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Power and Conflict Behind the Grammys

Chief executive C. Michael Greene has made the awards show a blockbuster. But critics question his high pay, personal style and allocation of academy's charity funds.


In 10 years, C. Michael Greene has transformed the Grammy Awards from a minor industry ritual into the global television event airing Wednesday night before an audience of 1.5 billion.

Along the way, the 49-year-old Greene, chief executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, has transformed himself into one of the most powerful and controversial figures in the music industry. Once a struggling Atlanta saxophonist, Greene now lives in a $1.5-million Malibu home and has top industry executives fighting for his attention.

But he is also drawing increasing criticism for running the academy almost as a personal fiefdom, for his lavish style and for his erratic public behavior.

Although Greene relentlessly promotes the nonprofit academy's charitable endeavors as central to its purpose, public records show that in at least one key area the organization has spent less than 10% of every donated dollar on assistance to indigent, unemployed and infirm musicians--a fraction of what the organization spends on administrative expenses. Although Greene characterizes his own work as a "labor of love" and a "mission," he is paid more than many corporate executives and more than the heads of nonprofit entities hundreds of times the size of the academy, known as NARAS.

Few recording executives are willing to challenge Greene in public, in part because he and his deputies decide which acts receive coveted performance slots on the annual Grammy telecast--worldwide exposure that could be worth millions of dollars in album sales. (Voting for the awards is supervised by an outside auditing firm to guard against manipulation.)

Greene contends that he has become the focus of criticism because the Grammys' success has bred resentment.

"I am totally the lightning rod," he said in an interview with The Times. "I totally have a target on my back, and I'm not whining about that. When I'm personally attacked I have to take comfort in just one thing: that none of that is ever true."

In a monthlong investigation of Greene's stewardship of the Santa Monica-based recording academy, The Times has learned that:

* NARAS' charitable efforts, which lend philanthropic luster to the organization's image, are saddled by high overhead. Better Business Bureau guidelines generally recommend that charities should allocate no less than 60% to 70% of their revenues to programs. One of the group's philanthropic arms spends three to four times as much on administration and fund-raising as it disburses to the needy.

* While Greene speaks out against music that degrades women, he and his organization have been the target of complaints of sexual harassment. NARAS has settled two harassment and discrimination claims by former workers; three others allegedly received extended severance packages or out-of-court settlements after making similar accusations. Greene denied any wrongdoing. Last year, the recording academy's board called for an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Greene. The internal probe cleared him of all charges.

* Greene last year pitched a recording of his own music to record executives whose acts were up for performance slots in the Grammy telecast--often in the course of meetings about the awards. The record was bought by Mercury Records for about $250,000; Greene has pledged to donate his portion of any royalties or profits, after expenses, to charity.

* Although Greene asserted in an interview with The Times that NARAS operates on a budget "as tight as it can be," his own pay for fiscal 1995-1996 was $757,000, with expenses and fringe benefits worth another $55,000, public records show. His job perquisites include a leased Mercedes sedan and an annual membership in the exclusive Bel-Air Country Club.

For fiscal 1996-97 Greene received a raise in the form of a bonus tied to the more than five-year sale of Grammy telecast rights to CBS for $100 million. The exact size of the bonus is not publicly available and NARAS declined to disclose it. Two sources said that it could come to as much as $1 million or more.


There is no question that Greene has presided over a period of tremendous growth at the recording academy since his ascension to chief executive in 1988. That year, the organization had 14 employees, 3,500 members, and assets of $4.9 million. Currently, according to figures the academy provided to The Times, it has 78 staffers, 12,500 members, and $38 million in assets.

Greene, the son of a big-band leader from Atlanta, broke into the music business in the 1970s as a saxophone and keyboard player. After recording two poorly received albums, he worked in recording studios and cable TV stations, joining NARAS in 1985 as an unpaid Atlanta chapter president.

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