Jeff Tweedy appeared on CBS This Morning on Monday to continue his call for the music industry to make reparations to Black communities. The Wilco frontman announced that he will donate 5% of his songwriter’s royalty to I Grow Chicago, a social justice organization in his native city.
The singer-songwriter originally made waves in the days following the killing of George Floyd back in June when he posted a lengthy statement to his social media suggesting industry-wide monetary donations to Black communities. It read, in part, “The modern music industry is built almost entirely on Black art. The wealth that rightfully belonged to Black artists was stolen outright and to this day continues to grow outside their communities.” Tweedy acknowledged that, “No one artist could come close to paying the debt we owe to the Black originators of our modern music and their children and grandchildren,” and that instead, he would simply try to do his part, hoping that others would follow suit.
Despite the apparent outpouring of public support from the music industry for the social justice movement, with publicity stunts like Blackout Tuesday on June 2nd, Tweedy was surprised by how few of his peers joined in his cause.
“I think I was hoping that someone much more famous than myself would say ‘Hey, that’s a decent idea, let’s really get the ball rolling,’ Tweedy said. “I really wanna remain hopeful about this, but at the same time I have to be honest that I wish it was being taken a little more seriously.”
In speaking with Rolling Stone senior writer Brittany Spanos, the CBS This Morning team explored historical examples of influential Black artists who were never properly compensated for their work. One of the most glaring examples was rock and roll pioneer Little Richard. In 1985, Richard told 60 Minutes of his hit song “Tutti Frutti”, which was covered by a slew of white artists,
“They sold a fortune of these records but I never got a dime,” Richard said. “Elvis Presley sold millions of my records, Elvis Presley did all of my stuff…Didn’t get a call from nobody, not a Christmas card.”
Mason asked Tweedy point-blank if he considers what he is doing a form of reparations.
“Yeah, it’s a tricky word to use for some people,” Tweedy said. “We have a large segment of our population that worked to build this country and were never paid for it. That needs to be repaired.”
While Tweedy fights a battle in the public eye, Black Music Action Coalition co-founder Binta Brown has been working to achieve greater representation for Black artists both on and off the stage.
“We need to do a better job of making sure that Black people are fully and truly participating in the revenues that are being generated and that we have better representation at the executive level,” Brown said. “There need to be more Black artists, Black women artists, that are headlining and on the main stages of festivals.”
In the end, the bitter irony of this situation is that it takes Jeff Tweedy—a 53-year-old white man from Belleville, IL—to bring attention to a crisis that Black artists have been calling attention to for decades. When asked if we can ultimately make this situation right, he responded, “Well, we have to. As a culture, as a society, we have to make it right.”
Mason noted that CBS News received a comment from BMI—Tweedy’s performing rights organization—saying it has received a small number of requests to direct royalties as Tweedy has done. One of those artists, Bon Iver, has committed 5% of their royalties to gender equality and domestic violence causes.
Watch Jeff Tweedy’s full interview on CBS This Morning, and scroll down to see his original social media post calling for financial remuneration for Black artists.
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy calls for music industry reparations
[Video: CBS This Morning]
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