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Black People Don’t Listen to Guns N' Roses. (Maybe 10 Do.)

Music is still highly segregated and the MCPS podcast 'What's the Big Idea?' only feeds into this reality. Shouldn't leaders living in a diverse county expand their music horizons?


Pretty much everything in American life was segregated back in the day. For me, “back in the day” refers to the 1950s and 1960s (my youth).

Even music was segregated. Black people listened to black people’s music on black radio stations and white people listened to white people’s music on white radio stations. Rarely did you hear any crossover.

Well, things changed a lot since my youth, and I like the changes.  But still when it comes to music, a lot remains segregated in some pretty odd way.

In early February, those who watch the Grammys on television will see some of these oddities on display. We probably will not see any black performers or nominees singing country, rock or metal. Nor will we see any white performers or nominees rapping or singing gospel (well, actually it appears as though the music industry managed to segregate gospel music into black and white gospel categories). We sort of just accept these music realities as personal tastes.

If you’re a live music fan—I am—you also will see how segregated the music world can still be from the fan base. I try hard to see a live music performance monthly. In December, when I saw Babyface at the Howard Theatre and Howard Hewett at the Birchmere—both black artists—you could count the white fans on one hand. And when I venture out to see white artists, I’m frequently one of those rare black fans in the audience. That was true when seeing Norah Jones and Sting—on different occasions—live at the Warner Theatre (years ago). My wife looked around at the Jones concert and said, “Are we Norah’s only black fans in the D.C. area?”

Recently, this music segregation thing hit me when listening to What’s the BIG Idea? According to this website, “What’s the BIG Idea features in-depth conversations about education from a variety of perspectives. The show is hosted by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) superintendent Dr. Josh Starr and Chris Lloyd, teacher and vice-president of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA).”

So, I’m listening to Episode 3, and at the end of the podcast, Starr, Lloyd and the guest discussed rock bands. Is that a “white” thing?

Apparently, guests are asked at the end of the Podcast to name their 10 favorite rock bands.  The guest from Episode 3 named the E Street Band, Tom Petty and Heartbreakers, Metallica, Van Halen, the Eagles, REM, Gun N’ Roses, Huey Lewis and the News, Nirvana, Pearl Jam as his 10 favorite bands. That’s a “white” list, right?

Here’s a suggestion for Starr and Lloyd. Please expand the music genres. Let your guests select their favorite genre—stop forcing the rock band thing—a genre that unfortunately is still highly segregated and leads to a conversation that is really about white stuff and white people. Be more inclusive—how about reggae,
Afro-funk, blues, jazz, rap. Please stop the white thing!

