Yolanda Adams (L) and PJ Morton (R)
Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images The Recording Academy
Here's What Went Down At The Black Music Collective's Inaugural 2021 GRAMMY Week Celebration
The Black Music Collective’s Inaugural GRAMMY Week Celebration, held on Wednesday, March 10 as part of GRAMMY Week 2021, honored the upliftment of Black music and its impact on both society and industry culture. Hosted by Jeriel Johnson, Executive Director of the Recording Academy’s Washington D.C. chapter, and sponsored by Mastercard and Amazon Music, the event provided the space for artists, industry professionals and executives to speak about inclusion opportunities for Black artists across music genres. Here are some of the moments that took place at the historic event.
Harvey Mason jr. (L) and Valeisha Butterfield Jones (R) attend the Inaugural Black Music Collective GRAMMY Week Celebration | Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images The Recording Academy
H.E.R, Harvey Mason Jr. And Valeisha Butterfield-Jones Started The Celebration
H.E.R. opened up the festivities with a noir version of her protest anthem, "I Can’t Breathe." The two-time Grammy winner performed with her guitar in-hand as a montage of protest images were displayed behind her.
After the R&B singer’s touching performance, the Recording Academy’s first Black Chair and Interim President/CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., and Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, continued the program with hope and solemnity. Mason Jr. spoke about the Recording Academy’s commitment to overseeing emerging industry opportunities while Butterfield-Jones took a moment to note the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on communities of color and the effects of heightened police brutality on Black music.
John Legend And Social Justice Leader Tamika Mallory Discussed Music And Activism After Freddie Gibbs And The Alchemist Took The Virtual Stage
2021 GRAMMY Awards show Best Rap Album nominees Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist then set up the mood with an in-studio performance of Alfredo single "Scottie Beam" after a brief Mogul Moment clip with Quincy Jones.
Following Jones' appearance, the first fireside chat of the evening took place. Eleven-time GRAMMY winner and Trustee of the L.A. Recording Academy chapter, John Legend, spoke with Activist and Social Justice Leader, Tamika Mallory. The two chatted about the impact of Black music and the culture-shifting power of it, as well as the impact of Black women in the industry.
The conversation naturally turned towards activism when Mallory, who has been mentored by legendary Jamaican-American singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte, shared a quote from activist Paul Roberson she learned from Belafonte: "Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization's radical voice."
Mallory also touched on how activism and music have come together in the past, recalling James Brown’s activism through music in the late ‘60s .
"When I think about James Brown saying ‘I’m Black and I’m proud”, I can only imagine that in that moment, the [Black] Panthers and other organizers felt good," she said. "This is one of the hottest entertainers saying ‘I’m in solidarity with you."
Legend followed up with another quote, one from iconic singer Nina Simone that he referenced during his Oscar win in 2015 alongside Common for their track "Glory" from the Martin Luther King biopic Selma: "It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times."
When Mallory asked Legend about his choice of becoming a conscious artist, Legend shared the purpose of his art-making statement:
"I feel like I can be the full range of my humanity—I write about love in all of its forms. Part of what it means to love in public means that you love people that you don’t even know. That means you care about what happens to them, you see their humanity, you care about justice for them," he said. "We also feel the range of human emotion—we feel joy, we feel attraction, we celebrate, we do it all in our music. What I love about Black music is that we are able to express all those things and we are at the forefront of what’s happening in music. [We’re] so influential well beyond our representation in the population—our music has an outsized influence on American culture and global culture."
Mallory brought up the way she expresses her activism work. Touching on accountability measures for police and financially supporting local activism and political campaigners, Mallory spoke about her upcoming book State of Emergency: How We Win in the Country We Built. The book features a foreword with a conversation between educator and activist Angela Davis and Cardi B. Mallory said she received backlash for using the discussion between the two as the book’s foreword.
"I explain to people that, number one, I am Tamika Mallory, this girl who grew up in the housing projects in Harlem. I’m a good mix between Cardi B and Angela Davis; I have a Birkin one minute and I’m strapping up my boots to hit the streets in the next," Mallory joked. "The conversation the two of them are having is so powerful because Angela Davis is giving Cardi advice to keep being who she’s been and to keep using her voice."
