Saturday, September 29, 2007

Country's First Black Star

A Black Star In Early Country Music
Allen Johnston – The Music Specialist

The Grand Ole Opry's First Star was none other than the legendary "Harmonica Wizard," DeFord Bailey-- an African American born and raised 40 miles east of Nashville.

Born in 1899 in rural Smith County, Tn., DeFord Bailey was the grandson of a freed slave who had fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. After his mother died when he was only a year old, his father's sister Barbara Lou and her husband effectively became his foster parents, caring for him throughout the rest of his childhood. Bailey learned the traditional tunes of what he would later call "Black Hillbilly Music" from his grandfather, aunt and other family members. He learned to play the harmonica while still a baby, and it remained his favorite instrument, but he was a multi-talented musician, able to play banjo, guitar, mandolin and even a bit of violin.

In 1925 WSM Radio Nashville began the Saturday Night Show of Authentic Folk and Country Music that would become the Barn Dance. The harmonica master joined the Opry when it was still known as the WSM Barn Dance. It was renamed the Grand Ole Opry by popular Radio Announcer George D. Hay in 1927. Bailey carried the shows during the early years, offering a balance to other performers such as Uncle Dave Macon and the McGee Brothers. He had the soul of a Jazz Artist; often improvising on the spot-- each performance was different and equally special. After a typically great performance of his classic train song, "The Pan American Blues," Hay mouthed the phrase that would become music history. "For the past hour we have been listening to music largely from Grand Opera, but from now on we will present The Grand Ole Opry." The legendary Grand Ole Opry and DeFord Bailey, its first star, were born.

DeFord Bailey’s popularity led the enthusiastic Hay to choose him as one of the Opry acts to be recorded by Columbia Records during a session in Atlanta, early in 1927. Bad business practices made DeFord Bailey cancel his deal and sign with Vocalion. Vocalion, Brunswick's sister label, created a series. These series sessions would yield eight songs, including "Pan American Blues," the only recordings by a black performer among the series.
A year later, George D. Hay set up the first recording session to ever take place in Nashville, luring the Victor label to town to record his Opry Performers. DeFord. Bailey took part in this historic session, cutting eight new songs in four-and-a-half hours. Three of these cuts would later be released by Victor-- the last, "John Henry" in 1932. Reissues of the material were released as late as 1936.
Even though there is evidence that the labels made a lot of money, Bailey saw little remuneration from these recordings, and never really tried to record again after 1928.

DeFord Bailey toured constantly during the 1930’s with several bands, playing tent shows, county fairs and theaters across the country, always returning to the Opry Stage for Saturday Night's Performance. In 1938 he agreed to help publicize Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys by touring with them over the next couple of years, directly lending a hand to Acuff's future stardom.

May of 1941, his sixteenth year with the Grand Ole Opry, DeFord Bailey the Grand Ole Opry's First Star was fired in a mystery often covered up or neglected by Country Music Historians. In his account of the Opry popular Radio Announcer George D. Hay wrote” "Like some members of his race, DeFord was lazy. He knew about a dozen numbers, which he put on the air and recorded for a major company, but he refused to learn any more."
"It's a terrible thing for the company to say terrible things like that about me," Bailey said in an interview. "I can read between the lines. They saw the day coming when they'd have to pay me right, and they used the excuse about me playing the same old tunes. I told them years, I got tired of blowing that same thing, but I had to go along with them, you know. They held me down-- I wasn't free."
Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen declared December 14, DeFord Bailey Day, to honor the birthday of this musical legend, but at the Opry, he has been deleted from history.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Allen Johnston / The Music Specialist

Look out Independent entertainment companies, there is a new twist coming that will ultimately wreck havoc upon your business. Organizations are popping up that are speaking for ALL independent companies and the African-American based labels don’t even know that they exist. Here are a few of the many organizations that are starting to direct the course of independent business worldwide.

The world’s first global rights-licensing agency for the independent sector was launched at Midem 2007 and the implications for USA independent record labels are far reaching.

What is happening is that one agency MERLIN has established itself to negotiate and license indie releases worldwide. The reasoning is that the independent record labels represent 30% of the music market and 80% of its product; this is larger than ANY major record label. .

Based in London and the Netherlands, MERLIN will operate as a stand-alone non-profit company, owned by its members. It is the sister organization of the World Independent Network and has been incubated by WIN as its first major global project.

