The Grammy Awards have always been know as music’s biggest night, but behind the glitz and glam of the elaborate award show is actually something much more meaningful. Behind the voting process itself are groups of recording chapters all around the United States, and the City of Brotherly Love happens to hold one of their own. Aside from sorting through the nominations, the Philadelphia Recording Academy Chapter also does plenty of work to help the music community in general, and their impact definitely hits a high note.
“It’s always cool to see where we are with the breadth of the city,” says Mark Schulz, Executive Director of the Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter.
Schulz ended up in that position after answering an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1999, when, at the time, he was managing a recording studio. He’s been with the chapter ever since, and over the course of almost two decades, the director has seen many members and talented musicians walk through the doors—including Lauren Hart.
“I think when people think of the Grammys, they automatically think of maybe the biggest names,” says Hart, the chapter president and singer who got involved with the group years ago after her manager asked her if she would be willing to sing for a Recording Academy party. “But, we have engineers and producers and writers and all different kinds of creators that are actually heavily involved with music here, so, it’s a great chance for people who might not be your household name to be recognized….Because the work that is coming out of here is tremendous.”
The Philadelphia Chapter is home to artists and music creators throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware and South New Jersey, but their reach expands far beyond the tri-state area.
“Our membership is involved in, of course, the voting for the awards,” explains Hart. “But, we’re listening to music year-round. You try to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening, not only within your own genre, but in Philly. We have such an amazing, broad group of musicians…It’s very eclectic and there’s always a lot going on here.”
“Fingers crossed when the nomination comes out that we see some familiar faces and names on the list,” adds Shulz.
Both Shulz and Hart have plenty of experience in the music biz. Shulz has a career being both a creator and also a proponent on the business side, while Hart has made her mark on many stages and studios having 7 albums under her belt. That experience helps with the nominations, but it also helps with a lot of musicians’ inspirations as well.
“The core of a lot of what we do, as a membership organization, is that we try to work in ways to help them professionally,” explains Schulz. “So whether that’s educationally, or networking, or a combination of the two—that’s what we do. In this chapter, we are kind of beheld to the idea that if you have an education, then you have speakers bringing the best of their knowledge to the room. But we also want to network in the end.”
In the Philadelphia Chapter alone—which is 900 strong—the members have worked with the Philadelphia Jazz Project, Pass the Aux (with members of the Chicago Chapter as well,) a “Reset” program that focuses on self-care through meditation and journaling, and their MusiCares program, which supports health needs and business natural disaster recovery for professionals.
“For me personally, MusiCares was one of the most important parts of the organization that really connected with me. It does support all musicians in our industry, you don’t have to be a member—the support is there for all musicians,” explains Hart.
So, aside from the task of being a part of the group of professional members that have to sift through 27,000+ annual entries, the Recording Academy Chapter in Philadelphia also does charitable and advocacy work. That includes advocating for copyright laws, creators rights, musicians rights, and getting involved with local and national congresspeople and senators.
The pandemic also helped to put things in perspective as well.
“Musicians are gig workers. So, to have that be part of the national response and support for us gig workers was really important, and the Academy registered their thoughts on that,” says Hart.
Despite the setbacks 2020 caused the music industry, seeing the crop of local talent for this year’s Grammy Awards—which includes jazz pianist Orrin Evans, The Baylor Project, and Frank Bay, among others—certainly helps to keep spirits up and show just what kind of talent the City of Brotherly Love is offering. Philly itself has deep ties to music: This city alone holds the oldest jazz union and the longest-running opera house in the country, so the notes and the roots run deep. But Hart says it best:
“The sound of Philadelphia is ours and ours alone.”
To learn more about the Philadelphia Recording Academy Chapter, visit grammy.com