Awards Watch: Grammys

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"You can't put everything into one program," says Recording Academy president Neil Portnow. "We're interested in growing the Grammy brand, and we believe in that as a 365-day proposition."

Nowhere has that been clearer than this week.

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The Los Angeles-centered string of industry events known as Grammy Week, which have preceded Sunday's telecast of the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, again spotlighted the year-round work of the Grammy Foundation, while honoring the achievements of various musicians and organizations.

From Grammy Career Day at USC to tonight's MusiCares Person of the Year salute to Neil Young at the Los Angeles Convention Center, this year's series has undergone an expansion that features bigger stars, better venues and a focus on the foundation's role in supporting music education and preservation.

"There's nothing like being able to have the recognizable Grammy name behind an important program," says Kristen Madsen, senior vp at the Grammy Foundation and its sister human-services organization, MusiCares. Madsen says that ticket sales for the events were strong this year. Although sales took a hit last year alongside the economy, Madsen says "the downturn wasn't nearly as significant as expected last year, partly based on the longevity of the Grammy brand."


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With ratings for the telecast dropping in recent years (an estimated 19.1 million viewers tuned in last year, compared with 26.3 million in 2004), it's no surprise that the Grammy Foundation has placed a further emphasis on events outside awards season.

September's Grammy Salute to Country Music proved successful in its first year, while December's live Grammy Nominations concert from L.A.'s Club Nokia, featuring performances by the Black Eyed Peas, Maxwell and Sugarland, reached nearly 6.5 million viewers in its second year as a primetime telecast on CBS.

Portnow takes pride in events like July's Grammy Camp for high school students and the launch of Los Angeles' Grammy Museum, but says Grammy Week still represents the best chance for the foundation to offer a glimpse at its cause.

That's why this week's lineup has included the Salute to Jazz and Salute to Classical Music, ceremonies that paid tribute to artists Kenny Burrell and Placido Domingo; Grammy In the Schools Live, a fundraising event with performances by top high school musicians; and Saturday's Pre-Grammy Gala, which will honor Universal Music Group chairman and CEO Doug Morris.

"We have a spotlight because of the awards -- there's a natural focus on the academy this week," Portnow says. "There are so many people here from the industry, so there's an opportunity to have an audience that's particularly interested in some of these events. We can wave that flag to make people aware of what we do."

One of Grammy Week's marquee events, "Cue the Music: A Celebration of Music and Television," was part of the 12th annual Grammy Foundation Music Preservation Project and featured performances by Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz and the Fray. That event celebrated the foundation's partnership with the Paley Center for Media and offered "education combined with music and entertainment," according to Kelly Darr, the foundation's director of programs and events.


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The Paley Center is just one of the many institutions that have benefited from Grammy Foundation grants. "The grants program is an incredibly vital part of what we do," Darr says. "The event started out very small 12 years ago, and it has extended quite a bit."

Darr credits the new awareness to the active support of the performers, who were asked to promote the events on their social media networks. Caillat, the pop singer-songwriter nominated for her first four Grammys, began working with the foundation in 2007 and performed a Sonny and Cher-esque duet with Mraz at the "Cue the Music" event.

"Grammy Week brings everyone together and lets us show off our talents while preparing for the awards show," Caillat says. "The process of meeting people, trading ideas and discussing music is really what it's all about."
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