As the Recording Academy’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Ryan Butler is responsible for ensuring these core values are instilled throughout all aspects of the organization, including the annual Grammy Awards.

Butler has been instrumental in launching a series of DEI partnerships with organizations like Color of Change and GLAAD. During his tenure at the Academy, Butler has also become the founding executive director of the Warner Music/Blavatnik Center for Music Business at Howard University.

Prior to joining the Recording Academy in 2019, Butler held positions at Hampton University’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communication, Atlantic Records and the RIAA. He holds a bachelor’s degree in strategic, legal and management communication from Howard University and a master’s degree in music business with a concentration in entertainment, media and technology from New York University.

What does Pride in 2024 mean to you?

For me, it means taking pride that when other organizations’ commitment to DEI is waning, the Recording Academy is doubling down and providing me, a Black queer man, with the resources and support to do the real work and to make real change—to create a world where everyone is seen, heard and represented. It means taking pride in the legacy of the queer folk who paved the way; being inspired by their accomplishments to blaze my own trails and to be my own good troublemaker, as John Lewis would say.

Who are some of those heroes, and particularly queer heroes, that you draw inspiration from?

My go-to uncles, as I call them, are James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin. I identify with Rustin far more because I consider myself a behind-the-scenes organizer and producer—setting up the stage and then sitting back and enjoying what you were able to accomplish. As I’m planning things, I think about how Rustin must have felt before the huge march on Washington. I am thankful for what James Baldwin added to the canon, for the conversations that he had. I often use him as my barometer of how I have to be to do this work—his bravery and courage inspire me.

There are so many queer artists who have used their visibility to shine a light. Who are some of the people you’ve seen who’ve helped raise consciousness?

Historically, Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard and Sylvester. In more contemporary times, Janelle Monáe, Big Freedia, Kaytranada, Frank Ocean, Lil Nas X and Tyler, the Creator. They are contributing in ways that are innovative and changing the way that we make and listen to music. We’ve always been on the cutting edge. There’s a queer contribution to hip-hop, because hip-hop came from the breaks in disco music, and we know the queer contribution to disco music. I think about how we have always been innovative in our fashion, in our style, in our music taste. I take inspiration from that.

This year’s Grammy moment, which I am still playing over in my head, was Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs duet of “Fast Car.”

That was a full-circle moment for me because I remember buying that Tracy Chapman cassette when I was in my tweens. I wasn’t sure that my Black friends would understand, because it wasn’t the type of music the Black community was jamming to at that time. But there was something about her expression and her freedom, about her short hair and not being extra-feminine, that just made me feel right. I didn’t know anything about her sexuality. I didn’t even know anything about my own sexuality. Tracy Chapman’s music was just a place that felt safe for me early in my discovery of my sexuality. It made me want to be in the music business, because I said if music has that power, I want to be part of it.

The day of the show, when we were at the dress rehearsal, it literally stopped me in my tracks. The beauty of that moment of transcending race, transcending gender, transcending sexuality—just the music on the stage. Luke Combs sharing his story before she even started. And the way that camera panned on the hand, and you were like, is it a shadow? Is it a Black hand? What is it? And then you see her and it’s such a beautiful moment. And all of the queer representation—Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus, Victoria Monét—all of it being there.

That’s the power of music.

That’s why I do what I do. That’s why we work so hard on behalf of creators year-round. The Grammys is Music’s Biggest Night, but the work that my colleagues and I do is really the work that protects creators the other 364.

You have a specific Pride initiative at the Recording Academy, right?

Academy Proud is the resource group for our LGBTQ members and the Grammy curious, which was launched during Grammy week with our community partners GLAAD and OUTLOUD. It’s a under a network called Diversity Reimagined by Engaging All Musicmakers, or DREAM.

Pride is now not just a celebration. Would you agree that Pride is a responsibility?

It’s a heavy responsibility, but one that I take with joy because I know it is part of my legacy. I take enormous pride in the fact that we stood up Academy Proud. Our organization is 67 years old. In 67 more years I won’t be here, but Academy Proud will still be part of this story. It can almost bring tears to my eyes that we created something for a community that normally feels oppressed, normally feels diminished, normally feels uncelebrated. We did the exact opposite of all of that. “Come here, let us lift you up. Let us celebrate you. Let us honor you for your contributions to music.” I can’t think of a better job.

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