Here's What Went Down At GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day 2023, A Fight For All Music Creators On Capitol Hill

Photo: Leigh Vogel / Getty Images for the Recording Academy

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Here's What Went Down At GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day 2023, A Fight For All Music Creators On Capitol Hill

During Advocacy Day 2023, advocates shared stories as artists and discussed with lawmakers how supporting pro-music legislation can have a life-changing impact on the music community.

Advocacy/May 4, 2023 - 06:16 pm

On Thurs. April 27th, the Recording Academy took to Capitol Hill alongside GRAMMY winners and nominees to advocate for creators' rights. Throughout the day, the group met with nearly 40 congressional offices to raise awareness and gain support for the issues facing music makers across America.

The Recording Academy concluded the Advocacy Day by joining Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) for a press conference to announce the reintroduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection Act.

This bill, which was a key focus throughout GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day, would protect the First Amendment Rights of Artists by limiting the use of an artist's lyrics as evidence in federal criminal proceedings. 

Similar legislation has become law, or is advancing toward becoming law, in a number of states including California, Louisiana, Missouri, and New York.

In addition to discussing the Restoring Artistic Protection Act with lawmakers, the Recording Academy also advocated for passing the Help Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act, reforming the live event and concert ticket marketplace, and building support for the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA). Some of the advocates also discussed ways AI is impacting the music industry. 

Among the advocates were Recording Academy CEO, Harvey Mason jr.; thirteen-time GRAMMY Winner and this year's GRAMMYs on the Hill Honoree, Pharrell Williams; five-time GRAMMY winner and Trustee on the Recording Academy's National Advocacy Committee, Angélique Kidjo; GRAMMY Nominee for Best New Artist, Tobe Nwigwe; GRAMMY Nominees for Song of the Year, GAYLE and JP Saxe; GRAMMY Nominees for Best New Artist, DOMi and JD Beck; three-time GRAMMY Nominee, Victoria Monet;  two-time GRAMMY Nominee and Board Member of the Recording Academy's Nashville Chapter, Armond Hutton; two-time GRAMMY nominee, Tank Ball of Tank and the Bangas; and many others.

During their meetings, the advocates had the opportunity to share their stories as artists and discuss with lawmakers how supporting pro-music legislation can have a life-changing impact on the music community. 

Whether it's protecting the ability to write lyrics without fear of prosecution, passing the HITS Act so music production receives the same tax treatment as film, television, and theatre, or ensuring fair pay for artists on the radio, each advocate used their experiences to drive home the need for lawmakers to pass these pieces of legislation.

Over the course of GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day, the Recording Academy met with dozens of Members of Congress including Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA), House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO), Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Rep. Ken Buck (R-OH), Rep. Sydney Kamalager-Dove (D-CA), and more influential leaders.

Although GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day only occurs on an annual basis, the Recording Academy looks forward to continuing to advocate for pro-music legislation year round! 

How The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards Addressed The Changing Music Landscape, Celebrated Music Champions & Pushed The Industry Toward Progress

Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act Reintroduced In Congress: Carry The Fight Forward With These Inspiring & Galvanizing Quotes From The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards & Advocacy Day
A group photo during GRAMMYs On The Hill: Advocacy Day on April 27, 2023 in Washington, DC

Courtesy o​​f Recording Academy® Photo by Paul Morigi by Getty Images © 2023

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Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act Reintroduced In Congress: Carry The Fight Forward With These Inspiring & Galvanizing Quotes From The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards & Advocacy Day

While the 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards and Advocacy Day, which highlighted the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, may have come and gone, carry the fight forward with these impactful expressions from the two-day gathering.

Advocacy/May 10, 2023 - 11:43 pm

It was emotionally stirring to stand before the U.S. Capitol on April 27. It was Advocacy Day, the day immediately following the 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards, and members of congress and music industry leaders met at a press conference to announce the reintroduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, while also reflecting on what hip-hop means to them.

"Imagine being a young, Black teenager in New York City and watching the movie Do the Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee. The story of Radio Raheem. The story of Sal's Pizza. The story of no Black people on the wall," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), who along with Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) introduced the bill on that glorious spring day.

