“You Are Not Alone,” by Jermaine Jackson
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Michael beaten in a store while repeatedly being called “nigger” after being accused of stealing, late 70s or early 80s ]
If there was one city that didn’t totally put out the Jackson-mania welcome mat, it was Mobile Alabama. We had looked forward to this date because it returned us to Mother’s roots, but there was no home coming. The fan reaction wasn’t the problem – that was typically raucous. It was the reception outside the arena that provided a sober lesson in the rich diversity of America. Our parents had warned us about the infamous prejudices of the Deep South and how black communities were still awakening after the Montgomery bus boycotts of the 1950s, and the civil rights and that had brought violence from the white supremacists of the Ku Klux Klan. We had seen images of grown men walking around with sheets on their heads, and we had seen them burning crosses, but our knowledge of history was scant until our first hand experience in Alabama, in January 1971.
The first difference we noted was when the white driver of our limousine was cold and abrupt, not talkative like other drivers we’d had. At our hotel, he refused to get out of the cat and open our doors, and no staff came out to help us with our bags either. This wasn’t a spoiled kid expectation, it was just an observation of a sharp difference in our treatment. It was as we pulled our bags out of the trunk that one of us noticed some KKK paraphernalia clearly intended for our eyes. We froze. It was like one of those moments in a thriller movie when you realize your driver has been the killer the whole time; it felt that sinister. We stayed quiet and kept our heads down. At the hotel reception, we faced the same old awkwardness. “We don’t seem to have got any rooms booked for you,” said the man at the front desk, all curt and stern. Suzanne de Passe, or someone, argued that this was a long standing booking; we were the Jacksons 5 and there must be a mistake.
“No mistake. We have no rooms booked,” he repeated.
We effectively begged for a room, which we were eventually given – facing an alley and trash cans. Michael was, typically, the first to question what had happened when we got to the basic quarters of our second rate room. “Why would someone treat us like that because of our skin color?” he asked. It confused him because he knew our fans were both black and white, and it was the first time we had been made to feel unwanted, let alone unpopular.
It made us more determined to kick some butt onstage, because we soon recognized the importance of being black kids performing for black fans who could now identify with us. We were carrying the torch for our forefathers, winning respect for every black kid with a dream. The screams and cheers that night felt like a lot more than just Jackson mania: they felt like defiance and victory. As Sammy Davis Junior had said in 1965: “Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted.”
“Growing Up In The Jacksons” by LaToya Jackson
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Michael invites Tatum O’Neal to be his date to the premiere of his movie The Wiz but she turns him down because her agent didn’t want her seen at a premiere with a “nigger”, October 1978 ]
Trouble seemed to stalk him. Ironically, my brother’s most terrifying encounter was with someone who didn’t even know who he was. He and Michael were visiting her mother and stepfather in Alabama, accompanied by Bill Bray. Michael and Bill went driving one afternoon, and stopped at a gas station. While Bill used the restroom, Michael browsed in a small shop next door. When Bill came out, he was surprised to find Michael gone. “Where are you, Joker?” he called out, using his pet name for my brother.
Suddenly he heard, “Help! Help!” It was Michael, yelling from inside the store. Bursting through the door, Bill saw my brother curled up on the floor and a white man kicking him viciously in the head and stomach, screaming with blood curdling venom, “I hate all of you! I hate you!” Over and over he called Michael a nigger.
Bill, a tall, middle aged black man, subdued the attacker and helped up Michael, who was crying and bleeding from several deep cuts. “What’s going on?” he demanded.
“He tried to steal a candy bar!” the man claimed, pointing at my brother. “I saw him put something in his pocket!”
“No, I didn’t!” Michael protested.
“Yes, you did!”
“Wait a minute,” Bill said skeptically. “He doesn’t even like candy and he doesn’t steal. Why would he steal a candy bar?”
It was obvious then that Michael’s attacker had no idea who he was. As far as he was concerned, this was just another black person – another nigger – to abuse. Bill rushed Michael to a local hospital to have his cuts and bruises tended to.
Mother called us from Alabama to tell us what had happened and we all cried in anger and sadness. How could this kind of thing still happen? If Bill hadn’t been with Michael, he might have been killed. Jermaine was livid, threatening to fly to Alabama and take the law into his own hands. It took some time to persuade him that vigilantism was no way to handle the matter.
Instead, a lawsuit was filed against the store owner. Two girls standing outside had witnessed the beating and one offered to testify on Michael’s behalf. We felt very strongly that racial violence must be stopped, but unfortunately, justice did not prevail in this case. The racist harbored no regrets. In fact, discovering that the black man he’d assaulted was a celebrity only inflamed his hatred. Now he threatened to kill Michael. Bill convinced us that this person was mad, that the threat was quite serious, and that it was better for everyone to drop the action. None of us was happy about this, but there was really no choice.
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Rejection letter from Rolling Stone in 1979 – as it stands Britney Spears has been on the cover of Rolling Stone on more occasions than Michael has ]
Unfortunately, my friendship with Michael came to an abrupt ending. He’d played the Scarecrow in The Wiz, the urban remake of the Wizard of Oz, which starred Diana Ross as Dorothy. For the film’s premiere, Michael invited me to be his date. I asked my dad, who didn’t care one way or another if I went, but my talent agency was dead set against it. I was told, in exactly these words: ‘You can’t go to a premiere with a nigger.’ Hollywood!
November 27, 1979
Dear Norman [Winter]:
Michael Jackson has, in fact, been on the cover of ROLLING STONE, contrary to your statement in your recent letter to me.
We would very much like to do a major piece on Michael Jackson, but feel it is not a cover story.
Jann S. Wenner
Editor & Publisher
cc: Walter Yetnikoff
At this point in time Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough and Rock With You had both recently been released as singles from his Off The Wall album and both had charted at number one.
Joe Vogel recently spoke about Michael’s feelings about Rolling Stone’s rejection and how he had been told that black musicians had never sold well on the cover of the magazine. That opinion seems reflected in how many cover stories have featured him in total versus other white musicians of his status:
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Michael was stopped and detained while driving his Rolls Royce because the police officer didn’t believe the car was his, 1981 ]
Jackson was well-aware of this history and consistently pushed against it. In 1979, Rolling Stone passed on a cover story about the singer, saying that it didn’t feel Jackson merited front cover status. “I’ve been told over and over again that black people on the covers of magazines don’t sell copies,” an exasperated Jackson told confidantes. “Just wait. Some day those magazines will come begging for an interview.”
