terms of meeting, networking with and learning from a vast array of people from other spheres of influence including engineers, executives and attorneys.
Beyond diversity and advocacy, what other chapter committees are piquing your interest?
I love supporting the next generation. So I’ve been looking at some of the academy’s and Grammy Museum’s educational initiatives. Even before I began my service with the academy, I partnered with Grammy U a few times to bring students to my show and do Q&As with them about career development.
Why is it important for creatives, executives and others to work in their local chapters?
For one thing, they’re going to have a continual sense of community. For another, their career will become more enriched because they’ll be able to understand the music industry on a different level, meeting people whose insights can help them. Most people just think of the awards, right? They’re not realizing all the other aspects of the academy that are so beneficial. As long as I have the time and the capacity, I’m definitely going to stay involved.
You won two 2020 Grammys [for best gospel performance/song and best contemporary Christian music performance/song]. What was it like when you heard your name announced?
Because I was in such disbelief that I was [even] going to win, I was standing outside in the lobby taking it all in. My mom had to text me and say I’d won. Then I ran into the building. (Laughs.) —G.M.
I’ve been a [Recording Academy] member since I was 14. But the entree to really get involved came from the leadership with the Texas chapter a few years after [Hanson had] been independent consistently. It was [an effort] to get young blood involved. Advocating and supporting and making things better beyond my own four walls was something that I found really interesting because you see people taken advantage of a lot, artists not knowing their power. The academy really is a union of sorts, or an artists alliance that is connecting creators.
What’s the most important issue facing the Texas chapter?
The greatest thing that’s facing us is gaining more active members in our region of Texas and Oklahoma, which is part of the Texas chapter. The music industry has a history of being perceived as very much New York and L.A., which it is, but as it has evolved, people are much more spread out. There’s an active community of creatives in different places. Showing the Recording Academy’s relevance to creators that are not in industry-dominant markets is a real challenge.
What are your local chapter meetings like since you’ve become president?
The idea is simply, “Let’s be the most musical chapter possible.” So that meant moving our meetings to recording studios instead of a hotel so we can promote a local studio. We start every meeting with a performance from a local artist and then use every possible opportunity to turn things that the academy’s already invested in into ways to talk to future members in [our] area. The challenge of the Recording Academy is always balancing this big, glitzy show with the award everyone wants and the real work of the academy, which is to create a network of active, real professional musicians who are engaged in producing music and producing their art for themselves but are also a part of a community that is hoping to advocate for one another and be a trusted brand.
The academy is prioritizing diversity; how have you manifested that in the Texas chapter?
We need to be active in our communities, not just looking like we’re being “diverse” because you look around the room and you see different-colored people or different styles, but really diverse, as in diverse perspectives, people from rural places. We are actively pushing our leadership to recommend new members and to amplify things that we know are priorities: to encourage more membership from the Black community, membership from women behind the scenes like engineers and producers. We want to proactively go, “Hey, is your voice being heard? Are you sitting at the table alongside other members?” Every chapter has subcommittees; let’s really be proactive about engaging different voices for those subcommittees because those focused areas are the ones that end up elevating people into leadership.
How do you communicate with your fellow chapter presidents?
We have a text chain among all the presidents of the 12 chapters. One of the things that I’m particularly excited about is working on initiatives that get collaboration going between chapters because you have this incredible network. The Recording Academy has a chance to be the most comprehensive, engaged advocate for itself, for music and creators, not just for the creators who have broken through. There’s a lot of growth that could be done there, and that comes back to the chapters.
What do you appreciate the most about your fellow officers?
The relationships that you get to forge. [Former president/current adviser and rapper] Paul Wall is one of the longest-serving members. He’s incredibly astute. One of our new members, [gospel singer] Gene Moore, and I just clicked right out of the gate. [National trustee and gospel singer] Yolanda Adams’ leadership style is always very positive, but she also will challenge the status quo. She’s great at setting the tone for the room. She’s very good at communicating, but do not be deceived — when something is not going in the right direction, she will absolutely say, “You know, this is going to go against the grain, but we need to address this.”
Do you have a favorite Grammy performance of all time?
