Denmark Vesey's Plantation

A place to discuss whatever comes to mind.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Racism In the Music Industry


RACISM IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS:'s Bob Davis Wonders Why There's no Discussion.
December 28, 2005

Why isn't anyone talking about racism in the music business? I've been a fan of black music since the sixties, and have always been angry at the unaware racism of many (other) white people, who only listen to music by white artists.

Here in Philly, as elsewhere, the white bands get the work, and much of their music is a pale imitation* of what originated in and still comes out of the black community. I am particularly concerned about the affect of this form of racism on the great originators of R&B music, and those artists who continue in that tradition.


One of the most obvious examples of racism in the music business in Philadelphia in recent years involved the Adam's Mark Hotel. The manager of the club there called Quincy's hired a black band, and got fired for doing so. There was litigation. The response of the hotel was to close the club.Other ways in which racism affects black musicians include:

- Only a very small percentage of venues in the Philadelphia region (and elsewhere) book black bands. Both known black recording artists and lesser known artists are given less opportunity in every aspect of the music business, locally and nationally. The chittlin' circuit, where black performers had a chance to hone their acts and gain popularity in the black community, no longer exists. Black musicians advise other black musicians that in order to get bookings, it's necessary to have white band members.

- Agencies that promote musicians for corporate, public and private events, as well as venues, promote only white bands or bands with some black faces; few, if any, promote all-black bands.

- It is harder for black artists to get record deals or airplay; only a few stations play black music; in Philadelphia region, two of the three stations that play black music are owned by white corporations.

- Few black artists are played on white stations.

- Newer black performers who gain recognition don't have much career longevity.

- Government & private funding of the arts is predominantly allotted to white artists.


The history of racism in the music business has been documented in the PBS series on rock and roll, and in the more recent series on jazz. On the Tonight Show recently, Arsenio Hall said (talking about the white group 98 Degrees), " I remember when R&B groups used to be black." The PBS series on rock and roll showed how after the "British invasion," the careers of black artists who had been "cross-over" artists, meaning popular with both blacks and whites, took a sharp downward turn. When a black group recorded a new song, a white group would do a cover version before the original version was released. Great artists like Ruth Brown have been cheated by record companies. Many have lived and died in obscurity after (or without) briefmoments of fame. This includes many whose music is still loved and played, and continues to enrich our lives.

The PBS series on jazz documented how this music was copied by white bands,
while many of the black originators were shut out, and were shut out as performers because of their skin color.

*I do not mean to invalidate white musicians or their creativity. Most musicians (white or black) and other artists are oppressed by the entertainment industry and the injustices of this economic system. It is necessary to acknowledge, however, that the history of popular music since the 1950s (and earlier) has been the music industry's search for white performers who could imitate the music of black artists.


The music business has, in recent years, pushed a narrower and narrower range of music on the public. Rap and hip-hop are marketed heavily; young people often have little exposure to any other genre. The reality is that there is a great diversity of preferences in music; there are audiences for every form of music. Radio and television stations restrict access to so much of our cultural heritage. Older audiences and performers are discriminated against, because of the demographic slant toward the young, so ageism comes into play. Critics and the public are increasingly dissatisfied with the low quality of present day popular music; meanwhile, many of the most talented musicians lack the opportunities they deserve.


The image of the young black male as a "thug" is promoted heavily in gangsta rap. This is being done deliberately, to worsen the racist stereotype of black youth as dangerous, as the "enemy." The result is damaging not only to those who fit the stereotype, but also to other young black people, to the entire black community, and to white youth as well, who emulate this image. The materialism that is glorified in many music videos and rap lyrics is the antithesis of the long tradition in the African-American community of spirituality and great passion for social and economic justice.


The tradition of R&B, or what is aptly called "soul music" is alive and well, and continues to thrive in the communities in which this music started. Audiences and new artists are of all ages, including young people who are exposed to this genre. Soul oldies are featured on movie soundtracks, in commercials, and piped over the sound systems in public places. This reflects the hunger of audiences for more music of this genre. Many of the great originators of soul are still around, and are not honored.


Elitism has created the myth that some kinds of music are superior to others, for example, that jazz is superior to rhythm and blues. So currently in Philadelphia, there are an increasing number of venues that hire black jazz musicians. Some R&B musicians also have developed a jazz repertoire, because there is more work for jazz artists. So a few find a way to survive, but that doesn't make it right that R&B artists and the art form of R&B are disregarded.


The image of the black man that is projected in soul music is a threat to the white establishment in a different way than the image of the "thug" is. The black male R&B artist has long conveyed a terrifically strong positive energy in his presence and in his music. His personal power and charisma reflects a combination of spirituality, intelligence and virility that is perceived as threatening, because this is obviously a force that could prevail against oppression. So the suppression of soul music is another way

of crushing the black man, black political power, and black culture.


Racism in the music business must be challenged, and must be ended. There is too much talent, and too little opportunity, both here in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Black musicians need to start talking about this, and speaking out. Shining light on this form of racism would succeed in ending it. Musicians must take power in the music business.


Bob Davis








Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author of this article and the owner of this website are anti-white racist whiners. Look over your shoulder, justice is coming....

2:09 PM  
Blogger Denmark Vesey said...

Strong words from an "anonymous" source that lacks testicular fortitude...Ooooh...I sho' is scared now! (Scratchin' my head with eyes all bugged)

3:45 PM  

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