Jackson, of course, was right (Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner actually sent a self-deprecatory letter acknowledging the oversight in 1984). And during the 1980s, at least, Jackson’s image seemed ubiquitous. Yet over the long haul, Jackson’s initial concern seems legitimate. As shown in the breakdown below, his appearances on the front cover of Rolling Stone, the United States’ most visible music publication, are far fewer than those of white artists:
John Lennon: 30
Mick Jagger: 29
Paul McCartney: 26
Bob Dylan: 22
Bruce Springsteen: 22
Britney Spears: 13
Michael Jackson: 8 (two came after he died; one featured Paul McCartney as well)
Is it really possible that Michael Jackson, arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, merited less than half the coverage of Bono, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna?
“My Family” by Katherine Jackson
Michael usually drove himself to Kingdom Hall and his field-service routes. He’d finally gotten his driver’s license in 1981, at the age of twenty-three. Initially he didn’t want to learn to drive.
“I’ll just get a chauffeur when I want to go out,” he said when I began nagging him about getting his license.
“But suppose you’re someplace and your chauffeur gets sick?” I reasoned.
Finally, he relented and took some lessons.
After he began driving, Michael decided that he enjoyed being behind the wheel, after all. The first time he took me for a ride, he ventured up to Mulholland Drive, a winding road in the Hollywood Hills. It was a hair-raising experience.
“I’ve got a crook in my neck and my feet hurt,” LaToya, who was also in the car, complained afterward. “I was putting on the brakes’ with my feet and ‘steering’ the car with my neck trying to keep it on the road. I was so scared!”
It was white-knuckle time for me, too. Michael drove fast. He also had the same habit that I have: driving right up to the car in front and stopping on a dime.
After that, Michael started going out by himself.
“You shouldn’t go out alone,” I told him. “Get Bill Bray to go with you.”
But Michael wouldn’t hear of it. “I’m tired of having security with me every time I go someplace.”
When he began driving, Michael told me that he would never go on freeways; he thought they were too dangerous. So I was shocked one day when Michael suddenly drove us onto a freeway ramp.
“Wait a minute, Michael, what are you doing?”
“I can drive the freeways now!” he said, laughing. He had changed his mind about freeways when he saw just how long it took him to get around Los Angeles without using them.
Michael’s first car was a Mercedes. Then he bought a black Rolls-Royce, which he later painted blue.
It was in the Rolls that he was stopped one day — not for fans outside the gate, but by a Van Nuys policeman.
“This looks like a stolen car,” the officer said. He didn’t recognise Michael, who wasn’t wearing a disguise that day.
Michael explained politely that he did, indeed, own the car. But the officer went ahead and ran a check on the car, and found that Michael had a ticket outstanding.
The next thing Michael knew, he was sitting in the Van Nuys jail.
Bill Bray bailed him out. I didn’t even know what had happened until he came home.
“You should have asked the officer what a stolen car looks like,” I said after he related his adventure. Perhaps the cop had felt that a young black man didn’t belong behind the wheel of a Rolls.
But Michael was not only put out by the experience, he professed to be happy.
“I got to see how it felt to be in jail!” he exclaimed.
In 1979, Costello was touring America in support of his album Armed Forces, which had become his biggest hit in the States. One night that spring, the tour reached Columbus, Ohio. It was a pretty good week for rock shows in Columbus — Stephen Stills and his band were playing at another venue and staying at the same hotel as Costello. In the hotel bar, Costello and some of the Attractions got into a discussion about music with a few of Stills’ bandmates, including backup singer Bonnie Bramlett. A 1979 People magazine story describes the substance of the conversation:
“Someone asked him what he thought of the old guys, like Buddy Holly,” reports one eyewitness. Costello replied with an obscenity. “What about Elvis Presley?” Costello snapped another obscenity. “Then he said American people are second-class white people, compared to first-class English people.”
Bramlett, a longtime paladin of rhythm-and-blues whose backup bands once included heavies like Leon Russell, Duane Allman and Rita Coolidge, kept cool until, she says, Costello “called James Brown a jive-ass nigger.” Next, according to an onlooker, “Bonnie said, ‘All right, you son of a bitch, what do you think of Ray Charles?’ He said, ‘Screw Ray Charles, he’s nothing but a blind nigger.’ That did it. Bonnie backhanded him, slapped him pretty hard, because she’s a healthy chick.”
What People didn’t report, but what has been frequently noted in reports of the incident in succeeding years, is that Costello really didn’t want to talk to anybody in the hotel bar, and was trying to get rid of Bramlett and the others. In 1982, Costello told Rolling Stone that the discussion started as “joshing” and “gentle gibes,” but got nastier and nastier the more intoxicated everyone got. And finally, “I said the most outrageous thing that I could possibly say to them — that I knew, in my drunken logic, would anger them more than anything else.”
Walking away from the bar that night, Costello figured it was just another bar fight. He didn’t expect what happened next: Bramlett called reporters to tell them about it. Within days, Costello ended up facing the press himself amid accusations of racism. He apologized, but went only as far as saying he was sorry “if he had offended anyone,” without actually apologizing to either James Brown or Ray Charles. He received death threats and eventually required extra bodyguards. His American record deal was even in jeopardy for a while, as Columbia reportedly considered whether to drop him. They didn’t, but they also stopped promoting Armed Forces, releasing no more singles, not even What’s So Funny (‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding), which might have become a breakthrough hit. The Armed Forces tour ended quietly, and it would be two years before Costello returned to the States.
For his part, Ray Charles was gracious, saying only: “Drunken talk isn’t meant to be printed in the paper.” In 2004, Costello told Rolling Stone that he never got the chance to speak to Charles about the incident. He insisted that he pays still a price for it:
I have to live with it, with every Afro-American musician I meet. Do they know? Do they think, “The guy’s being nice to me, but secretly I know he’s a racist”? I’ve heard people mutter it under their breath as they pass by, because they read it somewhere. What can I complain about? It happened. But if people don’t hear the respect by now, they’ve got their ears the wrong way around.
Even before he ever met Bonnie Bramlett at the Holiday Inn, Costello had been active in Britain’s Rock Against Racism movement. Some Costello fans blame Bramlett for using the incident to hype her own career. Costello’s track record in the 30 years since that night indicates that the incident did minimal harm to his career and reputation. And so, like most everything in life, the “Columbus Incident” was a lot more complicated than it looks.
