On Thursday, Jan. 22, amidst the mayhem of Grammy week in Los Angeles, the Vanity Group CEO Karleen Roy threw her inaugural “Grit Before the Gram” event. Billed as “the soundtrack of our solidarity,” the evening was produced to provide an environment of unity, awareness and impact. Agents, producers, managers, directors and label executives were among the 100 guests invited for the formal dinner which took place at The Edition in West Hollywood.
Honorees included Schure Media Group co-founder and Beyonce PR strategist Yvette Noel-Schure, who received the Bridge Award, and Grammy-nominated songwriter, and producer Nija Charles who was given the Spotlight Award, in addition to Laurieann Gibson, Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtermariam, Roc Nation co-president Shari Bryant, Atlantic Records EVP of urban promotion Juliette Jones, Interscope head of media strategy Cara Donatto, Quality Control Music’s Simone Mitchell, marketing executive Afrika Lander, and LL Cool J Inc. COO Claudine Joseph.
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“Black women in music are not only changing the narrative, we’re expanding it and have been doing so for years,” Roy said recounting her own journey to becoming a top event planner.
Choreographer and dancer Laurieann Gibson, who has worked with Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry, was another of the women being recognized. “I’m so excited that I’m making an alignment with women who walk the walk, talk the talk, and dance the dance,” she said. “I want to see artists really go back to honoring the opportunity to perform and become the record, rather than not take this opportunity seriously. Not everybody can touch the Grammy stage, we need to get those stakes back. The performances need to become a moment that you put in time, work to curate something special that the fans can’t just get everyday on Instagram.”
The evening’s goal was to bring together generations of black women in music under one roof, celebrating their victories, lessons, and achievements. Those recognized each made moves and an impact before the rise of social media and their success stories proved a blueprint in the music industry for others to follow.
President of Motown Ethiopia Habtemariam said of Roy: “I’m in awe with Karleen because for her to have that story, she understood the responsibility of us creating safe spaces as a community. To acknowledge each other but to also tell our story, to know that we’re not invisible. No matter where you are in your career, the work you’ve done matters.”
For Habtemariam, she entered the game early as child. “It was all black women I came up around,” she explains. “I never even thought it’d be an issue. That naiveness also allowed me to go through the game without any fear. If there was any bias, I was blind to it because I knew I belonged to it. I just knew I could exist as a great black women and do incredible art that’s purposeful. It’s really nice to see this all come together. Once you know you’re not alone with whatever you’re going through, you feel better. By hearing the stories, you can be more resilient and stronger.”
Bryant added: “It’s exciting to be celebrated when you don’t celebrate yourself. Because we’re the women that put our heads down and do the work. It’s hard for us to put our heads up and celebrate ourselves.”
Speaking on diversity, she says, “I’m not too involved in the Grammys to really understand how much diverse it needs to be, but I speak to a lot of my colleagues. Obviously with everything that went on last year, there’s a need for more women inclusion. I’m looking forward to making more changes, especially with what just happened.”
Bryant is referring to is the recent news of Grammy Awards CEO Deborah Dugan being placed on administrative leave, just ten days ahead of the 2020 Grammy Awards. The resulting verbal flame war has pitted the executive against the Recording Academy in an ugly battle surrounding accusations of financial and procedural impropriety at the organization, in addition to a sexual harassment claim.
Atlantic Records EVP of urban promotion Juliette Jones declined to comment, but did say, “It’s just a mess. … And unfortunate timing because it is about the artist and their artwork, the acknowledgment of their contributions to the culture and to music. While I don’t have any sensibility about all of the new nuances in the story, I just wish this week could be about the artists.”