"Now, I'm in Congress in 2020, walking around asking, 'Where the hell are all the Black people on the wall?' because of a movie like that," the congressman continued. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, X-Clan, Public Enemy, Brand Nubian."

Rep. Bowman went on to express how Rakim's philosophy of self-knowledge provided a foundation for his thinking. But then, a moment of startling truth struck, one totally apropos to the occasion for this gathering.

"I could differentiate between N.W.A.'s music and how I should behave in society," Rep. Bowman stated. "I didn't want to go mimic what they were saying. I knew it was them expressing what was going on in their community and them sensationalizing certain things.

"That's what artists do. That's what Stephen King does. That's what George Lucas does," he added. "Pick your art, pick your director, pick your writer, pick your author — this is what they do."

Read More: Here's What Went Down At GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day 2023, A Fight For All Music Creators On Capitol Hill

The Restoring Artistic Protection Act is a bill that would limit the use of song lyrics as evidence in courtrooms nationwide; while it applies to all styles of artistic expression, it disproportionately affects artists who are people of color, particularly members of the hip-hop sphere.

While GRAMMYs On The Hill, which advocated for the bill, may have come and gone, carry the fight forward with these impactful quotations from the Advocacy Day press conference and the GRAMMYs On The Hill red carpet.

It’s a really slippery slope. If you start allowing art to be used as evidence, it’s going to change the nature of how people filter the way they think and write. It’s going to change their storytelling ability. When you’re creating, you have to be free to tell a story — to create magic, to dream. This isn’t reality TV. These aren’t documentaries. These are things that are sometimes escapism. Sometimes, they’re fantasies. They’re aspirational. There are a lot of reasons why people write songs, and we can’t have these lyricists or writers held liable for things they say in the middle of a piece of art.

— Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy

[The First Amendment] is the foundational stone of democracy. If you don't have freedom of expression, if you don't enable artists to create without fear of prosecution or censoring, you don't have democracy.

— Panos A. Panay, President of the Recording Academy

The government should not be able to silence artists simply because they write, draw, sing, or rap about controversial or taboo subjects.

— Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)

As a music creator myself, I know how important it is that we safeguard artists' freedom to create at all costs and to work to eradicate the biases that come with the unconstitutional practice of using lyrics as evidence, which disproportionately affect artists of color and penalizes the creativity of Black and Brown creatives. This discriminatory practice must come to a halt, and not only for artists making rap music. Criminalizing creative works has a dangerous impact on all genres of music, on all forms of creative expression from hip-hop to jazz to classical dance to literature.

— Rico Love, Vice Chair on the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy and Black Music Collective Chair

You know, rap music actually is folk music, because folk music is the voice of the people. And this is the voice of a community of people that must never be stifled, must never be muzzled. [It] must never be a rolling stone, a rabbit hole into more and more censorship because people are afraid that if they say something, it might be admissible in court and it might be held against them — when, actually, it falls under the First Amendment and it is their right to express themselves because they're expressing the voice of the people.

— Actress, comedian, writer, and president of SAG-AFTRA Fran Drescher

So let's not just simply think that rap artists deserve to be prosecuted based on their lyrics and nothing will happen to my music or to my graffiti or to my poetry, to my song in a different genre, or to my play or my TV show, my pilot. Let's all come together at this point and nip it in the bud while we still have a chance to do so. If we let it keep going, the monster will just get bigger and bigger.

— Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)

I know this may come as a surprise, but sometimes, art depicts violence. Whether it's Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff,' Johnny Cash's 'Folsom City Blues' — it's all protected, all of it. Ice-T isn't a 'cop killer' — nor is he a cop, despite now playing one on TV.

— Joe Cohn, director of FIRE's Legislative and Policy department

Our creativity is our humanity and our art is our air. If you crush our art, you take away our air. You choke us off from breathing and participating in a democracy.

— Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)

Hip-hop is the most significant cultural force on the planet. It grew out of the pain, the struggle, the disenfranchisement, and joy of young Black America. Hip-hop affects the voices of the unheard and the most often under attack just for our existence. We are clear that through hip-hop culture, many have broken cycles of intergenerational poverty. Therefore, we are not confused by this attack on our culture. We are clear that this is another angle to ensure that the prison-industrial complex has a steady flow of subjects to bear out the intended design. This did not lose us.