Elvis Costello spoke about Michael’s reaction to meeting him in the September 2, 1982 edition of Rolling Stone in an article entitled “Elvis Costello Explains Himself”
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND In depth look in to the racial climate of MTV in the early 80s and how Billie Jean was a breakthrough for black musicians, 1981-1983 (quotes about this racial divide from MTV execs, record label execs, music journalists, Rick James, David Bowie, Keith Richards, Bob Seger, Bob Giraldi, etc) ]
I’m not saying I wasn’t responsible for my actions; that sounds like I’m trying to excuse myself. But I was not very responsible. There’s a distinct difference. I was completely irresponsible, in fact. And far from carefree – careless with everything. With everything that I really care about. And I think that inasmuch as it was said that we fed ourselves to the lions, you could say that whatever the incident was, it was symptomatic of the condition I was in, and that I deserved what happened regardless of the intentions of the remarks.
But it was only quite recently that I realized that it’s not only the man on the street, as it were, who’s never heard of me otherwise, who’s only read People – that it’s not only people like that who know only this about me. When we were recording Imperial Bedroom, Bruce Thomas was in the next studio while I was doing a vocal. Paul McCartney was there, and Michael Jackson came in to do a vocal – everything was nice until somebody introduced Bruce as my bass player. And suddenly – there was a freeze-out. Michael Jackson was – “Oh, God, I don’t dig that guy… I don’t dig that guy.”
He had heard about it third hand, from Quincy Jones. Two guys I have a tremendous amount of admiration for. It depressed me that I wouldn’t be able to go up to him – I wouldn’t be able to go up and shake his hand, because he wouldn’t want to shake my hand. Or James Brown, for that matter. But what could I say? What could I say? How could you explain such a thing? But there is nothing I’d like more.
“Inside MTV” By R. Serge Denisoff, published in 1988
Rick James, Michael Jackson, Versus Narrowcasting
Music publishers at the California Copyright Conference held in January 1983 repeated the controversies of the first Billboard Music Video gathering. The major issues were payment for clips and black music.
Ben Begun (Warner-Amex’s legal affairs vice president) was bombarded with questions concerning black music, especially by Jay Lowy (of Motown) and publishers with minority artists in their portfolios. Begun’s reading of a short list of urban contemporary acts rotated on the music channel only heightened the tension. The audience was unpersuaded. The heat was building on the MTV “corporate philosophy” and narrowcasting.
The MTV racism controversy that arose in the early months of 1983 was a case of economic interests wrapped in the mantle of civil rights. The rhetoric did not always point to the underlying monetary motivations pulling in some very well intentioned persons, such as David Bowie, Bob Seger and New York Times television writer John O’Connor.
A&M’s Jeff Ayeroff had told John Sykes (MTV promotions director) at the 1981 Billboard Video Music Conference, “Just try playing the [Rick] James video and see what happens,” and MTV ignored the suggestion. Bob Pittman (founder of MTV) stuck to his format philosophy: “You can’t go too far into black music or country music or you’ll alienate your target audience, which is interested in rock.” The demographically and geographically defined cable viewers of the network were white males in the suburbs and rural areas. The response was predicable, in light of radio’s fragmentation and cable’s narrowcasting structures. “Rick James is great. So is Parliament Funkadelic,” he told the writer, “but we turned down Rick James because the consumer didn’t define him as rock.” He cited the statistic that 85 percent of the targeted audience prefers rock adding, “But we do play black artists – Joan Armatrading, Gary US Bonds, Jimi Hendrix – because they fit in with rock and roll. So it has to not with race, but with sound.” He could have added the Bus Boys, and Phil Lynott, then a hard rocker from Ireland (he died in 1986). Variety got the same reply with one caveat: “We hope to find more black musicians doing rock and roll and new music.”
After MTV turned down the “Super Freak” video, “Slick” Rick James finally got into the fray. He told the Los Angeles Times that MTV was “racist.” His main objection was clear: “I figure if they played my video I could probably sell hundreds of thousands more records than I do now.” Slick Rick had a point. Black Entertainment TV in 1982 had about 2 million subscribers – 20% of that of MTV. Worse yet the RIAA estimated that the urban contemporary market accounted for about 2 percent of record and cassette purchases.
At a Los Angeles television studio James would expand views. “I’m hoping my speaking out in public about MTV’s discriminatory policy will make other acts go on record about it.” “I’m just tired of the bullshit,” he later told Rolling Stone. “I have sold over 10 million records in a four year period… and I can’t get on the channel. I watch all these fluffed up groups who don’t even sell four records on a program that I’m excluded from. Me and every one of my peers – Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, the Gap Band, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson – have great videos. Why doesn’t MTV show them? It’s like taking black people back 400 years.”
Rick James was a gadfly. Pittman cordially complained to a New York Times writer, “Why doesn’t anyone talk about all the music barriers we have broken down, like the areas between punk and new wave and mainstream rock?” The rhetorical query really didn’t address the charges, but was a defense of the format.
At the same time AC Nielson brightened the MTV picture. The television polling firm found that MTV viewers spent an average of 4.6 hours per week watching the channel. The October 1982 survey also found that 85 percent of the target audience watched the network. Record buying decisions were found to be equally affected, as 63 percent of the 2,000 respondents answered that they did purchase an album after seeing an act on MTV. Eighty one percent indicated that their first exposure to some acts was via the music channel. The most significant finding was that 68 percent of the sample rated MTV as important or very important, surpassing radio’s 62 percent.
A demographic profile from the same study showed that the typical viewer was around twenty three years old with an average household income of $30,000. More than 50 percent of those over eighteen in the viewership were college educated. These were the kind of numbers record companies and advertisers notice. The findings released in February underlined the import of MTV exposure – a fact that further fueled the black music polemic.
Veejay Mark Goodman, after conducting one of his usual fluff interviews with David Bowie, found the roles reversed. Bowie peppered the puzzled veejay with questions. “Why,” asked the superstar, “are there practically no blacks on the network?” Goodman, who merely introduced the clips and announced concert dates, explained: “We seem to be doing music that fits into what we want to play on MTV. The company is thinking in terms of narrowcasting.” Bowie pressed on. “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.” Goodman placed in the uncomfortable position of defending a format totally beyond his control, echoed the company’s demographic policy: “We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by… a string of other black faces, or black music.” He went on, “We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock and roll station.” The exchange got hotter. Bowie asked: “Don’t you think it’s a frightening predicament to be in?” The intimidated veejay resorted to the radio analogy, “Yeah, but no less so here than in radio.” The British singer pounced on the reply: “Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them.’ Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair… to make the media more integrated?” Leaving Bowie’s hotel suite Goodman may have had second thoughts about “meeting his idols” In all fairness, Goodman was in a very difficult position. Had he agreed with Bowie it would become a matter of disloyalty. Statuswise he was no match for the international superstar. Offending David Bowie was not the thing to do. Reportedly Entertainment Tonight was planning a segment on the inflammatory debate.
