From folk icon Woody Guthrie championing the American farmer to poet Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon,” bad times can make for positive music full of reactive change, and the resulting good music can beget change for the better. Sadly this seems to happen when things are well past the boiling point, when it’s too late and we’re faced with anger, unrest, and riots like we did this past weekend.
Following the horrific murder of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police May 25, there has been an immediate sense of fury. Once again, we look to music for release and relief.
This crime has awakened a beast in our collective consciousness. It has picked at wounds that won’t be healed by solemnly singing “We Shall Overcome.” But the music must lead passionately and loudly, with appropriate anger.
Two leaders in the music industry — Jamila Thomas of Atlantic Records and Brianna Agyemang of Platoon — have a slightly different idea
: shut down. Shut down for a day to show support for the families of George Floyd and other victims of police violence, as well as the black community as a whole. The intention is to provoke a real conversation about how to best lift up the black community in tangible and effective ways.
It is no doubt well-intentioned, but a lot of music stores and businesses just opened back up after being on lock-down for nearly three months. To propose shutting down may not be the best idea. Record stores such as Rochester’s Record Archive are opting to support the cause by donating money to Black Lives Matter.
“There was no specific directive suggested,” Record Archive’s co-owner Alayna Alderman says. “But donating money definitely works.”
On today, June 2, the Universal Music Group announced that it will observe what has been dubbed “Blackout Tuesday” as a “day to contemplate, connect, and organize," the company wrote Sunday on Instagram. "We stand with the black community. #TheShowMustBePaused."
This blackout directive has spread to the likes of Atlantic Records, Capitol Music Group, Columbia Records, Def Jam, Elektra Music Group, HitCo, Interscope Records, Geffen Records, A&M Records, Island Records, Pulse Music Group, Reservoir, Republic Records, Sony/ATV, Sony Music, Virgin EMI, and Warner Records. They have all pledged to cease business activity for the day.
“This is not a day off,” read a statement from Columbia Records. “Instead this is a day to reflect and figure out ways to move forward in solidarity. We continue to support the black community, our staff, artists, and peers in the music industry. Perhaps with the music off we can truly listen.”
Frank De Blase is CITY's music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.