— Acclaimed rapper and co-chair of the Black Music Action Coalition Willie "Prophet" Stiggers

Hip-hop is what made me. It's who I am. If you cut me open, I bleed the culture. From my time as a teenager, from running Def Jam for more than 20 years or leading Electra 300 today, I've seen this issue across nearly four decades in the music business. And so, to paraphrase Fannie Hamer, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired of the same damn thing.

— Kevin Liles, CEO, Chairman of the Board, Co-Founder of 300 Entertainment

We cannot stop at today. We have to continue to fight this fight every single day because our First Amendment dictates that we have the freedom to speak and express ourselves.

— Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)

How The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards Addressed The Changing Music Landscape, Celebrated Music Champions & Pushed The Industry Toward Progress

How The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards Addressed The Changing Music Landscape, Celebrated Music Champions & Pushed The Industry Toward Progress
(L-R) Sen. Raphael Warnock, Pharrell Williams, Harvey Mason jr.

Photo courtesy of Recording Academy® by Paul Morigi via Getty Images

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How The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards Addressed The Changing Music Landscape, Celebrated Music Champions & Pushed The Industry Toward Progress

The 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards honored the congressional leaders and music professionals championing creators' rights, including Pharrell Williams, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, while fighting for a fair industry.

Advocacy/May 1, 2023 - 07:49 pm

It virtually goes without saying that every year, the annual GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards are monumental in their own way. But for manifold reasons, 2023 stands alone.

Once again, the music industry paradigm is today shifting in real-time, driven by the rapid rise of emerging technology, the ongoing fight for fair compensation for songwriters and artists, the protection of artists' freedom of creative expression, and other key music industry issues impacting creators — all of which played a central role at the 2023 GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards.

"We find ourselves at a crossroads," Panos A. Panay, President of the Recording Academy, said on the red carpet ahead of this year’s GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards last Wednesday. "It’s a time of opportunity, but I think it’s a time of peril, too."

By his telling, the evolving nature of today’s music industry is wide-spanning: There’s the collision between AI and music as well as the ongoing growth of music revenues via streaming. De novo, the music landscape has found itself in uncharted waters — financially and structurally.

Central on the docket for GRAMMYs On The Hill 2023 is the newly reintroduced Restoring Artistic Protection Act. The purpose of the act — to limit the admissibility of lyrics in criminal proceedings and legal court cases — is essential for fairness and equity across the wider music industry, but carries a heightened impact on the rap community that is commonly the target of this prosecutorial tactic.

All of this would be on the table by the next morning, at the dawn of Advocacy Day 2023, when the Restoring Artistic Protection Act was reintroduced by Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), alongside Recording Academy leaders and members  at a press conference on Capitol Hill. 

While the week’s events focused on progress and positive change, the GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards celebrated music people — and those who valiantly fight for their rights — on a higher level. Taking place at the Hamilton Live, a block from the White House, the event began with a performance from traditional New Orleans jazz trumpeter Leroy Jones, who’s performed with everyone from Harry Connick Jr. to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Jones’ swooping, swinging, syncopated rendition — hesitating, detouring, yet concluding in a flourish — befitted an endeavor where nothing was guaranteed, but nobody is giving up easily.

Country-soul leading light Maggie Rose then introduced Tammy Hurt, Chair on the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy, along with five-time GRAMMY-winning soprano legend Renée Fleming

They, in turn, introduced U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) with a stirring video tying into the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, presenting the Brooklyn native as a tireless warrior for music creators’ rights who proved instrumental in saving the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon strolling onstage, Sen. Schumer acknowledged a "great New Yorker and great American," two-time GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Harry Belafonte, who died the previous day. "Through his music, he touched the hearts of millions, like no one ever before," Schumer said, celebrating Belafonte’s courage in "challenging an entire nation to confront the forces of segregation and bigotry."

After acknowledging his friend and fellow GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards honoree from across the aisle, Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Sen. Schumer offered further expressions: "I’ve always believed that music is more than a form of entertainment," he said. "It's a cultural, economic and social force that brings people [together] from all walks of life."