Looking back on the James charges, John Sykes, almost with resignation says: “Once the racial issue steps in everyone forgets everything else; it becomes a show of prejudice versus liberalism. Then everyone reads into it who is being held back.”
James’ allegations would create one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the development of MTV. This is an industry where any significant move hits the “street” before actually occurring.
Epic Records, a subsidiary in the CBS Group, geared up to equal the success of their Off The Wall. Produced by Quincy Jones over a prolonged period of time with some of Los Angeles’ top session people, the nine cut Thriller album contained a duet with Paul McCartney (The Girl Is Mine), Eddie Van Halen picking high powered guitar solos (Beat It), and a Vincent Price narrative in the title song. Several Jackson biographers estimate the studio costs surpassed $500,000. CBS had a hefty commitment to the effort, going in.
Off The Wall had been an 8 million, multiplatinum crossover album of the year in 1980. To obtain this sales status a wide appeal to those beyond the urban contemporary market had to be established. If Thriller was to parallel or transcend this, the first Epic release had to reach the AOR and MTV audience. Neither were airing artists with Michael Jackson’s sound. Although it is widely believed that the network practiced a quota for black artists (an unproven allegation), MTV appeared an easier vehicle to promote than tackling the resistance of the myriad of nationally scattered AOR stations. There was also the question of the good will of music directors.
Michael Jackon’s Thriller, his second solo effort, bulleted up the Billboard chart to the number one slot by the last week of February. Billie Jean the single from the LP, reached the same position on the Hot One Hundred a week later on March 5th 1983. Both had been on the trade charts for at least seven weeks. A video clip of Billie Jean was commissioned to support the single and the album. Steve Barron of Limelight Productions directed the visual. The “concept” video cost considerably more than average, which at hat time was in he $8,000 o $20,000 range. Estimates are that the label spent $60,000 to $75,000 on it.
CBS Records’ aggressive promotion vice president Frank Dileo took the clip to MTV, “the music video” network. He recalls, “In the beginning they did not know what would be acceptable to their audience,” which was an understatement at best. MTV’s response was generally negative. Bob Pittman: “We chose rock because the audience was larger. The mostly white rock audience was more excited about rock than the largely black audience about contemporary rhythm and blues.” Les Garland echoes his superior’s view: “You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot play jazz and country music and funk. You lose your focus.” Privately, Pittman was labeling his critics as being “ignorant” of the format.
CBS was adamant. Dileo went back to MTV on several occasions to restate the label’s case. MTV continued to repeat: “It’s the format” and the decision had nothing to do with race.
Pittman’s argument was consistent with his past pronouncements. Originally he shunned “golden oldies” even if the clips were available, saying: “I don’t think our audience is very interested in the past.” The same applies to futuristic videos: “Musically, those songs do not fit into MTV’s format. They’re too avant garde.”
While enjoying some support from within the broadcast community, MTV was rapidly being pushed into a public relations corner. The perception was becoming, for some people, the reality. CBS Records, as many have discovered is a company that is willing to extend its clout. Epic did have an argument. Billie Jean with its chart position, was an obvious crossover hit appealing to both races. Thriller’s success only reaffirmed the contention. This view did not seem to originally persuade most of the MTV brass.
The March 2 MTV playlist had Billie Jean as an add-on. This 180 degree shift led to considerable speculation. None of the individuals reportedly involved will directly discuss the about-face.
In late February an informal meeting had been arranged at Black Rock, where some top executives met to consider their options with MTV. Persuasion was not working. One executive suggested having Michael Jackson appear on the CBS Morning News and repeat James’ charges of racism. Several participants indicated that the ploy had little effect in the Slick Rick situation. Several other strategies were discussed and dismissed. Finally, the ultimate weapon was introduced: curtail MTV’s supply of free videos – especially of name acts, such as Billy Joel. This was a step Motown never dreamed about, as their roster and market share were limited. “What could Berry Gordy do, threaten to pull the Dazz Band video?” noted Rock and Rock Confidential (RRC). The CBS Group, with almost 25 percent of the recording market, could withhold Journey, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel and many other artists aired on MTV. Allegedly Waltner Yetnikoff played this card and won. One CBS company employee cautiously noted, “All I can tell you is if that story is in fact true it was a helluva gamble. Chuzpah! MTV could have held firm. Then what?”
In light of the record companies’ experience with radio and the home taping issues, the outcome could have been quite different. Many broadcasters refused to go along with the labels’ “friendly persuasion” to halt playing entire albums without interruption. Record label executives at that time conceded that withholding product service would be counter productive. Pulling the plug on MTV, at the time, could have similar consequences. One CBS artist stated, “I was on MTV at that time. It was definitely helping record and concert sales.” The implication was that he would not have been overjoyed with an MTV boycott, especially with the state of AOR in early 1983. “Walter Yetnikoff and I never had a discussion about Billie Jean,” says Pittman. Dileo was negotiating the matter with MTV executives representing Pittman’s views. Deniability is a practice common in organizations outside the confines of the intelligence gathering community. It is doubtful Pittman or Yetnikoff would have been directly involved. Still, given the stakes even corporate vice presidents were not individually empowered to make he kind of hard decisions that situation invoked.
MTV put the best face on the turn around possible. “By the time we put that video into rotation,” John Sykes told a writer, “there was really no way for us to ignore Billie Jean. It had moved beyond being a “black music” hit; it was an across the board smash, pop, black, dance charts, you name it. It was a rock song, a pop song… it fit our format.” Veejay JJ Jackson said, “I think we all wanted to see Billie Jean on the channel.” Garlend would later deny any coercion: “No that’s absolutely untrue.”
The addition of the clip has been cited by many as the racial “breakthrough.” The debate raged on. Radio broadcasters privately and in trades had misgivings. Formats by their very nature had borders. One program director observed, “Jackson’s a universal, maybe Prince, but what happens if one of the biggies decides an urban contemporary artist should be on AOR?” Off the record another retorted, “I didn’t realize affirmative action applied to playlists.”