Announced one year ago at Midem 2006 and operational for six (6) months the global organization representing the independent music sector is making its presence felt.

Alison Wenham, chairman of AIM in the UK and vice president of IMPALA, was elected the first ever president of governing body WIN at a meeting attended by over 20 independent trade associations representing thousands of independent music companies from A2IM (USA) UK (AIM), Australia (AIR), Brazil (ABMI), France (UPFI), Germany (VUT), Spain (UFI), FONO (Norway), SOM (Sweden) ADISQ (Quebec), IMNZ (New Zealand), PIL (Israel) Pronofon (Mexico) AIRCO (South Africa), to New Zealand (IMNZ), Canada (CIRPA).


IMPALA was established in April 2000 at the initiative of prominent independent labels and national trade associations. It is an international non profit-making trade association with a scientific and artistic purpose.
Independent record and music publishing labels come together to identify, discuss and liaise on issues of common interest. Impala has 3500 members including top independents and national trade associations
Impala’s aims are to:
represent indigenous European independent music companies and promote their competitiveness in the interests of cultural diversity
ensure better market access for independents

enforce antitrust rules to stimulate competition and consumer's choice, combating industry concentration

fight discrimination against small companies by large ones, from inside and outside the music industry

negotiate collective pan-European deals for members

tailor specific financial support mechanisms to the independent music industry

adopt at international trade level of measures that contribute to upholding cultural diversity

promote strong but fair copyright protection to fight against unauthorized and illegitimate use of artist’s works

promote the vital role of music and micro, small and medium sized enterprises in driving Europe's knowledge and innovation economies

function as a network for members and national associations to co-operate

seek positive discrimination for members

The Association of Independent Music is a non-profit-making trade organization for independent record companies and distributors in the UK. Our job is to help our individual members' businesses, and to support the needs of the independent sector.

We do this through:
Legal and Business Affairs guidance
Work Experience Scheme
Commercial Negotiation
Lobbying and Bargaining
Opening Access to International Markets

Figuring that they stand a better chance at being heard if they are united, 125 American indie labels have united and formed an organization called the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM).

A2IM will urge government and business to support fair trade practices, including equal access to the media and the marketplace, on par with the largest companies in the industry. In addition, A2IM will act as the leading edge for the exploration of new and innovative forms of music exposure and distribution.

They're hoping to help give indie businesses the power their collective market share deserves as the music business is transformed by digital technologies, much like their European counterparts in the Association of Independent Music.

As you can see, this is the time for Indies to stake their claim to the new realities of the marketplace and hopefully they will. Blatant to this whole configuration of organizations is the fact that less than 1% are people of color. Not one of the successful African-American labels has been to the conference table with any of these organizations. WHY??????

Monday, September 10, 2007

Record Deals Can Be Detrimental To Your Health

Allen Johnston – The Music Specialist

This past year I have had the privilege to speak at several different conferences, seminars and open mic sessions to fledgling and professional producers, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. What I’ve found in approximately 90% of these people is their desire to obtain a major record deal and not become a business owner. I find this desire to be entirely counter productive, selfish and lazy; a major record deal is completely the wrong way to run your career.

Let me give you a few reasons why a major label deal is inappropriate.


Yes you can receive an advance against sales for your project. Based on what you do to get this project started, your advance could be as high as $450,000.00. But when do you receive any more money? You immediately start out in a position of OWEING the record label; they now own ALL of the rights to your music, your image, your web presence and you can not even make additional deals (licensing) on your music without the labels authorization. You are now tied into a deal for at least 3 years and the label makes ALL of the choices for you.

New label contracts now include ALL of your ancillary revenue sources. Endorsement deals, publishing income, web based income, merchandizing and even a portion of your touring monies.


Music is like bread, it is best when it is delivered directly from the oven hot, flakey and smelling sweet. Your music is now under the rule of the label so they determine which song to release as a single, when the album will be released, when & if you will have a video and who you should talk with for publicity. Please remember that the major labels DO NOT UNDERSTAND how to work a record in the streets, how to obtain and maintain the freshness of a new “hit” or even how to work your fan base. If they did they wouldn’t need to get music from unknown independents, they’d make their own.

The bottom line for labels is cash and now that ALL labels are run by accountants, lawyers or corporate executives there only concern is for the immediate future of the label. They have no concern for the artist and little or no understanding of the music.

