The Weeknd, H.E.R., Motown chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam and attorneys Dina LaPolt and Ben Crump were among the honorees at the Black Music Action Coalition’s first annual Music in Action Awards on Thursday night (Sept. 23). The inaugural event took place at the 1 Hotel in West Hollywood.
BMAC executive board member Willie “Prophet” Stiggers set the tone for the lively and purposeful event honoring musicians, executives, businesses, entrepreneurs and activists who have contributed significantly to rectifying social justice, inclusion and/or equity issues over the last year.
“Doing something more than just talk; we all share that common goal,” Stiggers told the packed ballroom after being introduced by the evening’s emcee Kenny Burns. “That’s why we’re here tonight. And we’re going to encourage, celebrate and support each other moving forward.”
That mission statement remained front and center throughout the nearly three-hour ceremony/dinner during which emotions ran high. The Weeknd, co-recipient of The Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic support of various charities and organizations including COVID relief, Black Lives Matter and MusiCares, recalled the first time he met the industry icon.
“He pulled up to one of my club gigs in Las Vegas; he’s one of the reasons why I started making music,” said the emotional singer, to whom Jones presented the award via videotape. “He said he’d wait for me to visit with fans first before we talked. He was teaching me the lesson that nothing is more important than people and giving back. This is the best award I’ve ever gotten in my life, I swear. I won’t take this for granted.”
The award’s other co-recipient was H.E.R., who was unable to attend. Accepting on her behalf was Walter Jones, co-head of A&R at Universal Music Publishing Group. Calling her his “little sister,” Jones cited her song “I Can’t Breathe,” noting, “She seizes the opportunity to be heard and takes that seriously.” Via videotape, H.E.R. said she was “proud to be part of this new generation speaking up and standing up.”
Habtemariam, presented with The Clarence Avant Trailblazer Award, was paid tribute by Avant in a video clip before she in turn thanked him for his friendship and mentorship as well as others including her Motown team; her “consigliere” Jeff Harleston, Universal Music Group general counsel/exec. vp business and legal affairs; Quality Control Music COO Kevin” Coach K” Lee and award presenter and Warner Chappell senior director of A&R Brandra Ringo.
“I’m just this little Ethiopian girl who found music as a way to connect with others,” Habtemariam movingly remarked. “But the work continues as we understand the power of music and the responsibility we all hold.”
Habtemariam shared the spotlight with fellow Clarence Avant Trailblazer honoree Tuma Basa, director of urban music at YouTube. In a humorous speech in which he said this award had him dreaming that he’d actually won the “Nobel Prize for squashing the Pusha T-Drake beef,” Basa turned serious. “Everything we do is for the future; not just ours but for the generations unseen.”
YouTube Music itself was presented with The BMAC Social Impact Award along with co-recipient Shawn Gee, president of Live Nation Urban.
The evening’s other spirited moments involved THE BMAC Agent of Change Award, presented to entertainment lawyer and artist rights advocate Dina LaPolt of LaPolt Law P.C., civil rights attorney Ben Crump and designer-activist Aurora James. Given her award by family friend Gloria Jean Cox, the only sister of Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni Shakur, LaPolt declared to a standing ovation, “We have to make some changes, little things like losing the term master recordings, using rap lyrics against artists in courts and f@*king getting rid of confederate monuments. It’s all unacceptable. And I will never take my foot off the gas pedal.”
Calling Crump “the Michael Jordan of civil rights,” George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd along with Floyd nephew Brandon Williams paid tribute to the lawyer’s dedicated work on behalf of their family and that of Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin. Saluting the BMAC for its work in the social justice arena and its first awards gala (“Give yourselves a round of applause, you beautiful Black people”), Crump sparked a standing ovation and more cheers after referencing the government’s delay in passing the George Floyd policing bill.
“What you all do [through BMAC] helps me in the courtroom but also in the court of opinion. I’m praying that you will continue to raise your voices and give your voices to those who have no voice … fight the power.”
Then Crump walked off to the strains of the George Clinton hit “Atomic Dog.”
The funk legend was, in fact, among the guests attending BMAC’s inaugural awards gala. Also spotted in the audience: Sony Music Publishing chairman/CEO Jon Platt, Warner Records’ co-chairman/COO Tom Corson, co-chairman/CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck and exec.vp/head of business & legal affairs Julian Petty and members of the BMAC’s executive board. In addition to Stiggers, the board includes Ashaunna Ayars, Jamil Davis, Shawn Holiday, Damien Smith, Courtney Stewart and Caron Veazey. Clarence Avant, Irving Azoff and Quincy Jones comprise the advisory board for BMAC, whose membership includes artist managers, attorneys, business managers, agents and other industry executives.
Capping the evening were the 1500 Or Nothin’ band featuring Lucky Daye, who performed Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” as the audience sang along.