Jeffery Kelly, operations manager of WDMT (Cleveland), went public on the controversy. He wrote in Billboard that artists “have expressed their view that MTV should play ‘all’ contemporary music that is hot and on video. But isn’t it true that, like radio formats, this type of television programming is segmented. MTV doesn’t air Rick James’ video; it doesn’t air Neil Dimond’s video, either. MTV is a rock format… [it doesn’t] play black or soft rock or country music, because it doesn’t appeal to their segment of the audience.” Kelly went on to suggest that in the future an urban contemporary network would appear “appealing to that active, black, music loving public.” Dave Marsh in his monthly newsletter, without referring to Kelly, condemned MTV and the AOR radio fragmentation. “MTV’s racism is more dizzying in its complexity and dimensions simply because the channel is nation wide.” The cause for the writer was radio. “MTV’s programmers – Bob Pittman, Les Garland, and Lee Abrams – all learned their tricks at AOR, a true school for scandal.” Marsh’s newsletter piece would later be reprinted in the mass circulation Record magazine.
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND President of CBS Records Walter Yetnikoff has confirmed this sequence of events over Billie Jean ]
Racism Charges Resurface
The race issue hung on. The “is” versus “ought” dialogue continued. Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” appeared on MTV. Grant, an iconoclastic funk fusion artist, originally dropped by Epic in 1980 only to be resigned for the Killer album on Portrait, was sanguine about the MTV issue. He informed Record’s Anthony DeCurtis: “I’ve never bowed to format or whatever it is, because, I don’t understand it. I understand only one thing: how to make music. And I make the music, and if people like it at the radio, or the TV, or whatever, fine. If they don’t, well that’s fine too. Because I’m used to it both ways.” Some of Grant’s urban contemporary’s were no so laid back over the issue. He was on MTV, and they were not.
Prince’s Little Red Corvette continued to complement Billie Jean on the cable network. On April 23, Garland Jefferys had two songs, What Does It Take and El Salvador on the light rotation; Beat It from Thriller, directed by Bob Giraldi and costing nearly $150,000 started on the “heavy” or most repeated category.
Beat It was perceived as the Stairway To Heaven of music videos. Thriller, prior to MTV, had sold some 3 million units. With video exposure it was in the 800,000 per month category.
Prior to James’ comments in the Los Angeles Times, the “racism” debate remained in the trade magazines and specialty publications such as Video. This was “inside baseball” material, as its termed in journalistic circles. A locally sponsored music video six hour symposium in Atlanta, April 16, found Les Garland denying “racism” charges and rattling off the black artists on MTV. Consultant Dwight Douglas prematurely objected, “I’m sick of the press jumping on MTV about this ‘racism’ business, it’s not true. You have to remember that MTV has a very expensive format to protect. If they broke their narrowcasting pattern, somebody could come along and blow them out of the water.” Douglas, president of Burkhart and Abrams, was hardly an objective observer.
Manny Sanches, the marketing director for Franklin Music, retorted: “Forget this black/white thing. The issue is ‘green.’ We need to get on with the business of selling records. That’s what we’re here for.” In May the nonexistant “press coverage” would surface. Ed Levine in The New York Times Magazine would write a lengthy piece on MTV published May 8: five days later ABC TV’s Nightline addressed the same subject, music video. Casey Kasem and Rick Dobbis of Arista Records, were joined by Rick James. James, it appears, was apparently incensed by the inclusion of other black artists. According to several insiders James felt even more personal discrimination because of the addition of other black artists. He would again exclaim his displeasure. The show opened with generally high praise from industry executives and even Ted Koppel, not known for his verbal generosity, commented, “It has done wonders for the sagging record industry. It has made overnight stars out of rock groups whose records had been gathering dust.” James dissented. The Motown artist complained that MTV “has refused to play five of my videos.” After some elaboration Koppel asked, “What’s wrong – I mean we tried to get a representative of MTV to come on the show; they wouldn’t. But they’re saying in effect, ‘Hey, Bloomingdales’s has its market, Nightline has its market….’ Why not?” James responded, “Well, then they shouldn’t call themselves Music Television.” The discussion continued;
Koppel: That’s their privilege, isn’t it?
Rick James: Yeah, but why call yourself Music Television then? I mean, why not then call yourself ‘We Play Sometimes Black Music Television.’ See, number one, you have a lot of black people out there and white people – they all buy records, they mix it up. You’ve got urban contemporary music happening, which is a form – the basis of it is black music form. That’s where it comes from. The beat, the tribal beat, as they say, or whatever, you know, all that crap… This show has a very strong impact on the market. What about all the white kids out there who have a Rick James and a Michael Jackson or – excluding Michael, who’s on the show. They didn’t put him on the show until he went number one. And then I also heard that Columbia almost threatened to take off every video on MTV until Michael was put on that show. When you have a record company threatening a cable show, telling them that if you don’t play this act, we’re going to pull all our videos – that means something. It means something for us to get our music to people, and it means something for us to get our visual concepts to people.
In retrospect, Pittman and associates mishandled the Nightline show. Addressing the guests Koppel concluded, “You’ve reached a few people tonight who may never have heard anything about you before.” The ABC host was right. The Jackson episode went unanswered. Rick James’ fiery rhetoric went unchallenged. Les Garlend’s belated denial was unconvincing as it came at a time when the CBS “video boycott” story had become conventional wisdom in the industry. John Sykes, who could have appeared on the program, might have diplomatically treated the topic as in the past.
Blacks increasingly were added to the MTV playlist, such as Donna Summer’s She Works Hard For The Money. The clip did not satisfy everyone. Speaking at the American Film Institute, scriptwriter Keith Williams charged he was instructed to use a white family in the clip.
Detroit’s hard rocker Bob Seger complained to Musician, “The thing I hate about it is that there’s no black music or R&B on it unless it’s syrupy stuff.” Seger found an ally in John J O’Connor, venerated television columnist of The New York Times. After describing the network as an important presence in programming and record sales, the journalist entered the debate. He wrote that MTV appeared to be “bent on returning the black musician to the status of ‘invisible man.’ … Critics have wondered if this ‘oversight’ is intentional, a demographic ploy for making MTV more palatable to the suburbs of middle class white America. MTV executives, for their part, have insisted, not a little arrogantly, that their product is focused on rock and roll, an area of music that supposedly is not frequented by black performers. Roll over, Chuck Berry.” O’Connor outlined the broad scope of music prior to returning to the race issue. He suggested that Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Musical Youth, and Prince were merely “promotional spots for MTV” or are being “used prominently in commercials for the format.”
The racism controversy was fueled by idealism, self interest and stubbornness. John Sykes’ original statement concerning “left out” artists had merit. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, a fusion act, complained on ABC-TV’s 202/20 that “I have trouble getting to play on it [MTV]. Even though our music has broken all barriers they consider our music R&B so they say they’re only playing rock music, which I don’t believe.”
