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Industry Vet Michael Mauldin on Why 'It's Time to Bring Back the Black Music Association'
When Black Music Month came to fruition in 1979, so did an organization called the Black Music Association, dedicated to preserving the music’s history and fostering its future. In the following editorial under Billboard’s Chapter & Verse banner, record label veteran Michael Mauldin outlines the need to re-establish the organization -- this time as the Black American Music Association.
Mauldin speaks from a unique perspective. An industry trailblazer, he worked as senior vp of Columbia Records Group and president of the company’s black music division. He’s also the father of Grammy Award-winning producer Jermaine Dupri. A business disruptor in his own right, Dupri is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his iconic label So So Def Recordings and his impending induction (June 14) into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Mauldin presently focuses on branded entertainment, artist development and concert tour production as CEO of Mauldin Brand Agency Inc. Here, he explains why it's time to revive the organization.
Michael Mauldin: Black Music Month was first introduced in 1979 by Kenny Gamble, co-founder of Philadelphia International (with songwriter/producer partner Leon Huff), and artist development/media strategist Dyana Williams. That introduction concurrently launched the Black Music Association. But while then-President Jimmy Carter co-signed the annual month-long celebration, Congress did not pass its formal legislation until 2000.
In a proclamation issued in 2015, President Barack Obama rebranded June as African-American Music Appreciation Month. However, something was missing. The spirit of Black Music Month had lost its soul. The Black Music Association had ceased to exist. And the genre had also lost its identity, thanks to less label support and less attention to the art with pirates claiming the music.
Now, nearly 40 years later -- in the wake of R&B/hip-hop’s streaming-era renaissance and black culture’s mega influence -- it’s time to bring back the Black Music Association. Rechristened as the Black American Music Association (BAMA), this 21st Century incarnation will pick up where its predecessor left off. The mission: to develop, recognize, educate, guide and promote the next generation of artists/musicians and industry executives, while supporting those dedicated to preserving and celebrating the legacy and future of Black American Music (BAM).
R&B, soul, rock & roll, jazz, gospel, funk and rap/hip-hop are a collection of music styles and lifestyle brands that incorporate the overall influence of BAM and the black American experience. BAM is an art form that is exported globally as a cherished commodity. Many of its writers, artists, producers, bookers, promoters and community supporters have dedicated their professional lives to this trendsetting art form.
BAM has always been culturally relevant. But once it crosses over into the pop mainstream, market share and a certain degree of misappropriation often come into play. For those aware of music history and the origin of most American music, BAM has always been the underrated music of choice that many mimic and for which others frequently take unwarranted credit.
Many organizations have trouble acknowledging Black American Music. In the 1930s BAM was called race music. Then its moniker was changed to R&B (rhythm & blues) in order to circumvent the stigma that its music was only created for black people. In the '50s, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and others invented what became known as rock & roll. But then outside influences started claiming this style of music as their own. At that point history would be rewritten, minimizing the creative entitlement of black music artists even though they were the original architects.
Black American Music does not mean that one must be black or American in order to write, perform, promote, enjoy or dance to BAM beats and rhythms. But as an art form that embodies heritage, it does mean the music deserves respect and appreciation.
Black American Music is not about race, it’s about the art. It’s about celebrating culture, music and dance -- and supporting its creators, contributors and promoters who believe in and appreciate the music that often times they grew up with, regardless of their race or heritage.
There is a major difference between those that appreciate the music versus those that appropriate. Artists, writers, producers, labels, agencies, touring companies, music societies, governing bodies, the media -- everyone who is benefiting from this art form -- should stand up and address the non-believers. Say it loud and proud: “I appreciate Black American Music.” Or, as Destiny’s Child once sang, “Say my name, say my name.”
When I was president of Columbia Records’ black music division between 1995-1998, we achieved unparalleled success. Our release roster included The Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef, Maxwell, Destiny’s Child, Jagged Edge, Alicia Keys, Jermaine Dupri, Nas, Will Smith, Mariah Carey, Da Brat, Kenny Lattimore and the Love Jones soundtrack -- all platinum and gold projects. As purveyors and protectors of the black music brand, we were dedicated to spearheading and introducing great music around the world. With an amazing staff and global support, our mission was clear: nurture any and all styles of Black American Music both domestically and internationally.
By the mid-2000s, however, black music divisions were dissolving and black executives were being downsized out of the industry. The type of cultural impact we were having in 1998 has not been felt since. No one seemed to be paying attention to the future of Black American Music anymore. And once again there were community and political debates over how to best describe black heritage (colored, Negro, Black American, African-American, urban, etc.) Resistance to the term "black music" also fueled those debates, as many people -- blacks and whites -- felt that the word "black" was too racial. But in most cases, acknowledgement of being black -- going back to the '60s and '70s -- gives a sense of ownership and confidence that no one can take away from black people.
Many supporters have dedicated their entire professional lives to the preservation of Black American Music over the years. Now more than ever before, BAM’s influence is being felt all around the world, thanks in part to the dominance of rap music and the hip-hop culture. So it’s imperative that black artists and black music executives pick up the baton and acknowledge our musical history, so we can inspire and build its future legacy. Let the world know that #BlackMusicMatters.
Myself and fellow Black American Music Association co-founder Demmette Guidry are extending an industry-wide invitation to support the cause by visiting the organization’s website, www.blackama.org. We want to hear your opinions and ideas as we begin putting together an advisory council to move this association into full -- and lasting -- motion. We can’t afford to let others usurp and rewrite our history again.