Within the past year the music industry has amassed hundreds of job firings, downsizings and miss management issues. These changes within the workplace are to make the balance sheets look better, to stanch losses, and hopefully report profits. It has got nothing to do with whether these people were NEEDED, whether they had jobs essential to the company, what their track record was in assisting the growth of the artist or even how many records they sold, just what their salaries and benefits were. No longer are record people working records, we now have the dubious new program called OUTSOURCING. What I’ve found out about outsourcing is that it opens up new companies for the children and relatives of the major label executives, friends, family and business associates. In other words it is just another reason to extract more money from the artist under the heading of RECOUPMENT. So as an artist you can no longer go to the company and speak with someone concerning your project, but you can sit in a room and listen to a conference call about your project. Remember that outsourced companies have MANY clients so why should you become a priority? By the time you release a second album some if not most of these outsourced companies will not even be in business. So you have to find NEW people to work on your project.


Major labels became major by creating a distribution system that started with independent store owners and moved to chain accounts. Now there is a glut of product at the physical stores, fewer consumers are buying the lack luster hits and digital distribution is allowing artists to reach the consumer direct.

U.S. album sales dropped to 588.2 million in 2006—a 5% decrease from the 619 million copies scanned in 2005, and the first time since 1993 that the figure has slipped below the 600 million mark. In 2000, R&B moved nearly 200 million copies, accounting for 25.4% of sales, while the rap subgenre—which is included in the R&B total—itself scanned 107 million units, or 13.6% of album sales.Since then, album sales have declined 25%, but R&B is down 41.4% to 117 million units and rap is down 44.4%, with scans of 59.5 million units last year. To put it another way, R&B now accounts for nearly 20% of U.S. album sales, while rap now stands at 10% of album sales.

It is now easier and much more profitable to release your music online where you can receive ALL of the money


Why go into debt with the labels for a big budget video when the airtime available on television is drying up? Programming at the major video outlets is turning to reality TV and now is reflecting a difference audience structure. You can enjoy more views and create a larger fan base by making an inexpensive video and placing it on My Space & You Tube thereby going directly to the consumer. You just need a digital camera and Final Cut Pro, maybe even iMovie.

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) has recently made a new commercial using footage from MySpace & You Tube. This has effectively saved them millions of dollars. No Ad Agency to pay, no actors, no unions only free footage from the consumers that enjoy there product. If they can understand the significance of it I know you can.


Just a few years ago having a record in power rotation at radio would mean hundreds of thousands of sales. Now a top 10 rotated record brings in 5 to 20 thousand units a week this is a long way from the multi platinum selling days of yester year.

The new avenues for music are Internet radio, mobile cell phone streaming and the ability to license your music.
If all you care about is money, sign with a major label. If you want all your money up front, instantly owe a corporation, and no longer own your creation, sign with a major. If you want to whore yourself out, do whatever it takes to sell your unimaginative, non creative, un original music, then sign with the major label. I hope you achieve your goal and get instantly rich, because after the car, the jewelry, the parties remember “you owe your soul to the company man”.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Black Music History - America

Allen L. Johnston
The Music Specialist

Has it ever occurred to you to teach a youngster WHY they make music?

It is historically known that we as a people have used music as a tool for various reasons. Upon our forced migration to this country the 2 main sources of communication among our people were removed, our tribal language and the DRUM. Our combined creativeness coupled with the need to subversively communicate among one another started the musical work song tradition. Songs that were sung to the swing of the hoe, pick or axe and helped set a pace for combined work efforts, but also allowed subversive communication between families, and plantations.

Between 1660 – 1860 one of the greatest influences upon Black music was the religion that the slave masters forced on our ancestors. As slaves our ancestors were not able to meet in any groups outside of the workforce unless it was church. The first series of hymns that slaves were legally able to sing were songs created by Dr Issac Watts of England. The poetry of Dr. Watts took the religious world of dissent by storm. It gave an utterance, till then unheard in England, to the spiritual emotions, in their contemplation of God's glory in nature and his revelation in Christ, and made hymn-singing a fervid devotional force, something that fit right in with our people. With the onset of Dr Watts hymns came the camp meetings where our music developed tambourines, banjoes and the occasional drum. From these poor beginnings came the Spirituals, music that was made to describe the feelings of a group of individuals. This music also morphed into a version of music that describes a large portion of our culture the foundation of the Blues.

