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Racism In Music Industry Alleged

March 24, 1987|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People Executive Director Benjamin Hooks released a 20-page report Monday alleging that racial discrimination is "rampant" at virtually every level of the $4-billion recording industry itself.

Power within the industry, Hooks said, is "virtually the sole preserve of white males" even though more than a quarter of all sales are attributed to black artists.

"Blacks, who have contributed so much to American music, are almost totally excluded from positions of authority and responsibility," Hooks continued during a press conference in Los Angeles at which the report--"The Discordant Sound of Music"--was unveiled. He said it begins "with the local promoter who books concerts for recording artists, and (extends) upward to the managerial ranks of the nation's major recording firms."

"Equal opportunity is a myth and affirmative action is unknown," he said.

He stopped short of calling for a boycott of specific record labels or recording artists, but warned that the NAACP has "a long and gallant history of boycotts."

If conditions aren't improved, Hooks said his organization might ask its members to avoid buying from certain record stores or to "lie down in front of the gates" of concert halls where discriminatory recording artists are performing.

The report is the result of an 18-month-long study of "racial exclusion" allegations first made in July, 1985 when five black superstars were cited by Southern California NAACP official Melanie Lomax as discriminating against blacks by surrounding themselves with a non-black staff and failing to contribute a share of their earnings back to the black community from which they originally sprang.

At the time of the allegations, Hooks would neither support nor disavow Lomax's charges against Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Prince, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. He found enough merit in the charges to launch the investigation that resulted in Monday's report.

Despite research and "scores of interviews," including meetings with presidents of three major record companies (Capitol/EMI, Warner Bros. and MCA), the NAACP is still not prepared to condemn the five artists, Hooks said.

None of the five, however, appeared on the report's commendation list.

"Major black artists who have been identified as having black managers include Stevie Wonder, Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson, SOS Band, Janet Jackson, Klymaxx, the Whispers, Shalamar, Sylvers and Midnight Star ," according to the report. "Most of these artists are produced by and record for independent black labels."

Hooks said much of the report information remains sketchy and incomplete, chiefly because his investigators were handicapped by the six major labels themselves. He said that the labels--CBS, MCA, RCA, Capitol/EMI, Warner/Atlantic/Elektra and PolyGram--either refused to supply information or sidestepped the NAACP's requests to know the numbers of blacks hired, fired or promoted, salaries and other pertinent information.

The NAACP's best estimate is that black recording artists are responsible for generating 25% to 30% of the total revenues earned by the recording industry. Blacks buy 11.4% of the records, tapes and music videos sold annually, according to the report.

The percentage reinvested in blacks, however, is "minuscule," Hooks said.

Most record industry executives were not immediately available for comment, but Joe Smith, vice chairman and chief executive officer, Capitol Industries-EMI Inc., agreed with the contention that blacks are under-represented at top levels in the music business.

"There's no question the contributions of blacks artistically and administratively in this industry have been way out of whack," he said. "But that's changing. I can't give you body counts, but there are evidences of outstanding new black executives throughout the industry.

"I think it is only in the last four or five years that we have been able to identify young black men and women who have the necessary educational background and the proper training in our business to move into these key positions. I don't know why it didn't happen earlier."

The NAACP report makes four broad recommendations: fair hiring and promotion policies; establishment of a commission to work on these issues; encouragement of black artists to help open doors for other blacks, and the creation of a nonprofit clearinghouse for jobs.

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