One of the most emotionally stirring moments of the evening came when Todd Dupler, Acting Chief Advocacy & Public Policy Officer for the Recording Academy, introduced Dr. Ahmad Naser Sarmast, the founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), Ministry of Education of Afghanistan.

In August 2021, Sarmast put his life on the line to help the Afghanistan National Institute of Music escape after the Taliban seized control of his embattled country and banned all non-religious music. "We are here to celebrate the beauty of music," he said. "In Afghanistan, the people are deprived of their music."

Rose then returned to the stage for a rousing rendition of her anthemic "What Are We Fighting For," from her 2021 album Have a Seat. While the thrust of the lyrics is a lover’s quarrel, the song felt apropos to the spirit of GRAMMYs On The Hill, where leading political minds reach across aisles for the greater good of our universal language. Upon her exhortation for the audience to join her in the revelry, a number of high-profile attendees, like House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA), followed suit.

This year, the GRAMMYs On The Hill Awards, sponsored by City National Bank, benefited the GRAMMY Museum; as such, Museum President and CEO Michael Sticka took the stage to tout the institution’s crucial work on historical, curatorial and educational programs and initiatives. (Linda Duncombe, the executive vice president and chief marketing, data and digital officer of City National Bank and a member of the Museum’s Board of Directors, made a brief onstage appearance as well.)

Singer/songwriter JP Saxe then gave the ceremony another dollop of soul, as he sat behind a keyboard and performed "If The World Was Ending," originally a GRAMMY-nominated duet with Julia Michaels.

After an introduction from Recording Academy President Panay, Tarriona "Tank" Ball — of Tank and the Bangas fame — appeared to tout the American musical tradition that birthed New Orleans artistry; in such, she stressed the primacy of freedom. A video played spotlighting Sen. Cassidy’s work in the roots music capital, as he fights to sustain music small businesses, champions the Music Modernization Act, and assisted ANIM in their safe evacuation out of Afghanistan.

The night was winding up to Pharrell Williams’ big honor. Tobe Nwigwe, a rapper and star on the Netflix series "Mo" who was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best New Artist in 2023, performed a rolling, flowing song especially for the man of the hour. That was "In the Water" – a reference to Williams’ Something in the Water festival, which returned to his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, the following weekend.

Right then, Williams himself — a 13-time GRAMMY winner who looms large in innumerable spheres of American music, from rap to pop to R&B — stepped onstage to receive the GRAMMYs On The Hill’s Creator Leadership Award presented to him by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr.

"I’ve been incredibly lucky in my career as a musician," he said. "But there are a ton of my brothers and sisters that are just like starting out. And even some that have been in the game for a very long time that haven't had the same advantages.

"The worth of these musicians needs to be protected," Williams continued. "I think it’s a very beautiful thing that our government is shining a light and giving visibility to the struggle [experienced by] us as musicians."

The evening concluded with a masterful performance by Tank and four-time GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Nile Rodgers, who performed a luminous version of Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky" — a modern classic that gave the veteran funk and disco legend a career boost as he fought for his life.

"At the time, I was suffering from cancer," he reflected from the stage, remembering the time when they created the song together. "As I stand here, getting ready to pay tribute to my brother with that song we wrote 10 years ago, I am still cancer-free." (Huge applause.)

As the years roll on, the fight for creators’ rights will continue, and the Recording Academy will remain a trusted champion for creators of all levels across the full spectrum of the music industry, advancing important music policy issues to the forefront. And GRAMMYs On The Hill will once again step up to meet every challenge and celebrate those leading the charge along the way.

But one thing was certain as this year’s honors wound down: As a music community, that night, we all gained ground.

Recording Academy And U.S. Congress Leaders Announce The Reintroduction Of The Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, Leading The Federal Effort To Limit The Use of Song Lyrics In Court And Legal Cases

Recording Academy And U.S. Congress Leaders Announce The Reintroduction Of The Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, Leading The Federal Effort To Limit The Use of Song Lyrics In Court And Legal Cases
A group photo during GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day 2023 on April 27 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Courtesy of Recording Academy ® | Photo by Paul Morigi by Getty Images © 2023

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Recording Academy And U.S. Congress Leaders Announce The Reintroduction Of The Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act, Leading The Federal Effort To Limit The Use of Song Lyrics In Court And Legal Cases

Following the 2023 GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards, Recording Academy leaders and members joined Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) in Capitol Hill to announce the reintroduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act.