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McGibblets January 20, 2013 at 03:04 PM
"Please stop the white thing!" How about just "Please stop the race thing!" instead?
Keith Sanderson January 20, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Hit that one on the head, Bro! However, there has always been a small portion of the population that has crossed over, at least in the area of making "black" music appealing to the larger "white" audience.( don't like those artificial labels, but for purposes of your general categories above, I'll stick with them). I think Motown, with all it's famous musicians, appealed to a lot of whites, as substantiated by the pop charts, etc. I used to see concerts by Sly and the Family Stones, The Temps, James Brown, etc. I have tons of their music in my rather extensive vinyl collection, and would often play them and Bob Marley music in my classroom (Wootton high, '78-'05, Alternative Program, '05-'10, MCPS). However, today's music is much changed from the '50 and '60's, and I think black music has become even more written for and aimed at a back audience, maybe for commercial success or the content appealed to black audiences. Except for the influence of reggae and rap on white musical styles, if you listen to the lyrics and themes of black music it is not the "I want to love you, baby, baby" type songs that in content, appealed to most everyone back in the '50s and '60's. Marvin sang "what's going on" " and it was about war and protest and degradation of the environment , topics appealing to lots of different colors of people. Your comment- "Be more inclusive—how about reggae, Afro-funk, blues, jazz, rap. Please stop the white thing!"- I totally agree with.
Joseph Hawkins January 20, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Keith--I agree. One of the things I like about today, music, and technology is that it is so easy to experience everything. I know Itunes is making money from me as a customer. I actually love experimenting and checking out other genres.
Valerie Mayer January 21, 2013 at 01:51 PM
So what was your take on the rest of that podcast with guest Mike Petrilli?
Joseph Hawkins January 21, 2013 at 02:06 PM
I do have one big-picture observation on the Starr/Lloyd/Petrilli podcast: This “self-proclaimed” thing where they label themselves “social justice warriors” seems dated. Of course, when folks in MoCo-land “pretend” to be hip and socially conscience they seem out of sync, corny, and fake. After all, aren’t these the same folks that at the drop of a hat will do cocktails at http://glenstone.org/ (definitely a no-no for true social conscience warriors)?
Temperance Blalock January 22, 2013 at 03:22 PM
This is silly. I lived in the South in the 1960s, and most of the white kids in my school, despite the fact that a lot of them were extremely racist, were listening more to Motown music than they were to Pat Boone and Perry Como. Then I moved to Washington, DC in the early 1970s and went to a mostly-black public school where students listened to all sorts of groups. In the last 40 years of attending concerts, admittedly I focused on my attention on enjoying the music rather than doing a demographics census, but there has always been a mixture, especially here in the DC metro area. However, I would no more expect to see a lot of fans of the Grateful Dead at a Pet Shop Boys concert than I would to see huge numbers of fans of the Smooth Jazz genre at a rap concert. This attempt to create a faux culture war is pathetic.
Jeff Hawkins January 22, 2013 at 03:53 PM
I believe this article is an example of "you see what you want to see" if that makes sense. Growing up in Rockville we listened to Doo Wop, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Wall of Sound, Motown, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin in addition to Elvis, the British Invasion (Beatles), Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Buddy Holly, etc. We listened and danced to them all. Music was not "segregated". I also want to echo Ms. Blalocks comment...
Theresa Defino January 22, 2013 at 07:29 PM
I am white (100% Italian, if that's important). I do not listen to Guns & Roses. I have listened to Pearl Jam, REM and Nirvana in the past. I'd like to point out to Joseph Hawkins that Norah Jones is not "white." Her father was Ravi Shankar, who was born in India. My son, who last I checked, is 100% white, listens to many types of music, including rap and hip hop, as do his friends who are 1)white, 2)Indian, 3)African-American, 4)Hispanic, 5)Asian. They often get together at the Indian boy's house to record music. Thankfully, much of today's youth are not growing up closed minded. And it pains me to even refer to these kids according to their race. Too bad Joseph Hawkins feels no such discomfort.
Janis January 25, 2013 at 03:39 PM
Theresa, It is Superintendent Starr that feels no discomfort. He assumes that "everyone" has a favorite ROCK band. Mr. Hawkins' point is that "everyone" doesn't have a favorite rock band. But, Superintendent Starr is only about himself. He likes rock, and assumes everyone else does/should. Mr. Hawkins is making the case for open minds and lots of variety.
Heidi Mordhorst January 26, 2013 at 12:20 PM
My biggest concern with the whole "top ten American rock & roll bands" is that when Mike Petrilli attempted to widen the range of possible acts to include those from the UK or solo artists, Josh and Chris made jolly agreement noises but then moved right on forward with their own parameters firmly in place, because "quite frankly, we gotta do this Letterman style." This is quintessential MCPS--"you may have ideas that come from (eek) foreign places or that are (eek) unique and individual and we love that, but quite frankly, we gotta do this our way."
Michelle Brown January 27, 2013 at 08:27 PM
After reading and re-reading the column and comments above, I still did not understand what the hubbub was all about, so I went to the MCPS podcast webpage. Worse than the perceived racial bias in the superintendant's personal music choices is the "audism" (discrimination against the deaf and hard-of-hearing) of not having a transcript or closed captioning of the podcast.
Shanae Khan March 14, 2013 at 04:33 AM
I'm black and I listening to rock exclusively and I want to become a singer in my own band . To me music should be color blind.
Joseph Hawkins March 14, 2013 at 11:06 AM
Mr. Khan--good luck with the band thing. RIght now listening to: http://www.freshlyground.com/
destiny March 28, 2013 at 11:39 PM
Its funny you mentioned the Babyface concert. I think its easier for a black artist to crossover to white people than it is for a white artist to really hit home with blacks. For example, I, too went to a Babyface, Boyz II men, and En Vogue concert at the Los Angeles County Fair, and there were actually more NON blacks than there were blacks and the place seated around 10,000! Also, whenever I go see black performers at San Manuel Casino in Highland, Ca. The crowd is EXTREMELY mixed. You have to take into account geography, population, and other ethnic groups like Latinos and Asians where many of them LOVE "black" music.
destiny March 28, 2013 at 11:46 PM
However, with that being said, I listen to everything from pop to jazz to R&B to country to Gospel. I do not discriminate on color. However, I WILL NOT listen to Guns n' Roses especially after they made that ignorant song referring to blacks as niggers and talking about how he doesn't want to buy any "gold chains" from us. Even Slash (its mixed race gutarists) said he didn't feel right about that crap.
Joseph Hawkins March 28, 2013 at 11:54 PM
Destiny, That's an excellent point--geography.

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