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All Songs +1: India.Arie Talks About Worth And The Grammys

India.Arie, performing onstage during the pre-telecast Grammy Awards ceremony in New York City in January 2018.
Theo Wargo
Getty Images
India.Arie, performing onstage during the pre-telecast Grammy Awards ceremony in New York City in January 2018.

"Worthy." That's the word that singer-songwriter India.Arie had projected behind her when she performed at this year's Grammy Awards ceremony, before the telecast. The timing couldn't have been more apt.

I recently sat down with India.Arie — a four-time Grammy winner and 22-time nominee — to talk about some of the controversies that have burst into public view. Artists and industry executives are demanding to have a greater presence for women at the Grammys, and in the music industry more broadly. And those calls for greater inclusion and diversity intensified after the president and CEO of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, as well as the producer of the Grammy telecast, Ken Ehrlich, both made statements after the awards that, critics say, demeaned the contributions of female musicians and women working in the industry.

Neil Portnow walked back his comments a few days later. And the Recording Academy, also known as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, or NARAS, pledged to create a task force for inclusion and diversity. Earlier this week, the Recording Academy named Tina Tchen as the chair of that new group. But that task force is just beginning to come together.

In our conversation, India.Arie talks about how she feels as a woman in the music business, and as an artist who's been involved with the Grammys since her debut album, Acoustic Soul, was released in 2001. After Portnow and Ehrlich made their remarks, she wrote an open letter to Portnow. That's where I started my conversation with India, before we turned to how female artists — and black female artists — are marketed, the potential reasons why the Recording Academy has been the particular focus of so much ire and some ideas for moving ahead.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.