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Grammys are #NotSoWhite says show producer

The 2016 Grammy Awards airs tonight. Feb. 15, and the show hasn't come without a small measure of controversy.

This year, the show came under fire after announcing the line-up of planned tribute performances .

The problem according to Twitter? The #GrammysSoWhite (or #GrammySoWhite depending on your tastes.)

The hashtag cropped up with media reports that white performers like David Bowie and Glenn Frey of the Eagles would be honored through live tributes by their peers, while black performers such as Natalie Cole and Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire would not be given the same treatment.

READ MORE: Visit the AJC's Atlanta Music Scene blog with Melissa Ruggieri for coverage of the Grammys in Los Angeles.    

The hashtag was reminiscent of #OscarsSoWhite which began trending when the list of this year's Oscar nominees reflected a lack of diversity. Soon after that, some A-list actors said they would boycott the Oscars this year and it prompted many discussions about exactly why there is such a lack of diversity in Hollywood.

Before the Grammy debate could pick up much steam, Grammys veteran executive producer Ken Ehrlich, shut it down.

“The fact of the matter is popular music is, it came from New Orleans, it came from Memphis, it came from Kansas City, it came from the Islands, it came from Africa, and the music we listen to today, not just hip-hop, not just R&B, but all music has been influenced and been shaped by African-American culture, so I don’t think the same rules apply,” said Ehrlich in an interview with the Associated Press.

“There wouldn’t be a Grammys show today if it weren’t for the great African-American artists who built the culture and wrote the music and we try to reflect that every year. I don’t think it’s fair to level criticism, the same kind of criticism against us that the Oscars are experiencing.”

Ehrlich went on to say that he considered booking a performer to honor Cole, who died in December, but decided the 1992 Grammy performance of her singing in sync with her father, Nat King Cole, who appeared in video, proved so "unbelievably touching" that her taped performance will close the "In Memoriam" section of the show.

As for Earth, Wind & Fire -- who lost founding member Maurice White on Feb. 4 -- band members will accept a lifetime achievement award on live TV while honoring White and presenting Record of the Year.

To further debunk the lack of diversity claims, Ehrlich notes that B.B. King will be honored in a performance by Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark Jr. and Chris Stapleton.

The tribute to honor Frey comes courtesy of other members of the Eagles and Jackson Browne. And the Bowie tribute came about when Lady Gaga, who was already scheduled to perform on the show, asked Ehrlich if she could do a segment in his honor.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.