In spring 2020, the U.S. came to terms with its role in racial inequality on the heels of a tragedy: the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. That singular moment compelled many, including those in the music business, to pledge funds and action. It also gave birth to the Black Music Action Coalition, a collective of Black creators, activists and change-makers who have diligently kept the issue in the headlines and on the minds of corporate parents.
On Sept. 22, the organization — whose leadership includes industry veterans Damien Smith, Caron Veazey and Shawn Holiday, among others — celebrates its second annual Music in Action gala in Beverly Hills, where honorees include Lil Baby, Sony Music Publishing chairman Jon Platt, 300 Elektra Entertainment’s Kevin Liles and 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones. It promises to be a gathering of heavies, as last year’s inaugural fete — Variety is a media sponsor — drew the Weeknd, Motown chairwoman Ethiopia Habtemariam and attorney Ben Crump.
BMAC has been busy in the months since, releasing a series of reports addressing diversity, social justice and bias. Its latest, “Three Chords and the Actual Truth,” is directed at Nashville, spurred by video of singer Morgan Wallen using a racial slur. BMAC’s collected data drills down to “the inception of the business that surrounds country music — which, historically, has been segregated,” BMAC co-founder and co-chair Willie “Prophet” Stiggers tells Variety.
To help lessen the financial disparities that affect marginalized groups in the city, BMAC developed a $1,000-per-month Nashville-based basic income program for up-and-coming Black artists. “We wanted to use Nashville as a model,” says Stiggers. “We feel that if we can get it right there, we can get it right anywhere in the country.”
Meeting with Wallen directly, however, didn’t have the impact BMAC had hoped for. “It was a missed opportunity,” Stiggers says. “It wasn’t just that a slur was said. It spoke to how Black America and white America coexist in this country. That was a chance for this generation to bring about change.”
Still, BMAC’s resolve remains as it traverses heavy ground, like advocating to remove the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials and its call to ban Confederate flags at public performances. It’s also actively working on legislation to close the wealth gap in the U.S., and with legacy artists and other influential figures to change business practices within the music industry.
The awards for Thursday’s gala are as follows: Lil Baby (the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award); manager David Ali (the BMAC BLACK: Future. Now. Award); Amazon Music and the Recording Academy (the BMAC Social Impact Award); attorney and author Brittany K. Barnett and Culture Creators’ Joi Brown (the BMAC Change Agent Award); Congresswoman Maxine Waters (the BMAC Icon Award); and Billboard executive director, R&B/Hip-Hop Gail Mitchell along with Variety’s own executive editor of music, Shirley Halperin, will receive the BMAC 365 Award recognizing “a person, company or organization that has consistently supported social change throughout the year.”
Pictured (from left): Damien Smith, Caron Veazey, Willie ‘Prophet’ Stiggers, Ashaunna Ayars, Shawn Holiday, Jamil Davis