The following open letter comes from British music executive Keith Harris OBE (pictured), the Managing Director of Keith Harris Music Ltd. Harris began work in the record industry in 1974, going on to hold roles at EMI and Motown, before moving into artist management in 1978 to work with Stevie Wonder in Los Angeles. After moving back to the UK, and having been named on the Roll Of Honour of the London-based Music Managers’ Forum (MMF) in 2001, Harris spent nine years with licensing and collection society PPL before stepping down from his role as Director of Performer Affairs in 2015. That same year, Harris was awarded an OBE for services to the music industry. Harris managed the late Lynden David Hall, and continues to work with Stevie Wonder.
To the Captains of the Music Industry:
I am gratified to see the industry embrace “Black Out” day in honour of George Floyd, it is a timely and appropriate reminder that we cannot tolerate racism.
I have been in the music industry for over 45 years and in that time I have experienced both direct and indirect racism. In 1978 I was installed as General manager at Motown when it was a licensed label of EMI, and then told, although I had been successful in that role, that I was going to be replaced with a white person, and would I mind “looking over his shoulder to help him out”, because they were not as capable as me in some areas.
“I have been in the music industry for over 45 years and in that time I have experienced both direct and indirect racism.”
I was told when I was Head of Promotions for Motown, that Radio 1 was already playing Earth Wind and Fire, so they could not play The Commodores, because that was enough of that kind of music.
It was reported to me that a producer at Capital FM once said ‘now that we’ve got Craig David, we don’t need to play Omar’, and then people in the record company were shocked by my outrage.
I was very fortunate to be offered a job by Stevie Wonder, which allowed me to bypass the major roadblock which was being put up in my career. When I returned back to the UK from LA having worked in Stevie Wonder’s management, apart from the concert promoter Barrie Marshall who offered me work on my return, I was not offered another job in the industry until Fran Nevrkla in 2006 invited me to be Director of Performer Affairs at PPL, that is a 25 year period. I watched white counterparts and contemporaries being invited to head up labels, publishers and other ventures.
“I would like to see other young black people in the industry rise to the positions of authority and seniority that their talent merits.”
I am writing this letter not to invoke sympathy, or to look to advance myself at this stage. I am now 68 years old, I have an OBE, from the Queen, an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Westminster, I have been inducted into the MMF Roll of Honour, and awarded the Music Industry Champion honour. I am not dissatisfied with how things have gone for me, but I am a middle class black man, with the benefit of a British public school education, and a well embedded knowledge of how to navigate white society.
I would like to remind you all that this awareness of racism in the industry should not last for one day, or one week, or one year. This should last forever. I would like to see other young black people in the industry rise to the positions of authority and seniority that their talent merits.
We have had many false dawns in terms of equality in the industry, let’s make sure that this is not another one.Music Business Worldwide