It’s a little bit self-serving, but I’m going to go back to [Hanson’s] own performance in 1998. It’s not the greatest, but it’s the most significant in my Grammy history. It was at Radio City Music Hall [in New York]. This is my nudge toward the Grammys — there was a feeling of specialness being at Radio City versus being in an arena. We love the fans, of course, but it felt more like a community of peers acknowledging one another. I hope that that feeling, which was a little more intimate, we can recapture in future years. —M.N.
Chris “Tricky” Stewart songwriter-producer, 48 Atlanta Chapter Governor, 2022-2024 (prev. 2004-2006)
Your first term as an Atlanta governor was 2004-2006. Why the decision to re-up now?
I felt like my voice should be heard again on the local side. I’m also a mentor for Grammy U and a member of the Producers & Engineers wing. For me, the Recording Academy is the right place to tap into as a resource.
What’s the most important issue facing the academy now?
It’s always going to be about staying current with the times while moving forward in terms of legislative issues and creating a transparent and all-inclusive academy. There seems to be a clearer voice in the room; more of a direct line to the powers that be about making important improvements, like this year’s first-ever songwriter of the year award.
What are some important initiatives your chapter has undertaken?
I’m particularly excited about a writing camp/song workshop that we’re putting together for young people with special needs. Whether they are blind or in wheelchairs [for example], we need to understand how talented these kids are. And it’s important that the kids understand there are people who want to collaborate with them.
Why should songwriter-producers and other creatives become involved in their local chapter?
Local chapters are great places to plug into if you want to be in music, especially if you’re coming from areas that don’t have record labels or publishing companies to speak of. Also, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re more of a problem. I will challenge anybody to see the good work being done and get involved. The academy isn’t based on one day a year [the Grammy Awards]. Fighting for the next generation of dreamers is a daily grind. If you don’t appreciate that, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Do you have a favorite Grammy moment?
The “Single Ladies” win for song of the year [in 2010]. Right before the lights went down, Jay-Z came to me and said, “Beyoncé’s not going to be ready, and if she wins, she wants you to accept.” When the category was announced — the very first award — I had a flash flood in my body; I sweated out my whole suit in a matter of one second. So for the rest of the show, I had to sit in a wet suit. (Laughs.) But I’ll never forget that moment. —G.M.
Claudia Brant Singer-songwriter-producer, 56 Los Angeles Chapter Governor, 2022-2024 (previously 2010-12, 2014-15, 2017-18)
How did you get involved in your chapter and why?
I arrived in the U.S. 24 years ago from Argentina. I knew there was an academy, and I approached the L.A. chapter. I have been serving now for 18 years. It has helped me understand the importance of the institution. Most of the younger producers I work with think the academy just gives away awards, but there’s so much more that we do. We volunteer our time to be part of this institution that does a lot of community work, educational work. I’ve also understood how important it is to be inclusive and how much balance you need on the board.
You mention the importance of inclusivity and representation. Has that been achieved at your chapter?
We always look at the names that are thrown in to join, and there are many things we take into consideration. “Are you younger than 40? Are you LGBTQ? Are you African American? Are you a woman? Latino?” It’s so important because that makes the core of the L.A. chapter board and every other board. When you find the balance, when you see the numbers, we know that we’re moving forward in a good way.
Have you seen more Latinos wanting to be involved in some capacity with the academy?
I’ve seen more Latinos wanting to get involved in the past four years. We still don’t have a huge representation. We need artists to join, but they are touring and it’s hard for them. Some artists we suggested agreed to represent, but they were not able to comply with the schedule — there’s a lot of those in L.A., including regional Mexican [musicians]. There’s a bunch who are great, but it’s hard to get them. We’re trying. Every time I see someone, I’m like, “Hey, remember, the academy is here whenever you’re ready.”
What challenge is your chapter still facing?
Although we’re growing and we’re having more diversity, membership is still an issue. We need to learn how to promote what we do. If people knew all the things that we do, I think they would try to become a member right away. But we have a great team, we have initiative, and we brainstorm.
What are you personally doing to actively recruit new members?
I’m in the studio all day. I work with artists and producers daily. My first question to them is always: “Are you a member? Why aren’t you a member? Do you know what we do? You start as a member, you become a governor, then officer, then trustee and then you own the world. You can be in the room where serious decisions are being taken that will affect the academy directly.” I think it’s important that they know that they can have a voice. —GRISELDA FLORES
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