a leading figure in the music and recording industry
During the course of his career, Neil Portnow has worked closely with music makers, corporate executives, political figures, and worldwide brands. His various career roles have been on both the creative and business sides of the music industry, and he has demonstrated keen vision and leadership in each endeavor. He served as President of the Recording Academy™ from 2002-2006, and from 2007-2019 as only the second President/CEO in the Academy’s history.
Born in Manhattan, New York, Neil is a professional musician who has played with various bands and has worked as a studio sideman, playing bass and guitar. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University, where he served as cultural affairs director booking concerts for the university, and later was elected to an unprecedented two-year term as student body president.
Neil formed his own firm, Portnow-Miller Company, Inc., where he served as president. His client list included RCA Records, The Entertainment Company, Babylon Records, and Playboy Records. Neil’s services incorporated radio promotion, marketing and creative services, music publishing, and record production.
The Screen Gems Publishing Group, later acquired by EMI, named Neil manager of talent acquisitions and development in 1972. He established the record production division for the company, working with the industry’s premier producers, arrangers, musicians, and songs from writer/artists including Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Melissa Manchester, and Cat Stevens. Neil also negotiated domestic and international agreements in both the recording and music publishing areas.
A staff producer for RCA Records, Neil was promoted to the post of executive producer in 1977. He was transferred from New York to West Coast operations in the newly created position of division vice president, artist and repertoire. He was responsible for negotiations that included a distribution arrangement for Elton John’s Rocket Records.
In April 1979, Neil became the senior vice president for 20th Century Fox Records, and was promoted to president the following January. He was responsible for the artistic and financial turnaround of the company. The industry regained respect for the label, crediting the label’s and Neil’s success to the development of key new artists (including three gold albums and a gold single from GRAMMY® winner Stephanie Mills).
In March 1982, Neil was named vice president, artists and repertoire, West Coast for Arista Records by Clive Davis. As the principal West Coast executive, he was responsible for all West Coast activity and he functioned as general manager for the company. He also worked on Whitney Houston’s stunning debut album in addition to projects involving many of Arista’s top acts, such as Barry Manilow, Billy Ocean, the Thompson Twins, and Dionne Warwick.
In February of 1985, Neil was appointed vice president, artists and repertoire, for EMI America Records where he was responsible for all A&R activity worldwide. In addition to supervising all new artist acquisitions, Neil worked with artists such as David Bowie, Sheena Easton, Corey Hart, Nona Hendryx, and Evelyn “Champagne” King. He was instrumental in establishing a black music department, played a major role in the signing of superstar Robert Palmer, and brought platinum and gold album recording artists Pet Shop Boys and Najee to the company.
In 1987, he was named music supervisor for Frank Mancuso Jr.’s production of Permanent Record for Paramount Pictures. Music from the film was on the Epic Records soundtrack album, which included the first film underscore as well as songs by Joe Strummer. Throughout his career, Neil has been involved in many soundtrack projects, including such smashes as Ghostbusters, 9 To 5, The Stunt Man, The World’s Greatest Lover, and the 1986 hit About Last Night.
Neil served as senior vice president, West Coast operations, for the Zomba Group of Companies, which included Jive Records, Volcano, Verity and Silvertone Records, Zomba Music Publishing, as well as Zomba’s film and television music operations. Zomba, the world’s largest and leading independent music company, was sold to Bertelsmann in late 2002 for a historic $2.7 billion.
Neil is named President of the Recording Academy, and in 2007, becomes President/CEO. From 2002-2019, he leads the only organization to champion the voices of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and other music professionals.
Neil currently sits on the executive board of City of Hope’s Music, Film and Entertainment Group, where he previously served an unprecedented three-year term as president of the Music and Entertainment Industry chapter from 2000–2002, raising significant funds for the world-renowned cancer treatment and research center. In October 2003, City Of Hope presented Neil with its top philanthropy honor, the Spirit of Life Award, at a gala event that raised more than $2.3 million to benefit research and treatment efforts. He also was named the UJA Federation of New York’s Music Visionary of the Year at its annual luncheon in June 2014. Other honors include the George Washington University’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, honorary doctorate from Berklee School of Music, and inclusion in Billboard magazine’s Power 100 and Variety’s Variety500 industry lists.