Advocacy/Apr 27, 2023 - 06:52 pm

Today, Recording Academy leaders and members joined Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) at a press conference on Capitol Hill to announce the reintroduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act. Intended to protect artists' freedom of creative expression, the RAP Act would limit the use of song lyrics in court — a common practice that disproportionately affects rap and hip-hop artists. Artists and industry advocates, including Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. and Recording Academy Board of Trustees Vice Chair and Black Music Collective Chair Rico Love, shared their views on the importance of passing this legislation and ensuring all artists can create freely without fear of their work being criminalized. Watch the full press conference below.

The announcement comes on the heels of the Recording Academy's Annual GRAMMYs on the Hill, a two-day event that honored 13-time GRAMMY winner Pharrell Williams, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senator Bill Cassidy for their stalwart support of music creators and connected music creators with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to advocate for the RAP Act, the Help Independent Tracks Succeed (HITS) Act, the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA), and reform of the live event ticketing marketplace.

"GRAMMYs on the Hill has been bringing music creators to Capitol Hill for more than 20 years to elevate policy issues that impact our community. Today, we're proud to see our Academy members' commitment to advocacy come to life with the reintroduction of the Restoring Artistic Protection Act. We must safeguard artists' freedom to create at all costs and work to eradicate the biases that come with the unconstitutional practice of using lyrics as evidence. We are grateful to Congressmen Johnson and Bowman for their unwavering commitment to music people and look forward to working alongside them to advance this issue." – Harvey Mason jr., CEO, Recording Academy, and Rico Love, Chair, Recording Academy Black Music Collective

"This legislation is long overdue," Congressman Johnson said. "For too long, artists – particularly young Black artists – have been unfairly targeted by prosecutors who use their lyrics as evidence of guilt, even though there is no evidence that the lyrics are anything more than creative expression. When you allow music and creativity to be silenced, you're opening the door for other realms of free speech to be curtailed as well. The government should not be able to silence artists simply because they write, draw, sing, or rap about controversial or taboo subjects. The Restoring Artistic Protection Act (RAP Act) would protect artists' First Amendment rights by limiting the admissibility of their lyrics as evidence in criminal and civil proceedings."

"Rap, hip-hop and every lyrical musical piece is a beautiful form of art and expression that must be protected," said Congressman Bowman Ed.D. "I am proud to introduce the RAP Act alongside Rep. Hank Johnson. Our judicial system disparately criminalizes Black and Brown people, including Black and Brown creativity. For example, Tommy Munsdwell Canady is a young 17-year-old kid serving a life sentence whose conviction heavily relied upon lyrics he wrote. I was deeply moved to hear that Mr. Canady continues to pursue his art in the face of our carceral systems that would otherwise stifle Black art. He is not an outlier. Evidence shows when juries believe lyrics to be rap lyrics, there's a tendency to presume it's a confession, whereas lyrics for other genres of music are understood to be art, not factual reporting. This act would ensure that our evidentiary standards protect the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. We cannot imprison our talented artists for expressing their experiences nor will we let their creativity be suppressed."

There are over 500 documented cases since the 2000s where prosecutors have used lyrics as criminal evidence in court against an artist defendant. A 2016 study by criminologists at the University of California examined whether rap lyrics are evaluated using stereotypes and found that rap was evaluated more negatively than other genres of music, highlighting the possibility that bias against rap lyrics could inappropriately impact jurors when admitted as evidence to prove guilt. To right this wrong, the Recording Academy has spearheaded efforts to protect the First Amendment rights of artists nationwide by working to limit the use of an artist's lyrics — among other forms of creative expression — as evidence in criminal proceedings.  

On Sept. 30, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act into law alongside Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. at a virtual bill signing.

This year, the Academy is working to advance similar legislation in several states, including Louisiana, where HB-475 passed a House vote on April 25; Missouri, where HB-353 recently advanced to the House for a vote; and in New York, where a similar bill passed through the Senate in 2022.

Inside GRAMMYs On The Hill 2023: How The Recording Academy Will Fight For Creator's Rights