After slavery two main influences helped shape the global convergence of American Black music. The first was the opening of Fisk University and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. These singers were the first internationally acclaimed group of African-American musicians who attained first recognition, then fame, and along the way, financed their school. The talented vocal artists introduced "slave songs" to the world and, in many opinions, preserved this music from extinction. The second was the creation of blues by post-slavery Blacks in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, everywhere, which led to the first written blues, "The Memphis Blues," published in 1912, and great blues singers like MA RAINEY and BESSIE SMITH. February 14, 1920. MAMIE SMITH recorded the first major "race record," "That Thing Called Love" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find," for Okeh Records. BESSIE SMITH and other artists sold a phenomenal number of records and ensured the survival of Columbia and other recording companies.

Gospel and Blues developed along very similar lines and in fact several major contributors to Black music were known to play both styles. One of the most prolific writers and performers was Thomas Dorsey. Reverend Dorsey as he was known in his later years was a composer and pianist for Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, plus he wrote some of the most performed Gospel songs in history.

In the late 1890’s a new sound was created by Blacks in Louisiana, Texas, Missouri and other places, followed by creative syntheses by great individual performers like BUDDY BOLDEN, JELLY ROLL MORTON, LOUIS ARMSTRONG and others. This was the collective creation of Jazz music. On November 11, 1925, Louis Armstrong recorded the first of the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings that defined the rhythmic and improvisational foundation of jazz. Once again music had been created that attempted to describe the emotional and spirit filled anxiety of our race.
The first all Black owned record company based in Harlem and founded in May of 1921 Black Swan Records was created by Harry Pace. Fletcher Henderson was the recording manager and played piano accompaniment, while William Grant Still was arranger and later musical director. Artists on this label included • C. Carroll Clark, baritone, made the label's first record. • Four Harmony Kings, vocal quartet • Henry Creamer and J. Turner Layton, vaudeville duo • Katie Crippen, vaudeville singer • Kemper Harreld, violinist • Revella Hughes, soprano • Alberta Hunter, blues singer • Trixie Smith, blues singer, was second only to Ethel Waters in Black Swan sales. • Florence Cole Talbert soprano • Ethel Waters, blues and pop song singer. She had the label's first commercially successful records, and remained their best seller.

This company produced several firsts that can be seen manifested today.
1. Publishing house that became a record label2. Created multiple genres of music, classical, instrumental, gospel and blues3. "Mamie Jones" was actually a pseudonym on Black Swan for singer Aileen Stanley, perhaps the only Caucasian artist to record for the label (she was "passing for colored" on these records).4. The company declared bankruptcy in December 1923. As a result, in March 1924 Paramount Records bought the Black Swan label.
White owned record companies began to recognize the demand for black artists to the point that major companies began publishing music by these performers. In addition, the Chicago Defender credited Mr. Pace with bringing major companies to begin targeting the black audience and advertising in black newspapers. Paramount discontinued the Black Swan label a short time later, but kept the artists recording under their label.

Several other advents helped Black music‘s popularity, on May 23, 1921. Shuffle Along, the first of a series of popular musicals featuring Black talent, opened at the 63rd Street Musical Hall in New York and Blacks began to invent Broadway or, at a minimum, Broadway musical culture. Two years later, on October 29, 1923, Runnin' Wild opened at Colonial Theatre on Broadway, introducing America's first dance hit, the Charleston, to the world. In 1925. PAUL ROBESON made his debut as a bass-baritone in the Greenwich Village Theatre singing the first concert consisting solely of Negro spirituals. On December 4, 1927. DUKE ELLINGTON opened at the Cotton Club, Harlem's Jim Crow musical magnet, marking the formal beginning of the Swing Age and the Age of the Big Bands of COUNT BASIE, ERKSKINE HAWKINS, JIMMY LUNCEFORD and, later, BILLY ECKSTINE. Ellington, who was arguably America's greatest composer, extended the harmonic and structural dimensions of jazz, which has been called America's classical music.
The 1930’s gave rise to an entire new era of Black Music. New Black urban migrants from the south to the north redefined church music, giving it a rhythm and passion that THOMAS DORSEY, the "Father of Gospel Music," put down on paper and SALLIE MARTIN and, later, MAHALIA JACKSON sang. In addition to inventing a name for the new sacred music of black Americans, organizing its first chorus, its first annual convention, and founding its first publishing house, Dorsey is credited with establishing the tradition of the gospel music concert.

