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Music History Events: Music and Race

June 2, 2020 The music industry recognizes "Blackout Tuesday" in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Using the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused, many record labels and artists cease operations, while broadcasters and streaming services change their programming in support of efforts to address racism and injustice on a wide scale, and more specifically to end police brutality against African Americans.More

September 30, 2016 Mary J. Blige debuts her Apple Music talk show, The 411, and welcomes Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton as her first guest. Halfway through the intimate conversation, Blige bursts into a rendition of Bruce Springsteen's protest anthem "American Skin (41 Shots)" in a bid to address the rash of police brutality against African Americans. The attempt falls flat with viewers, who heckle the singer on social media.More

July 26, 2015 The first Black Lives Matter conference at Cleveland State University turns into a protest with activists chanting the chorus of Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" in defiance of police harassment.More

May 1, 1993 Charley Pride becomes just the second African American inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and the only active member (DeFord Bailey, the first, passed away in 1982). Pride first performed there in 1967.

December 7, 1991 "Black Or White" by Michael Jackson hits #1 in America for the first of seven weeks.More

January 20, 1986 After years of campaigning to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday, Stevie Wonder commemorates the occasion with a star-studded concert celebration in Washington, D.C.More

October 6, 1978 Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun meets with Jesse Jackson, who has beef with The Rolling Stones' "Some Girls," specifically the line, "black girls just want to get f--ked all night."More

April 30, 1978 The Clash are among the acts at a "Rock Against Racism" concert, playing to over 50,000 in London's Victoria Park to combat the National Front, a neo-Nazi group in the UK whose slogan is "Keep Britain White."More

August 29, 1976 The British music magazine Sounds publishes letters responding to Eric Clapton's racist rant at his Birmingham concert earlier in the month. "Own up, half your music is black," one of them states. "You are rock music's biggest colonist." This particular missive includes a call to action with an address to join Rock Against Racism, "A rank and file movement against the racist poison in rock music." Rock Against Racism soon becomes a viable movement, holding a series of concerts and festivals in support of tolerance.More

August 20, 1972 Stax Records commemorates the seventh anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots with a star-studded benefit concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. More than 100,000 fans show up to hear Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays, The Staple Singers, and Kim Weston, among others, perform at what becomes known as Black Woodstock.More

August 4, 1972 The movie Super Fly is released, along with a soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield that becomes a soul music landmark, taking on the drug culture portrayed in the film with vivid commentary.More

September 25, 1968 No more whistling "Dixie" for University of Miami students as the school becomes the first university to ban the controversial Confederate anthem from being played at public events.More

April 8, 1968 The TV special Petula airs on NBC. At one point in the show, host Petula Clark grabs hold of Harry Belafonte's arm while they are singing a duet. This marks the first time a white woman and black man have physical contact on TV in such context.More

April 5, 1968 With tensions high the night after Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated, James Brown goes ahead with his concert at the Boston Garden, agreeing to televise the show to help keep calm in the city.More

May 18, 1992 Sister Souljah, a rapper associated with the group Public Enemy, is quoted in The Washington Post saying, "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" It becomes a big moment in American politics when Bill Clinton denounces the comment, risking support from black voters. Clinton goes on to win the presidential election.

July 23, 2021 Morgan Wallen appears on Good Morning America to address his use of a racial slur six months earlier. He says he was "ignorant," went to rehab to address his problem, and will donate $500,000 to racial justice organizations. The amount is his estimate of his sales uplift from the controversy.

January 31, 2021 Capping a massive bender, Morgan Wallen yells the n-word at his (white) drinking buddy outside his home. It's caught on video and when it's released two days later, Wallen is dropped from most radio stations and banished from playlists on major streaming services. The controversy earns him a surge in streams and sales, keeping his Dangerous: The Double Album, which debuted at #1 in America on January 23, at the top for a total of 10 weeks.

September 10, 2020 Alicia Keys performs "Lift Every Voice And Sing" at the NFL season opener between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. The league has ordered the song, considered the "Black national anthem," played before every game in Week 1. The NFL cracked down on players who refused to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the song in 2016, a stance that is out of touch with the Black Lives Matter movement.

June 25, 2020 The Dixie Chicks change their name to "The Chicks" in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement ("Dixie" is associated with the American South during a time of slavery). Their name was a play on the Little Feat song "Dixie Chicken." The rebranding comes two weeks after another country trio, Lady Antebellum, changed their name to Lady A.

June 11, 2020 Country trio Lady Antebellum change their name to Lady A to avoid connotations with slavery. "Antebellum" refers to the period before the Civil War in America; the band name referred to the architectural style of Southern homes built during this period.

April 19, 2019 The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Flyers pull Kate Smith's version of "God Bless America" when it is revealed that she sang racist songs in the 1930s, including "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and "Pickaninny Heaven."

April 27, 2014 BBC Radio Devon DJ David Lowe (not to be confused with the composer of the same name), plays an early version of "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" on his program, which results in his resignation due to the racial slurs in the lyrics.

August 22, 1997 Twelve-year-old Georgia Lee Moses is found dead in South Petaluma, California. Tom Waits hears her story and is inspired to write "Georgia Lee," the thirteenth track on Mule Variations.

November 9, 1962 In Birmingham, Alabama, two gunshots hit the side of the tour bus transporting Motown's Motortown Revue, as black acts are not welcome by everyone in the deep south. The show, at the National Guard Armory, marks the first time in the city's history that an integrated audience is allowed for a concert.

August 28, 1955 Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is murdered by two white men in Money, Mississippi, for talking to a white woman. His story later inspires Bob Dylan's "The Death of Emmett Till" and Emmylou Harris' "My Name is Emmett Till."

January 7, 1955 Marian Anderson is the first African-American singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera. Her performance as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un ballo in maschera breaks barriers for black artists in the States.

April 19, 1937 Life magazine publishes a three-page article headlined: "Lead Belly - Bad Ni--er Makes Good Minstrel."

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