The MTV high echelon, especially, Bob Pittman, was (or at least appeared) intransigent. Rick James was considered by most people in and outside of the industry as urban contemporary. Michael Jackson was an entirely different matter. He had clearly demonstrated a pluralistic market appeal. Pittman played directly into the hands of the critics by the original rejection of Billie Jean with the “it’s he format” rationale. The widely held belief that CBS forced the video clip on MTV only made matters worse. MTV’s arguments for the expansion of the playlist for more minorities because they were moving into rock music had a hollow ring to it. Rick James’ tactic failed. He admitted, “It hasn’t gotten any better for me… Michael Jackson was forced on MTV… [he’s] sold millions of albums… I still don’t like MTV.”
Belatedly the Rolling Stones Keith Richards joined in the fray. The “first thing I said after I watched a bit of MTV, you’re lucky to see one black every two hours, if that. Michael Jackson gets played; I heard MTV was playing the Bus Boys a few months ago, but it’s real tokenism. When you consider the contribution black people have made to American music, it’s disgraceful… it’s a little bit one sided.” MTV would remember these observations.
One year after the Billie Jean affair, Pittman would tell Variety’s Richard Gold, “Of the new artists being exposed on the service, some 25 percent are from the black music field.” Later senior research vice president Marshall Cohen would explain a ratings downturn with “we really got a huge benefit from playing the [title] clip from Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the height of Michaelmania.” He added that the ratings dropped “due to no Thriller.” Pittman concurs with Cohen’s assessment, but prior to the so-called “lull” he used Thriller’s title song for other purposes. At a roundtable discussion at Cablevision’s offices chaired by Victor Livingstone he observed:
“The record was out fifty three weeks before MTV played Thriller. Radio had the opportunity to make Thriller a single, but chose not to. CBS had the chance to push Thriller, but chose not to. Sales dropped about 250,000 a week from summertime levels of 1 million, 1.2 million. The first week MTV played it, sales jumped from 250,000 to 657,000 copies, next week to a million, and the third week in excess of a million.
You’ve got to figure that if they sold an extra 3 million albums at $2 an album, they make $6 million. Spending even 1 million on a video was a damned good investment, even if they didn’t get a penny of it back by selling the video.”
By mid-1986, Rick James remained absent from MTV’s playlist, but the tempest he had instigated smoldered.
In the fall of 1983, Robert Pittman was sick of the sniping at his format and the demands being made on MTV. The Acquisitions Committee had added Michael Jackson, Eddy Grant, Prince, Musical Youth and other black performers. This silenced some concerns but others persisted. David Marsh’s Rock & Roll Confidential, beginning with its first issue in May, urged: “If you’re as sick of this bullshit as we are, why not write MTV… and call your local cable outlet.” The same issue accused MTV of “deceptive advertising.” The next issue accused MTV of a “significant marketing failure” and continued to attack: “We billed them for a subscription to R&R, sent them the first issue, and still haven’t been paid.” Next issue contained: “Number of black performers with MTV concerts or specials in the history of the channel is still zero… MTV honchos like Bob Pittman aren’t lying… when they claim that black and white music has ‘always’ been segregated.” In the following issue David Bowie was urged to “withhold videos and interviews until the channel opens up.”
Despite the inclusion of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long, Bob Giraldi portrayed MTV as “racist bastards.” They “can say all they want,” he noted, “about over the line, across the line – they are obviously racist and there’s nothing else to say about it.”
Since the beginning of music broadcasting and record marketing segregation had been rampant. Billboard at one time labeled it “race music.” In the early years of white rock and roll, black artists were “covered” by the likes of the Crewcuts, Pat Boones, and a host of crooners. The Penguins’ Earth Angel stopped this practice when the original black version outsold the watered down release by the Crewcuts. The late Muddy Waters was an embittered man when the Rolling Stones popularized his music. Only then did he receive the attention he richly deserved.
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Seeking to buy a llama, Michael was first asked if he was looking for work, told they didn’t sell any, told he couldn’t afford them and then challenged to produce ID, 1983 ]
Walter Yetnikoff, the president of Jackson’s record label, CBS, approached MTV to play the “Billie Jean” video. He became enraged when MTV refused to play the video, and threatened to go public with MTV’s stance on black musicians. “I said to MTV, ‘I’m pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I’m going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don’t want to play music by a black guy.'” MTV relented and played the “Billie Jean” video in heavy rotation.
“You Are Not Alone,” by Jermaine Jackson
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Louis Farrakhan calls on black youth to boycott the Jacksons Victory Tour because he believed Michael to be too “sissified” as a black man, April 1984 ]
One day, Michael decided he wanted a llama. He asked me to take him to nearby Agora and we ended up at this lot packed with hay and horse trailers. From the car, we eyed four llamas out back. I parked between two trailers, unintentionally shielding my Mercedes from view. It was the only parking spot available. When we walked into the office – two kids dressed casual but smart in T shirt and jeans – this guy, bent across a counter doing some paperwork, didn’t even look up when he said, “We’re not hiring.”
“We ain’t looking for no job,” said Michael, wearing his shades. “We’re here to buy a llama.”
The man looked up. Not a flicker of recognition on his face. It took me about two seconds to know that his musical taste ventured nowhere near the Thriller album. “We don’t have any llamas,” he said. The look on his face said it all: you can’t afford it.
“You have four of them out back,” I said, trying to keep calm.
“You know how much they cost?”
Michael smiled. “We know how much they cost.”
Then came an incredible bombardment of questions, fired by the man’s prejudices and assumptions. “Can you afford a llama? What do you boys do to afford a llama? Where will you keep it? Have you ever thought about this?”
Ever patient, Michael explained that we had a house with grounds and were serious customers. “I know how to look after all kinds of animals,” he added.
The man begrudgingly asked to see some ID. Michael handed over a bank card. I handed over my driving license. And then night became day.
“You’re those Jackson boys?” said the man, his face lighting up. He began to back-pedal about how he had to be careful and he couldn’t sell to just anyone; you understand how it is. Bu we didn’t understand: we saw right through him.
“So you’re happy to accept me because now you know who I am?” Michael asked. The biggest misconception people had about my brother was that his legendary shyness made him timid, but he was a man of principle, especially where his roots as a proud black man were concerned and he wasn’t afraid to speak up on this when riled. Michael took back his ID and came right out with it: “You are an ass, and we don’t want to spend our money in here any more.” Then we walked out to the Mercedes the man had failed to spot when we arrived.
On the drive home, Michael was exasperated. “Can you believe that? What is this area about? What are they teaching their kids?”
We had always been told by our parents that no one is born with a prejudice. It is something that is taught, ignorance passed down from generation to generation. The more Michael brooded, the more fired up he became. He told me to drive to Tito’s.