In the 1940’s Jazz took another divergence when CHARLIE PARKER and DIZZY GILLESPIE brought their musical groups to New York's 52nd Street, inaugurating the Be-Bop age and changing the structure and harmonic foundations of modern jazz. Still Black music in all of its forms attempted to describe the feelings and spirituality of not only its creators but of its listeners as well.

The 1950’s saw an explosion of Black music, RICHARD (LITTLE RICHARD) PENNIMAN recorded "Tutti Frutti," and CHUCK BERRY recorded "Maybelline," followed by other recordings by Black artists (BIG MAYBELLE, WILSON PICKETT and others) who influenced the Beatles and Elvis Presley and played major roles in the development of rock `n' roll. SAM COOKE, a well-known gospel singer, crossed over into what some then called "rhythm and blues," recording "You Send Me," which marked the beginning of soul music. MILES DAVIS recorded “Kind of Blue”, "a milestone in jazz history," which changed the directions of modern American music. Motown Records was founded by BERRY GORDY JR., who gave the world the JACKSON 5, the SUPREMES, STEVIE WONDER and MARVIN GAYE, and who helped change the understanding, marketing and promotion of American music.

And the biggest phenomenon of the 1950’s was FREEDOM MUSIC based on the whoops, hollers and affirmations of the Black Spiritual-gospel-blues-jazz tradition, annealed and transformed African-Americans and their allies in the UNCOUNTABLE mass meetings, marches, vigils and protests of the Freedom Movement, which was the biggest U.S. social movement of the 20th century and which influenced singers in Soweto, Eastern Europe and Tiananmen Square. Major Black singers sang in the chorus or the choir of the Movement, notably MAHALIA JACKSON ("I Been 'Buked and I Been Scorned"), HARRY BELAFONTE ("Matilda"), Aretha Franklin ("R-E-S-P-E-C-T"), SAMMY DAVIS JR. ("Mr. Bojangles"), JAMES BROWN ("I'm Black and I'm Proud"), CURTIS MAYFIELD ("Keep on Pushin'"), SAM COOKE ("A Change Is Gonna Come"), NINA SIMONE ("What are we going to do now, now that the King of Love is Dead?"), BERNICE REAGAN ("Before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free").

Music created for a purpose that touched the spirit and spoke about the injustices of the world.

The 1960’s brought us ERNEST (CHUBBY CHECKER) EVANS recording "The Twist," setting off the biggest dance craze since the Charleston craze of the 1920s. The craze changed the patterns of American dance and changed, perhaps forever, the dominant patterns of men and women dancing together. Plus a new gospel music with a more worldly sound and a catchy, pop-flavored beat flowed out of urban Black churches and was given form and passion by JAMES CLEVELAND and SHIRLEY CAESAR, leading to ANDRAE CROUCH and the EDWIN HAWKINS SINGERS and contemporaries like KIRK FRANKLIN, the many WINANS and a new growth industry, White gospel singers.

The 1970’s brought us synthesizers and over-dubbing and detailed preparation of albums all epitomized by STEVIE WONDER. The end of the 70’s introduced THE SUGAR HILL GANG who produced the first rap hit, "Rapper's Delight," introducing the world of rap and hip-hop with implications that are still reverberating in the music world.

In 1984 MICHAEL JACKSON'S Thriller video premiered on TV, and revolutionized the making and marketing of pop music, leading to MTV and the new pop technology. The 90’s popular crossover success of singers like WHITNEY HOUSTON and JANET JACKSON started new merchandising, marketing trends and led to numerous White imitators like Britney Spears.
Success stories abound but the biggest change in Black music has come about in the 2000’s. Hip Hop originated as an expression of individuality, a description of anger and distrust against the unjust governmental systems we now live under. Just as Slave work songs, Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Be Bop and the majority of our cultural music had done. Now this new music is made only to make certain individuals wealthy and unfortunately the wealthy are not the artists making the music. This new breed of music is designed to make both Black & White consumers / listeners controllable and ignorant. It is now promoting unbridled loveless sex, drug usage, murder and mayhem.

Isn’t it time to let your child know WHY they make music?