In what might be a spirited kickoff of the Carter strategy to woo back the sagging support of the black community, the White House has invited 1,000 people for a supper and concert tonight in honor of black music.
The event, initiated by the Black Music Association, a newly formed national trade association, and executed by the White House social office, is being billed by both sides as a strictly social evening. "President and Mrs. Carter are celebrating a creative American form of music," said Glenda Gracia, a spokeman for the Philadelphia-based association. The BMA and the White House worked together on the guest list.
The entertainers who are expected to be in the audience are James Brown, Eubie Blake, Isaac Hayes, Carmen McRae, Marilyn McCoo, William "Smokey" Robinson, Minnie Ripperton, Muddy Waters, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Grace Jones and Mavis Staples.
The five artists who will perform represent a curious mix of black musical styles of the last 30 years: Billy Eckstine, the cool pop singer whose career started with the "swing" era; Chuck Berry, the granddaddy of the electric blues beat that became rock 'n' roll; Andre Crouch, the progressive gospel singer; Evelyn "Champagne" King, the ingenue disco star, and Sarah Jordan, a traditional gospel personality.
The BMA approached the White House with the reception idea in February. "It was on our agenda way back in the association's planning session," said Gracia. We used the Country Music Association as a comparison. Their connections with the White House have pushed the image of their musicians out front. We thought it would be wonderful for the White House to do this for black music, which has been a consistent cultural force."
The ease with which the BMA lobbied the White House underscores the administration's predisposition to please its black constituency, many of whom have expressed disappointment with the administration. After giving overwhelming support to the Carter-Mondale ticket in 1976, a number of black leaders have complained about unfulfilled promises, budget cuts and inaction on domestic policies.
Besides tonight's large event, the recent White House reception on the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court school desegregation decision, the president's commencement address at predominately black Cheyney State College and his remarks at a memorial for civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, all in the last month, a gearing up for the "soul strategy" in 1980. However, the Carter-Mondale Presidential Committee did not participate in the arrangements for the black music event and maintains that all campaign strategies are in the planning stages.
"Anytime anyone gets invited to the White House, it has potential political impact.But this is a White House event, not a committee event," said Benjamin Brown, the committee's deputy chairman. Brown, a former Georgia State legislator, was a key black strategist for Carter in 1976.
Whatever its intentions, the Carter White House, which is footing the bill, will get considerable mileage out of coverage in the major daily newspapers, black weeklies and magazines, and music trade publications. The BMA views the evening not only as a coup but as retribution. "For the White House to acknowledge a very important contribution to American culture, that's enough benefit, Gracia said.
LeBaron Taylor, a vice president of CBS Records, agrees that credibility is the best result. "I think the jazz musicians last year gained credibility as well as exposure," Taylor said. In addition the National Endownment for the Arts grants to jazz programs increased from $700,000 to slightly over$1 million.
BMA was founded by Kenneth Gamble, an influential producer in the rhythm and blues mode, and Edward Windsor Wright, a veteran music industry executive."
At the association's first covention, which opens Friday in Philadelphia, the agenda includes discussions of strategy for blacks in the music marketplace and corporations in the next decade, discrimination and job security in the industry, economic parity in the profitable music business, and the encroachment of disco on traditional black music forms, rhythm and blues and jazz.