Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Best In Black Music And Entertainment


Allen L. Johnston - The Music Specialist

Once upon a time Billboard magazine was considered the “bible” of the music industry. If you did not chart in this magazine you did not have “high” sales, if you did not show upward movement you did not move into “high” rotation at radio, if you were not written up within its pages you did not acquire any advanced or international publicity. Basically you were a NOBODY. Billboard never planned for its own demise, so it never created an Awards show based on the excellence of its artists. The Billboard Urban conferences were a weak venture that never achieved the support of the major labels or major selling artists. This made them available to the independent artist and label who still thought that Billboard was the bible. The Billboard nightclub was suppose to be a place where the “best of the best” performed, in reality these clubs became overpriced disco’s and have disappeared into night club nirvana. There is a lesson to be learned from the downfall of Billboard Magazine.

Can anyone give me suggestions on how we can save or re-create an Awards ceremony that has the qualities we need to instill about our music?

The Soul Train Awards gave me a feeling of dread and shock when I realized that the bar of excellence has been lowered to an all time low. The show was as dreadful as it was based on numerous problems. The biggest of which is the in ability to have a vision of excellence to strive towards.

Soul Train started in Chicago Illinois as a teen dance show with MC Don Cornelius. His personal vision of excellence brought national recognition, national audiences, advertising and the ability to launch acts which most teen dance shows lacked. In 1985 the Tribune Entertainment Company partnered with Don Cornelius Productions Inc. as the exclusive syndicator and distributor. In 1987 the Soul Train Music Awards hit television making history and setting the bar for Black music & entertainment award shows. After years of progress it too became dated, lost its national audience and relevancy along with the Don Cornelius vision of excellence. In 2007 the parent Tribune Company was sold, Don Cornelius became very ill and Soul Train Music Awards was sold to Madvision Entertainment in 2008.

Don Cornelius, born September 27, 1936 was raised with an entirely different set of morals than business principles than most of the current generation. Not only was he an excellent television producer, promoter, salesman and visionary, but he was also a radio announcer (WVON) and a former Chicago Police officer. He envisioned the pomp and ceremony, the panache and elegance that made the Soul Train Music Awards the best of its era.

The Soul Train Music Awards originally contained a voting body of professionals within the radio and record communities. These radio programmers, retail store owners, wholesale buyers, managers, and recording artists who had charted within the previous year, actually cared which person won each individual award. Having a great selling “novelty” record was not a requirement for winning and the winners immediately had increased sales directly connected to the Awards show. The past hosts included Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, Will Smith, Patti Labelle, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker, Brandy and L.L. Cool J. The presenters tried to out dress and out class each other and they included Quincy Jones, Montell Williams, Barry White, Oleta Adams, Eddie Murphy, Elizabeth Taylor, Billy Dee Williams and even Don King.

This was an award show that had refinement, major professional entertainers, completely innovative and substantial performances and dignity.

The current Soul Train Awards structure seemed to miss the entire scope of the awards. Gone were the super star celebrities, the outstanding performances, the advertising and the dignity. I see the problem as the inability to have a wider sense of quality both in music and presentation.

People are doing business as if it was a relationship. They are acting emotional, personal, self serving with no regard for others or what they are trying to accomplish. The level of brilliance has been watered down for singers who feel that they can make a few vocal runs or hold a note a few seconds longer than anticipated and that makes them a superior

artist. This is not only musical artists but includes the entire behind the scene individuals who make an awards show possible. It was easy to see, even after the show was edited for television that rehearsals had not been effective, camera direction was sub standard and the outreach to the Black music and larger arts community was mediocre at best.

The World audience expects more and deserves more. What will happen next year? Who knows but one thing is for sure this year’s show was NOT The BEST IN BLACK MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT

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