Record label ‘discovers’ it underpaid black artists

Record label ‘discovers’ it underpaid black artists


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2020

I watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix in a state of stupefaction at the tsunami of overpraise it received from film critics. Taken from a stage play, it’s a static film without character development or much of a plot. There are better things to watch on Netflix.

However, some things never change.

Ma Rainey had to fight with every sinew to get paid by record producers in the 1920s.

In 2020, the German-owned record conglomerate BMG has ‘discovered’ evidence that some black artists are still paid less than whites.

Well, fancy that.



  • CRWang says:

    A lot of clubs and booking agents worked for the mafia in those days. Mahalia Jackson used to sing a few songs, then stopped in the middle and demanded to be paid in full then and there for the night or walk out. She always got paid.

    • BruceB says:

      I remember someone telling me that Aretha Franklin did something similar when she appeared with their symphony. Her fee was $50,000 (or something) and when they gave her a check before the performance she refused it — she wanted the entire amount in cash, up front, and wouldn’t go on till she got it. Fortunately a local bank president was on the orchestra board, so he was able to go to his bank and take out the money. They gave it to her; she put it in her purse, and took her purse onstage with her.

      I read a concert review of Nina Simone once where the critic described her repeatedly insisting to the audience that she “better get paid for this” and “I must get my money.”

      At the time, I thought it was just crazy diva behavior (like the clause in Jessye Norman’s contract that nobody backstage was to speak to her or make eye contact), but as I’ve learned more over the years, I wonder instead what kind of treatment made them act that way.

  • James Weiss says:

    I thought the film was underwhelming which, of course, means it will be showered with awards.

    • V. Lind says:

      Haven’t seen it yet, but the late Chadwick Boseman is in it and he has reached sainted status in some circles. There is a great deal of talk about a posthumous Academy Award. The only thing I can think of having seen him in is Blackkklansman last year. I enjoyed that film very much, much to my own surprise and do not remember a single actor in it, black or white, but I thought they were all good — which suggests that they filled their roles. It’s supposed to be good when you remember the characters (which I do) more than the actors.

      I have just finished my Le Carré tribute binge, so may give it a try and report back.

      • John Ramster says:

        CB was not in BlaKkKlansman. But then you only remember characters.

        • V. Lind says:

          Sorry! I must have misremembered. I thought I had seen him in something without knowing who he was when I read of his unfortunate death, and I could swear I recently read he was being considered for a posthumous Oscar. Now I am trying to figure out what I did see him in that made him award-worthy — I didn’t see Black Panther and it has already had its awards season.

          Anyway, if it is any consolation to the person who pilloried me below, I don’t remember who the leading white guy was either — the one who fronted for the black guy and went into the Klan. I can’t see a face from that movie but I remember scenes vividly. I’ll have to hit IMDb later.

      • Bobby Perue says:

        Different black guy in Blackkkansman, you racist POS

  • JoshW says:

    Oops, I thought this was a classical music site. I seem to have stumbled onto a “not very well informed and certainly not qualified TV criticism” site instead.

  • sam says:

    The opening big dialogue scene has more N-words in it then a rap song…

    So the talent was black, the thieving producers were Jews, the corrupt Chicago cop was Irish (who even said “Paddy” wagon)….

    August Wilson sucks as a playwright. The hype and overpraise began with him.

    • Keith says:

      Man I so agree with you to many nigga this and nigga that being said in the movie it was way too much! Iam a black man and I got tired of the word!

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    A one, a two, y’all know what to do