Once upon a time, Kristen Madsen was much like the rest of us.
"I thought the Grammy Awards was a TV show one night a year," she said in a Tribune interview.
But after time spent in arts organizations in Utah and California, the Salt Lake City native has learned that the Grammys are much more than an awards show. Rather, The Recording Academy is a year-round group dedicated to raising the awareness of music in schools and the general consciousness, spurring activism in music preservation, and helping musicians in need.
Madsen is Senior Vice President of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares, two charities founded by the Recording Academy. Right now, she and her staff are in the midst of one of the busiest, and most important weeks, of the year for the charities.
"I've been here for over 15 years, and if you don't like your job right now, you have the wrong job," she said from her office in Santa Monica.
This week, it was readily apparent that an awards show is just one part of what is called Grammy Week, with Grammy Foundation-sponsored events almost 24-7 in the week preceding the 54th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 12. She is attending all of the events that she has been the point person for all year.
On Wednesday, Madsen will attend Grammy Camp at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, where artists and executives from throughout the music industry teach and mentor some of the most musically talented high school students in the nation. That evening, she will be at the "Grammy in the Schools Live!" gala, featuring performances by Grammy nominee Terri Lyne Carrington, Grammy winner Anthony Hamilton, along with student alumni from Grammy Camp.
On Thursday, Madsen will be at another gala, "One Night Only: Grammy Foundation Music Preservation Event," co-hosted by Sharon Osbourne and Steve Vai, with performances by Bret Michaels, Robert Cray, Jonny Lang, Shelby Lynne, Mavis Staples, Dave Koz, Ledisi, A Fine Frenzy and Tyrese, among others. The Beverly Hills concert is a fund-raiser for the Grammy Foundation's extensive music preservation efforts.
And Friday is the long-sold-out 2012 MusiCares Person of the Year Gala, what Madsen has called "the second-biggest night of Grammy Week" and is the hardest ticket to secure this week. The night at the Los Angeles Convention Center will honor Paul McCartney in recognition of his creative accomplishments as well as his charitable work, which has included an extraordinary range of philanthropic activities over the years, according to MusiCares officials. Hosted by comedian Eddie Izzard, artists set to perform at this gala include Tony Bennett, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Katy Perry, Duane Eddy, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Diana Krall, James Taylor, and Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Sergio Mendes and, not least, the cast of Cirque du Soleil's "Love" Beatles tribute show. Sir Pail will also perform.
The MusiCares gala is the primary fund-raiser for the charity, and it wasn't difficult getting so many top-tier musicians to honor McCartney, Madsen said. "What you see if that he is a generous spirit for his fellow musicians," she said, and musicians slated to perform want to repay him for his kindness throughout the years.
The MusiCares event is a testament to Madsen's love of non-profits and why she loves her job: Every day she works, she said, she's cognizant that non-profits like the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares make people's lives better.
Madsen's commitment began in Utah, where she graduated from East High and earned a master's degree in arts administration at the University of Utah. While studying for that degree, she was awarded an internship by Casey Jarman, programs director for the Salt Lake City Arts Council, to work with him on the city's beloved annual Living Traditions Festival. "I gave her her first job," Jarman said. "She's an awesome person."
Later, Madsen was a booking agent for Salt Lake City-based Repertory Dance Theatre, and then worked for the Utah Arts Council, where she found her mentors: Susan Boskoff, who is now head of the Nevada Arts Council, and Nancy Boskoff, now director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council. "[Madsen] is one of the many talented people who worked in the arts community," Nancy said. "She's another stellar person from Utah."
Every year, Nancy watches the Grammy Awards hoping to catch a glimpse of Madsen, who in turn said that all of the experience and mentorship she received in Utah has led her to her position today.
After the Utah Arts Council, Madsen ran the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, a membership association dedicated to ensuring access to public funds for arts programming, and then was hired by the Recording Academy to be Vice President of Member Services, where she spent eight year doubling the membership, expanded chapter offices from 8 to 12, and helped secure an increase of the Academy Grants program from $45,000 to $700,000.
Although Madsen admits that she still gets star-struck on a daily basis in her current job, perhaps her favorite times during this week are working with students like Chase Kroesche at the Grammy Camp.
Kroesche, 18, a senior at Rowland Hall, endured a difficult application process in 2010 and 2011 that led him to being accepted for the 2011 Grammy Camp. He was effusive in his praise for the camp, where he interacted with music legends such as Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Lamont Dozier, a member of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriters and production team credited for creating the Motown Sound. Pop stars such as Nick Jonas and Greyson Chance also worked one-on-one with campers, Kroesche said. Today, inspired by his time at the Grammy Camp, Kroesche is auditioning for the schools of music at some of the best universities in the nation.
"There is nothing like spending time with people who are so passionate about music," Madsen said. "Everyone and my staff gets rejuvenated again."
It says something that if given the choice, Madsen would rather rub shoulders with Kroesche than some of the most famous musicians in the world.