2009-07/08 Elmore Magazine

Rock and Race: Does the Music Industry Encourage Segregation?

by Dave Steinfeld, Elmore Magazine July/August 2009

How many times have you noticed that the black musicians and white musicians are in separate sections of your favorite record outlet? There is a section for pop and rock CDs and a separate section for soul, hip-hop, R&B etc.—none too subtle. The music industry still imposes racial segregation on audiences and artists in the 21st century. Labels have “urban” divisions devoted to signing and marketing black artists almost exclusively, and rarely do we hear musicians of different races on the same radio station. Billboard magazine, the industry’s Bible, even had a “black music” chart for a while. Black artists who want to record in traditionally “white” genres (and vice versa) have a hard time getting their music heard—especially black artists who rock.

Garland Jeffreys has never become a household name, but he was well-known in certain circles. A proud Coney Island native, born to multi-racial parents, Jeffreys came of age during the doo-wop era and was fronting Grinderswitch by the end of the ’60s. Several years later, he released the solo single “Wild in the Streets,” which almost became a hit…but it was a rock song, and he was black.

Jeffreys went to Ohio to promote “Wild in the Streets” and was picked up at the airport by a record label staffer. “[He] looked like he could have been my older brother. Light-skinned, mixed-race guy. He told me from the get-go: ‘Wild in the Streets’ is a great song, but you ain’t gonna get any airplay…[The song is] too white, so you ain’t getting any airplay on the black stations. And you ain’t getting any airplay on the white stations because you’re black.’ That was the first truth that I had ever heard in the music business about the way things really break down…That was in 1973 and it hasn’t changed that much.”

Radio wasn’t the only place Jeffreys encountered resistance. He received a less-than-stellar review from the liberal publication The Village Voice, which “wrote about me as if I didn’t have permission to do rock ‘n’ roll,” he says.

Jeffreys came close to mainstream success with Escape Artist in 1981. One can’t help noticing that the vast majority of his concert audience is white. Jeffreys continues making music—and defying labels—today.

You can read the entire article by downloading  Elmore Magazine “Rock and Race:  Does the Music Industry Encourage Segregation?”

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