Universal Music Group CEO Jeffery Harleston Provided Words Of Wisdom
In the next segment of the program, Jeffery Harleston, Universal Music Group CEO provided five pieces of advice for his younger self and rising executives who work with musicians, fans and partners to move the culture:
"The first would be to listen. You learn so much more by listening when you’re starting out. The second would be to demand excellence in yourself and everything you do, and excellence in who you’re working with. The third and one of the most important things I’ve learned in my career is flexibility; the one thing that’s certain in the music business is change and you have to be able to move with the currents as they’re changing. The fourth is something that someone did tell me when I first entered the music business and it was about integrity because you only have one opportunity to make an impression. If you carry yourself with integrity, you’ll be able to have a long-standing career. And finally, the reason why we’re all in this business is to remember you’re in the music business, to have fun."
PJ Morton And Yolanda Adams Performed Before BET CEO Debra Lee Acknowledged How Black Music Has Broken Barriers
Gospel and R&B artists PJ Morton and Yolanda Adams shared a touching rendition of "Say So" and "Follow Your Heart" in separate locations. (Morton was supported by a band and accompanying vocalists while Adams appeared on her own.)
Debra Lee, former Chairman and CEO of BET talked about witnessing the ‘60s Detroit origins of Motown, and Black artists facing racial barriers in music.
"Music helped integrate our industry and our world. Black musicians and artists who came along early on had to break the racial injustice they encountered," she said. "Even today, hip-hop and other forms of music are telling the story of our times. In times of crisis and in good times, music is always a reflection of our times."
Issa Rae And Janelle Monáe Talked About Power, Progress and Purpose
Clockwise from top-left: Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, Janelle Monáe and Issa Rae attend the Inaugural Black Music Collective GRAMMY Week Celebration | Photo: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images The Recording Academy
Moderated by Butterfield-Jones, Issa Rae and Janelle Monáe discussed power, progress and purpose in the industry as well as the state of Black music. Like other creatives, Monáe and Rae felt the initial shock of event cancellations, facing an early denial but accepting that the world was experiencing the pandemic together.
Monáe also reflected on taking a non-traditional path in music and facing rejection by label executives before her breakout debut album, The Archandroid. Leaving performing arts school in New York and relocating to Atlanta’s HBCU area where she prepared to be an independent artist, Monáe gained confidence in and redefined her narrative of Black music. Her efforts came full circle in 2020 when Monáe was tapped by Georgia politician and social justice leader Stacy Abrams to contribute to her documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy.
"Creating music for me has come from a place of normalcy. When things started to turn with politics and this global pandemic, I didn’t know how to create in that space. I felt like the concrete was pulled from under my feel— had no foundation and I needed to get stable. Then I watched All In: The Fight for Democracy and I said ‘there’s no way I can say no to this," Monáe said. "The angle that I wanted to come from was, ‘How do I narrate the revolution we’re in right now?’ It’s not about a hit song, it’s not about an album—we’re in a revolution, everybody’s gonna need fuel, we’re gonna get fatigued. I was like, ‘What kind of music does Stacy Abrams need to hear when she’s advocating for us and protect marginalized voices?'"
Rae agreed with the sentiment and discussed the final season of "Insecure" and how showcasing independent artists and Black music on the show has kept her inspired. For Rae, the music of Insecure was an extension of each episode and the celebration of independent artists.
"We were in the process of editing and mixing the final episodes when the pandemic hit. Normally, mixing an episode is a highlight, because it’s the first time you see it with other people who aren’t on set, who aren’t a part of the writers' room,” Rae said. “What kept me motivated was sometimes there [are] artists who haven’t gotten the exposure, and people who haven’t heard the song before will associate that emotion with this particular scene or how they felt at the time with this particular episode. There’s something so powerful about, and admittedly selfish about, [associating] whatever they were going through and whatever they felt at that time with these characters and your intention."
Jimmy Jam Shared Importance Of Paying It Forward And Marvin Gaye Helped End Program On A Touching Note
Relaying a message of ‘paying it forward’ legendary producer Jimmy Jam spoke about the unison of the Black community and music community.
"What’s important is finding our commonalities, not fighting over our differences. Like I say about my partner Terry Lewis—we’ve never had an argument. An argument is something you’re trying to win and I never want to see Terry Lewis lose at anything. Music is the divine art, it is the way we learn our language. Putting melody into people’s lives is what we do," Jam said.
Riggs Morales, Co-Chair of the Black Music Collective ended the program with the final words of the night. Evoking a legend, PJ Morton and Yolanda Adams closed the night with a cover of Marvin Gaye's classic "What’s Going On."
On its first event, the collective covered an array of radical changes in the music industry and the necessary steps for Black inclusivity.
Learn more about the Recording Academy's Black Music Collective.