That afternoon, Tito’s acoustic guitar and our free styling lyrics captured an angry inspiration for a song we called “What’s Your Life?” That was how Michael liked to work. When a true experience inspired a song, he liked to get it down on his tape recorder or in the nearest studio. We recorded that song within an hour at Tito’s studio, also in Encino.
[Seemingly based on the idea that men, especially black men, need to aspire to a macho ideal.]
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Don King told him that to the rest of the world he would only ever be treated as “another nigger”, 1984 ]
Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Black Muslim sect, has called on black youths to reject the “female acting, sissified” image of award winning entertainer Michael Jackson.
Farrakhan blamed the 25 year old Jackson, recent winner of eight Grammy awards, for his style that “actually ruins your young men and makes your young women have nothing to look up to as a real man for their own lives.”
Farrakhan’s criticism of Jackson was made in a March 11 radio broadcast. The Chicago Tribute recently obtained a copy of the Farrakhan broadcast and published details about the Michael Jackson statement Wednesday.
In the broadcast, Farrakhan said: “… we have today a Michael Jackson who is winning all kinds of awards because he is a great and marvelous performer. But the image that he projects to young black men is an image that we should all reject.”
Farrakhan said, “This… Jehri-curl, female acting, sissified-acting expression is not wholesome for our young boys, nor for our young girls. Certainly the man is a great singer, certainly, he’s a powerful entertainer. We cannot and we would never try to take anything away from our brother.”
He went on to contend that Michael Jackson is setting a poor example for black youth. “This is a shame. But, of course, men like this will live to die of old age, because they threaten nothing.”
A spokesman for Michael Jackson, whose latest album, Thriller, has sold more than 25 million copies, said the singer would have no comment. The spokesman in Los Angeles described Jackson as very religious and added, “I just don’t think he would subscribe to any way of life other than a very deeply religious lifestyle.”
As quoted by Taraborrelli in Magic and Madness, pg 377
King’s final comments on the subject [of the Victory tour] failed to ingratiate him to Michael Jackson. He went on, “What Michael’s got to realize is that Michael’s a nigger. It doesn’t matter how great he can sing and dance, I don’t care that he can prance. He’s one of the megastars in the world, but he’s still going to be a nigger megastar. He must accept that. Not only must he understand that, he’s got to accept it and demonstrate that he wants to be a nigger. Why? To show what a nigger can do.”
Jermaine Jackson “You Are Not Alone”
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Foxboro Massachusetts officials banned the Jacksons Victory tour from their stadium claiming that too much of an “unknown element” would show up, a move residents believed to be racist considering many other famous white musicians had been allowed to play, June 22nd 1984 ]
Don [King] didn’t win awards for tact and diplomacy, and his giant ego was the reason he was a promoter. He was brash but effective. Had you seen him – the loudest mouth – and Michael – the quietest soul – interacting, you might have thought, There’s the kid with the embarrassing uncle that he can’t help but find funny. I’ll never forget being in a meeting when we were discussing something about the show’s direction and Michael was talking about how he wanted to pay back the fans and keep pushing higher.
“Michael!” said Don, cutting dead the monologue. “Remember this. It don’t matter whether you’re a rich nigger, a poor nigger, or just a nigger. No matter how big you get, this industry’s still gonna treat you like a nigger.” In other words, and in his opinion, you’ll always be a servant to the music industry, so don’t ever think of becoming more powerful than that.
Everyone in the room froze. If the music industry blew smoke up everyone’s ass, Don blew in an icy blast of straight talk.
It was Michael who was the first to laugh, cracking the suspended silence. He found it funny, in a shocking way, and wasn’t offended. None of us was. A black man had been addressing black men, and that kind of talk was hardly foreign to someone from Gary, Indiana.
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Co-Star of Michael’s video The Way You Make Me Feel, Tatiana Thumbtzen, says she was told that MTV thought their music video was “too ethnic”, 1987 ]
Radio station switchboards were jammed with angry calls Thursday and a state legislator branded town officials as racists following their decision to turn away two concerts by superstar Michael Jackson and his brothers.
“We have an awful lot of people who were upset with the town of Foxboro,” said Mark Williams, a producer of Boston radio station WRKO-AM’s morning talk show. “The switchboard is overloaded with calls.”
The yelps of protests from Jackson fans came after the three selectmen in this community 30 miles south of Boston voted Wednesday night to reject permits for two concerts at Sullivan Stadium.
Residents had complained the concerts would attract vandals, disrupt business and create traffic problems.
Many callers questioned to reject the black group while permitting stars like David Bowie and the Police to play the stadium last year.
“A lot of people think it’s a racist thing,” said Charles Laquidara, the morning disc jockey at WBCNFM. “It’s unfortunate because the man cuts across all color lines. You can hear Michael Jackson on every station on the dial.”
Foxboro officials “feel the town is going to be the ‘Mecca for Minorities’ when all the evidence is directly opposite said Sen Royal Bolling, a black legislator who traveled to Los Angeles earlier this year to persuade the Jacksons to come to Sullivan Stadium, the largest arena in the Boston area.
Bolling proposed legislation to limit the power of Foxboro selectmen to turn down concerts and said he would lead a multicultural march of thousands of Jackson fans to the concert site if Foxboro officials don’t change their minds.
The selectmen declined to comment, but town counsel Richard Gelermen called the charge of racism a “scurilous thing to say.”
“That was absolutely not a consideration and it reflects very poorly on the town of Foxboro,” he said. “The truth is that at the last two major concerts there was disruptive behavior in the neighborhood and Michael Jackson has the capacity of drawing many unticketed people into the area.”
Stadium owner Charles Sullivan executive vice president of the National Football League New England Patriots wanted to bring Jackson and his five brothers to the 61,000 seat stadium on August 11 and 12.
Sullivan reportedly has guaranteed the Jacksons $40 million in exchange for the right to promote their summer tour across the country, winning the job through efforts to get the group to play at the Foxboro stadium.
“Naturally we’re quite disappointed,” said Michael Chamberlain, president of Stadium Management Corp. which is handling the tour. “The ironic thing is he wound up getting the whole tour and the first and only city that has turned down is Foxboro.”
Chamberlain said there would be no attempt to challenge the decision.
The Jacksons Victory Tour opens in Kansas City on July 6th and will include 39 concert dates in 11 cities. The main attraction will be Michael Jackson, whose hits like Beat It and Billie Jean made his Thriller album the biggest seller in history.
