Sunday, October 22, 2017

What Happened to Black Music? (REDUX Originally Posted 1/14/10)



Zimbio | This story begins in the 1980s with the sale of Motown Records, a once black-owned record company, to MCA Records and Boston Ventures Limited Partnership. The Afrikan American community felt a great loss of one of its cherished institutions. Around that same period it seemed like war had been declared against the survival of black-owned record companies. Solar Records was involved in a suit, counter-suit with Warner Brothers Records for control of its assets. Sussex Records, a once fast growing black-owned record company, was forced to cease doing business for tax reasons. Philadelphia International Records, a quality black-owned record company, was under the distribution control, lifeline to its financial survival, of CBS Records (also known as Columbia Records).

These are mammoth events virtually placing the dominance of recorded black music in the hands of major record companies. The hidden agenda may have been the closing of all doorways towards the development of full service (production, manufacturing, distribution) black-owned record companies in America. Had this occurred, as improbable as it seems today, it is possible that black record companies would have ultimately controlled a larger or equal percentage of the music business, competing with major record companies.

It was told to me by Dave Parker (oldest promotion man in the business at that time), that of the $500 million dollars made in 1987 by CBS Records, approximately 80% was from black music. black-owned record companies were obviously seen as a potential threat to the control of the music market.

The battle to control market share can best be understood by looking into the case of Stax Records. In the 1970s, it was the largest, most diverse black-owned record company in the music industry. Stax artists roster included such stars as: Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Al Green, Rufus and Carla Thomas, The Staple Singers, Booker T. & the MGs, and more. It also had a jazz label, blues label, gospel label, and even a comedy label where such artists as: Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor and Jackie "Moms" Mabley launched their careers.

This era paralleled the turbulent 60s, with the social, cultural, political and musical climate being fueled by the black Consciousness Movement and the Viet Nam Peace Movement. The financial profits generated by black recording artists and the phenomenal success of black films and soundtracks caused black entertainment businesses to be closely monitored.

Stax Records reached several peaks with the overwhelming success of "Wattstax." The live concert of Stax artists in the Los Angeles Coliseum attracted some one hundred and twelve thousand black people, without incident. It produced a film of the same event that was seen worldwide, and was the first to get into the revolutionary technique at the time, video production.

The success continued when Isaac Hayes, one of Stax top artists, won the Oscar for best original film score for "Shaft." This was during a time when black record companies (Stax, Sussex, Motown) had the lion's share of black artists. The major record companies, not to be left behind, sat up, took notice, determined to find a way to control the lucrative black music market. Fist tap Uncle John.