"We only get the sound, but not the money", exclaimed the Rev. Jesse Jackson yesterday morinig at the Sheraton-Washington Hotel, addressing the Black Music Assocation on the last day of its second annual conference. After two days of wheeling and dealing, the time had come for appealing -- Jackson and seven other black political leaders showed up to forge links with black musicians.
Referring to the black music industry (14 percent of the market) as still a "gnat" in the eye of the music industry as a whole, Jackson roused the group by warning that it must put a stop to outside promoters who "pick up the nectar in the slum and deposit the pollen in the suburbs." He cautioned them that black music stood in danger of becoming an extension of "the most hollow ethics of white America"; that while black music needed to have a beat, "it must have an ethic."
Other leaders, such as Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Calif.) treasurer of the Congressional Black Caucus, also asked that black musicians support black political goals. Later in the day though, a different rhythm took over.
"If a million people are buying 'lick Me All Over,'" producer James Mutme told the packed "What Makes A Hit?" workshop, "a million people want that."
"A novelty record dosen't have to make sense -- just cents," added Mutme, who has produced hits for Roberta Flack and Stephanie Mills.
Kenneth Gamble, president of Philadelphia International Records, got the association off the ground in May 1978 with the help of seed money from CBS records. Now counting 2,500 members in every area of black music from performance to public relations, the association ran a score of workshops with titles like "What Makes A Hit?" and "Shaping the Image of Black Music Artists in the 1980s"
"A blast, just a blast," one goggleeyed young songwriter put it, trailing Stevie Wonder around the hotel.
Panelists of the "Shaping the Image" workshop sounded the black-music-as-business theme as loudly as the hit-makers did.
"We're in the business of selling records," Bob Jones, director of publicity for Motown, responded to an ex-Ebony editor who expressed concern that black music artists are not viewed as "cultural entitles" and will be slighted by music scholars of the future.
Joined by Sherwin Bash, a personal manager for stars like Lou Rawls; Eugene Shelton, publicist for Epic Records, and Stu Segal, public relations director for Polygram Records, Jones put matters to the mostly "aspiring audience" in blunt terms: if they didn't want to be awfully lonely listening to their own music, they had better learn to play the industry game.
To teach them to do so, Jones urged knowledgeable blacks in the industry to counsel young artists, while chiding black stars for abandoning less fortunate beginners in the industry when they make it to the big time. A few hopefuls in the audience still wanted to know what images successful black artists would be adopting in the '80s.
"If I could program that for you and the other labels," Jones told one man, "I'd be a rich man."
Even when discussions began along purely commercial lines, however, nagging social realities followed right behind. The panelists and questioners attending the "Shaping the Image" workshop clashed most sharply over whether latent racism limited the access of black artists to black media. Shelton provoked the controversy by critizing what he described as the unwillingness of major magazines to put black faces on their covers.
Michael Jackson, the workshop was told, he had recently refused to be interviewed by People magazine after it denied him its cover despite huge recording success this year.
"You're more likely to place the face of just one of the Lennon Sisters on the cover of the Ladies Home Journal than Diana Ross or Donna Summer," Shelton complained.
But bob jones argued that more complicated commerical judgements control cover decisions.
"You wouldn't expect to see Barbra Streisand on the cover of Ebony magazine," retorted, stating that People editors could brandish statistics supporting their defense of small black readership. Jones advised that publicists should get what they can instead of crying cover story or nothing.
Another strain in the discussion involved the finanical security of black musicians. At the morning session, National Urban Coalition president W. Carl Holman had expressed the hope that "no more W.C. Handy storeis" would sting their memories, describing jazz great Handy as one who had to listen year after year as a song he sold for $40 made millions. Jones, asserting that many black musical stars of only a decade ago are now "broke", cited it as one more reason for educating black musicians about the business.
The seminars, running two hours late (in keeping with the rest of yesterday's schedule), finally concluded close to 6 p.m. enabling scores of BMA members to don black tie in time for CBS' VIP reception.
As in the afternoon, cameras and gapers centered around Stevie Wonder, who was constantly surrounded and steadied by aides. Nearby, in front of a two-foot high ice sculpture of the CBS logo, singer Nina Simone inportuned Del. Walter Fauntroy (D. -- D.C.) about her scheduled performance the next night at the Bayou, up in the air while she waited for her "up-front" money.
Actress Jean Cole, wearing huge metal earrings she had fashioned from belt buckles, testified to Fauntroy's "fabulous" singing voice. Fauntroy encuraged her to "keep talking."