Fueled by Michael Jackson's recent accusations that the record business treats black artists unfairly, Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network held a summit and press conference today at their headquarters in Harlem, New York City, to reveal the group's plan for combating racism in the music industry. Along with Jackson and other recording artists, Sharpton addressed the group's two main concerns: record companies' exploitation of black communities and black artists' failure to recoup royalties for their songs.
"The issue for us is if 30 million dollars gets spent promoting an album [Jackson's latest, Invincible, for example], how much of that money goes back into African American communities," Sharpton said. "We want record companies to work with us to [ensure] that they at least do as much business with us as they get from us."
Although on Saturday, Jackson focused on his own feud with Sony Music Entertainment (and went as far as to call the company's chairman Tommy Mottola a "racist"), today he focused on the broader issues. "All forms of popular music -- from jazz to rock to hip-hop, and dance, from the jitterbug to the Charleston -- are black," Jackson said. "But go down to the corner bookstore, and you won't see one black person on a cover. You'll see Elvis Presley. You'll see the Rolling Stones. But where are the real pioneers?"
Sharpton also looked to shift the focus away from the Jackson/Sony saga, saying that reducing the dialogue to an isolated charge against one record company would "trivialize the pain and sacrifice of a lot of black artists."
Other artists spoke mostly about their personal record industry grievances, discussing the ongoing battle for the publishing rights to their songs. Former Crystals singer La La Brooks said that she has never received any royalties from the group's songs, claiming that she was misled by producer Phil Spector. "I will live until Phil Spector is brought down to give every one of us all the money we deserve for making all the hits in the 1960s," she said.
Old-school rapper and beatbox pioneer Doug E. Fresh, who released his last album in 1995, said that he didn't want future hip-hop artists to suffer the industry injustices he's seen. "If artists are getting jerked, they're getting jerked," he said. "And we need to do something about it."
Jazz flutist and indie label head Bobbi Humphries further explained the challenges black musicians face. "If [major] record companies don't own it, [radio] won't play it," she said. "And if they're not going to make money off of it, they certainly won't play it."
NAN hopes to meet with the heads of the four major recording companies to address what Sharpton calls "the racial disparity of money in the industry." Sharpton has added attorney Johnnie Cochran for legal support and said that he may look to the courts if record companies fail to meet the group's demands.