[L to R] Brenda Marsh-Mitchell, Danny J. Bakewell, Jr., Noel R. Foucher, Branden J. Chapman, Chairman Neil Portnow, Chairman Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Peggy Hunt, Yussuf J. Simmonds, Beverly W. Jackson, Brandon I. Brooks
[L to R] Peggy Hunt (president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association & national board member of NNPA); chairman Portnow; chairman Danny J. Bakewell, Sr.
Photo credits: MALCOLM ALI
Grammy Awards welcome Sentinel/ Black Press onto the Red Carpet
Grammy Chairman Neil Portnow and Sentinel Chairman/Executive Publisher Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. sealed the deal
Yussuf J. Simmonds
In a move that can only be described as historic and unprecedented, the Recording Academy (Grammys) and the Los Angeles Sentinel/Black Press reached a mutual understanding that signaled the end of an ugly era that saw media access being arbitrarily denied to the Black Press in general.
Neil Portnow, Chairman of the Grammys and Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., Chairman and executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel and the L.A. Watts Times, along with their staff members, met on several occasions (via phone conferences and in person) and at the end, it was decided that the Sentinel, on behalf of the Black Press, would have equal access to cover the Grammys in the future.
Portnow was very gracious lending an attentive ear to Bakewell’s concerns and he (Portnow) even said, “I had no idea that this was happening, since we pride ourselves in being totally inclusive, but with such a large undertaking and worldwide media requests, sometimes these things get overlooked. Matter of fact, we don’t even do the credentialing ourselves, we hire an outside firm to do it for us.”
In commenting, Bakewell said, “These are the kinds of issues, we must stand vigilant, unified and have deep resolve to make sure that Black people and the Black press are accorded dignity and the proper respect.” It was Sentinel Chairman Bakewell who brought this entire matter to light with a set of articles in the Sentinel. However, he also hastened to add, “I was very pleased with the receptivity I received from Chairman Portnow throughout all our meetings and discussions.
“Also, this is another milestone in our development (the Black press in general, and Black people in particular) where we will not take less because we are constantly doing more.” There was a rush of support from various segments of the community and some wanted to know how they might have assisted in helping to present “our” case before the Grammys, particularly Chairman Cloves Campbell of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), whom Bakewell thanked “for standing in solidarity with us.”
These are some of their comments:
Cloves Campbell, of the NNPA said, “It’s important that the Black Press have access to these types of events (the Grammys), so that we are able to give our perspective – a true perspective – coming from the Black (media) ownership. Many times, Black writers may write about a thing, but once it gets to their editors – usually with White-owned media – our perspective is diminished and watered-down … or sometimes they’re afraid to write what’s going on out there. I think that this is historic because the Los Angeles Sentinel, one of the oldest Black newspapers in the country – definitely the oldest one in the West – is there to represent all the Black newspapers of America, and we look forward to getting a fresh perspective on the Grammys … one that we’ve never seen before.”
The Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson issued the following statement: “Doing the right thing is always the best policy, and I applaud the work of my friend, Danny Bakewell in providing an opportunity for the Grammys to do the right thing in ending its exclusion of the African American media.”
“The Grammy Awards celebrates the diversity of music from all genres,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “I am happy to learn that this year the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Black Press of America will be granted the opportunity to cover and share the festivities of the Grammy’s with their readership.” Adding, “Sometimes you just have to fight to make things right.”
Councilman Bernard C. Parks said, “I am pleased to hear the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has recognized the folly in their decision to deny The Los Angeles Sentinel media credentials for the Grammy Awards, and I thank Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., for bringing this to the attention of the public. It is impossible not to recognize the profound influence African Americans have had on numerous genres of music, many of whom were born, raised, lived or worked in Los Angeles. It only makes sense that one of the oldest and most prestigious African American newspapers be among the media outlets covering the Grammy Awards.”
Councilwoman Jan Perry commented: “This year’s partnership between the Grammy Awards and the Black Press underscores our city’s commitment to diversity and equality. I applaud Danny Bakewell, Sr. and the Black Press of America for forging this historic agreement and for their commitment to ensuring that the minority press is recognized and valued and that it is well represented at all major entertainment events.”
And Greg Johnson, Marketing Director of KJLH Radio said, “I think the recording academy’s lack of inviting the Black press stems from a number of reasons, and my perspective comes from my experience from being in the media room for over ten years, and I do see the lack of Black press in that room. Before the two-hour broadcast on television, there is a pre-show and what’s important is that all of our relevant categories are in this pre-show – 95 percent. So even if we were to cover the show that most of America see, we won’t see our artists because they have already received their awards.”
In understanding some of the “bread-and-butter” issues and consequences associated with all of the aforementioned, the Sentinel reached out to some of the photographers who were actually refused credentials to cover the events over the years.
Malcolm Ali, who for many years has been the pictorial eyes of the community had this to say: “Victory has finally come to the Black photographers who work for the Black newspapers across America. After being denied access to cover the Grammys with the same letter sent to Black newspapers (‘sorry we are out of space’). The Sentinel newspaper, under the leadership of publisher Danny Bakewell Sr., heard the cries of the Black press and the Black photographers, and went toe-to-toe, and knocked down the door that has been keeping us out of one of the biggest awards shows in the entertainment business – the Grammys. This victory has been a long time coming. Now the Black press, from the small cities and towns that helped to build the careers of most of the Black entertainers in show business, can cover the arrivals on the Red Carpet at the Grammys. After being denied access for so many years, the Black press, with the Sentinel Newspaper leading the charge, has won this battle. It makes me think of Rosa Parks, who just got tired of sitting at the back of the bus. She said I am not taking this anymore, and fought back against a giant, and without firing a shot, knock the big bully down. When we fight back, we always win. Thank you Mr. Danny Bakewell Sr. for taking on this fight for the Black press, Black photographers and Black people in America.”
Now a freelance photographer, Valerie Goodloe, has impeccable credentials and an enviable resume. As a staff photographer for Ebony/Jet, she has accompanied President Barack Obama on an overseas trip. She said, “Every year for the past … at least … five years, Johnson Publishing has been denied access to cover the Grammy’s. The last time I had access, I had to go to Clarence Avant and Jimmy Jam to get access, and, at that time which was my last, I had Red Carpet access only. I also noticed at that event there were no Black Press (photographers). Johnson Publishing is the oldest Black national publication and cannot cover a largely African American event properly. Seventy-five percent of the artists walking the Red Carpet, and performing are Black, and we have all been denied access for years. I am speaking about photographers only. They sometimes let writers come, but no photographers.
Bill Jones is considered by many to be the dean of Black photographers – so well known that at a birthday party for him, the guests included Sidney Poitier and Quincy Jones. Jones said, “I have been denied for the past three years,” though his name was mentioned by a staff member of the Grammys as one who got credentials to cover the event.
Finally, Bakewell extends his most sincere and warmest thanks to all the artists, activists, the civil rights community, elected officials and fellow publishers who heeded the rallying call to advance the dignity and respect of the Black press and Black people … not only for Black faces, but also for Black-owned media and photographers. Because, he concluded, “I was pleased that this is one of the unique situations where we were able to make progress without confrontation … and that is, in great measure, to Neil Portnow and his willingness to ‘righting’ – what he knew and acknowledged – was wrong, as a precedent that was set before his time … and for that we are thankful.”