Chamberlain said Stadium Management offered to provide round the clock security to businesses near the stadium to win over the selectmen Sullivan even promised a black of the $30 tickets for Foxboro residents. But the selectmen turned down the concert despite the $50,000 the town would receive from the concerts.
Selectman Stephen Hickox told the 150 people who attended the meeting he shows would attract and “unknown element”to the town of 14,5000. Chairman Richard Thompson said safety officials feared traffic jams could black fire tracks and ambulances.
“I do not think that any security plan would be able to handle the large number of non ticket holders that may show up,” he said.
A caller to the radio station complained that Western Union refused a telegram to the selectmen calling them “low life scum.” Another radio station hired a limousine to transport live chickens to the selectmen.
[/EXPAND] [EXPAND Michael penned a letter to his videographer for the Bad Tour, William Pecchi Jr, sharing how hurt he had been on hearing how “Pecky” had been racist as he’d grown up in Texas, 1988 ]
David Banks, the co-writer of The Way You Make Me Feel, was a relative of Eddie Griffin. David had shared with me how MTV had complained about our video, saying that it was too “ethnic”. David had said to me, “He’s Black. What do they expect?”
From the Julien’s Auction website:
Three-page handwritten letter from Michael Jackson to William Pecchi Jr., written on Capitol Tokyu Hotel stationary c. 1988. The letter is affectionately addressed to “Pecky.” Pecchi was a camera operator on Jackson’s film Moonwalker (Ultimate Productions, 1988). After Moonwalker, Pecchi was asked to travel abroad with Jackson during the Bad tour. Pecchi rode to and from venues to capture the crowd’s reaction to Jackson. It was during these rides that Pecchi and Jackson talked at length and one such conversation in Tokyo provoked this correspondence. The letter discusses Michael’s goals for the film, encouragement to Pecchi, reactions to conversations about racism and Jackson’s vision of the world, signed, “love M.J.”
I very, very seldom write letters, but in this moving occasion I couldn’t help myself. I want to thank you for putting the effort forward to capture the magic and excitement of the people of the world. What you do is a very personal and powerful medium to me. It is the art of stopping time, to perserve a moment that the naked eye cannot hold, to capture truth spontaneous truth, the depths of excitement in human spirt. All else will be forgotten, but not the films. Generations from now will experience the excitement you’ve captured; it truly is a time capsule.
I will not be totally satisfied until I know you’re at the right angle at the right time, to capture a crescendo of emotion that happens so quickly, so spontaeously. What you have done was good, but I want the best, the whole picture, cause and effect. I want crowd reaction wide lens shots – depths of emotions, timing. I know we can do it. It is my dream and goal to capture TRUTH. We should dedicate ourselves to this. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. There is no other way to perfection than dedication, perseverance. Just tell us what you need to make it happen. Take the leadership to direct the other cameramen.
I enjoy working with you that is why I asked you to come, you have a gentle spirit that’s very likable. Maybe I look at the world through rose colored glasses, but I love people all over the world. That is why stories of racism really disturb me. You hurt my heart and soul when you told me of your boyhood in Texas. Because in truth I believe all men are created equal. I was taught that and will always believe it. I just can’t conceive of how a person could hate another because of skin color. I love every race on the planet earth. Prejudice is the child of ignorance.
Naked we came into the world and naked we shall go out. And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its color. I’m sorry to bring up such past news, but in the car I was hurt by what you said. I’m so happy that you have managed to overcome your childhood past. Thank God that you’ve graduated from such beliefs of ignorance. I’m glad I’ve never experienced such things. Teach your kids to love all people equally. I know you will.
I speak from my heart saying I love you and all people, especially the children. I’m glad God chose me and you.
“I remember a long time ago in Indiana, [when I was] like 6 or 7 years old, and I had a dream that I wanted to be a performer, you know, an entertainer and whenever I’d be asleep at night, and my mother would wake me up and say, ‘Michael, Michael, James Brown is on TV!’ I would jump out of bed and I’d just stare at the screen and I’d do every twist, every turn, every bump, every grind. And it was Jackie Wilson; the list goes on and on you know, just phenomenal, unlimited, great talent. It’s very sad to see that these artists really are penniless because they created so much joy for the world and the system, beginning with the record companies, totally took advantage of them. And it’s not like they always say: ‘they built a big house,’ ‘they spent a lot of money,’ ‘they bought a lot of cars’–that’s stupid, it’s an excuse. That’s nothing compared to what artists make. And I just need you to know that this is very important, what we’re fighting for because I’m tired. I’m really, really tired of the manipulation. I’m tired of how the press is manipulating everything that’s been happening in this situation. They do not tell the truth, they’re liars. And they manipulate our history books. Our history books are not true, it’s a lie. The history books are lies, you need to know that. You must know that. All the forms of popular music from jazz, to Hip Hop to Bebop to Soul, you know, to talking about the different dances from the Cake Walk to the Jitter Bug to the Charleston to Break Dancing—all these are forms of Black dancing! What’s more important than giving people a sense of escapism, and escapism meaning entertainment? What would we be like without a song? What would we be like without a dance, joy and laughter and music? These things are very important, but if we go to the bookstore down on the corner, you won’t see one Black person on the cover. You’ll see Elvis Presley. You’ll see the Rolling Stones. But where are the real pioneers who started it? Otis Blackwell was a prolific phenomenal writer. He wrote some of the greatest Elvis Presley songs ever. And this was a Black man. He died penniless and no one knows about this man, that is, they didn’t write one book about him that I know of because I’ve search all over the world. And I met his daughter today, and I was to honored. To me it was on the same level of meeting the Queen of England when I met her.
But I’m here to speak for all injustice. You gotta remember something, the minute I started breaking the all-time record in record sales—I broke Elvis’s records, I broke the Beatles’ records—the minute [they] became the all-time best selling albums in the history of the Guinness Book of World Records, overnight they called me a freak, they called me a homosexual, they called me a child molester, they said I tried to bleach my skin. They did everything to try to turn the public against me. This is all a complete conspiracy, you have to know that. I know my race. I just look in the mirror, I know I’m Black. It’s time for a change. And let’s not leave this building and forget what has been said. Put it into your heart, put it into your conscious mind, and let’s do something about it. We have to! It’s been a long, long time coming and a change has got to come. So let’s hold our torches high and get the respect that we deserve. I love you. I love you. Please don’t put this in your heart today and forget it tomorrow. We will have not accomplished our purpose if that happens. This has got to stop! It’s got to stop, that’s why I’m here with the best to make sure that it stops. I love you folks. And remember: we’re all brothers and sisters, no matter what color we are.”[/EXPAND]