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CALENDAR | The Week Ahead

New era begins for Grammys

January 06, 2003|Geoff Boucher

The nominees for the 45th annual Grammy Awards will be announced Tuesday in New York, and the prestigious roll call for potential winners will very likely include Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Norah Jones and ... Neil Portnow?

That may be an overstatement, but Portnow, a low-key, 53-year-old music executive and onetime guitarist, could certainly be excused for viewing the Feb. 23 awards gala with the same mix of anticipation and anxiety as the nominees. Portnow took over as president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences last month, and that means he is now dealing with a lot of short deadlines and more than a little history.

Portnow replaces Michael Greene, the bearded, loquacious Grammy chief familiar to the show's viewers for his speeches during the telecast and famous in the music industry as the controversial architect of the Grammys' success story in recent years. Greene resigned in April amid a NARAS review of sexual harassment allegations.

This week, after the nominations are announced, Portnow and company will go full bore on the construction of this year's show at Madison Square Garden, and the main compass point for him is "to set the stage for the magical musical moments, those special, once-in-a-lifetime performances that set the Grammys apart from the pack."

Portnow is the former chief of West Coast operations for the Zomba Group music company but is no stranger to the Grammys -- he has been a volunteer executive for NARAS for two decades and recently was treasurer-secretary to the group's national board of trustees -- and he has been hailed by peers as a calm, cool diplomat replacing a fiery micromanager.

How will Portnow's policies veer from Greene's? Like Greene, he wants the show to alternate between Los Angeles and New York, and the new boss has not yet decided how to handle Greene's Grammy "ban" on artists who perform at the rival American Music Awards. But it's clear from Portnow's kind words about AMA organizer Dick Clark that he would like to at least thaw the cold war between the shows.

-- Geoff Boucher

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