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197 E ven among diehard collectors of Motown’s vast output, Motown’s subsidiary Black Forum label remainsobscure.ItisoverlookedinmostMotown biographies, and no Black Forum recordings have ever been included in any Motown label anthology. Even the thirty-song double-CD released by Motown in 2007 titled Power to the People: Civil Rights Anthems and Political Soul 1968–1975 does not include Black Forum artists or mention the label in the booklet’s overview of Motown during the black power era.And yet,the cover features a clenched-fist salute, and there’s a photograph of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale inside the jewel case.There’s also a sticker telling us that this CD includes “30 Militant Soul Anthems.”OK then, where are selections from Elaine Brown of the Black Panther Party or poet/ activist Amiri Baraka? Both had released albums of songs (rather than speeches) on Black Forum during the period covered on the compilation. The label released eight albums between 1970 and 1973, including a speech denouncing the Vietnam War by Martin Luther King, a very heated address on race relations by Stokely Carmichael,and interviews with black soldiers fighting in Vietnam conducted by a Time magazine correspondent.There was also a narrative by writers Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner; an LP of poetry including Amiri Baraka, members of the Last Poets, and Stanley Crouch; and songs featuring Amiri Baraka as a vocalist backed by free jazz musicians.The final two releases were Ossie Davis and Bill Cosby speaking in front of the first Congressional Black Caucus and the aforementioned singer-songwriter LP by renowned Black Panther Elaine Brown. When I realized that Motown boss Gordy had authorized the Black Forum label and allowed the Temptations (among others) to release political songs well before Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, I wondered why the double standard? I thought about Gordy’s reluctance to release Marvin Gaye’s sociopolitical messages. In June 2008, I posed the question to Miller London, a Motown employee for three decades beginning in the’60s.London felt that Gordy was afraid of damaging Marvin’s incredible mass following; he didn’t want to mess with a winning formula. OK, fair enough, but I wondered why Gordy initiated Black Forum in the first place, and who ran it for him? Miller cited the civil rights movement in general as the label’s inspiration and named Ewart Abner as one of the in-house forces behind it. (Abner passed away in 1998.) In his 2002 book Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power, Gerald Posner suggests several factors that may have led to the start of Black Forum.During the late 1960s, black radio disc jockeys around Detroit who had always been supportive of the label began to feel that Gordy was more interested in currying favor with white DJs as Motown’s singles increasingly gained attention outside the African American community with each passing year. This The Revolution Will Be Recorded Black Forum Records: Detroit Rarity of the Revolution Pat Thomas 198 moTown eventually led to a temporary boycott of Motown releases by Detroit-area black DJs. Meanwhile, internationally successful acts like the Supremes were getting asked questions about their stand on the Vietnam War and the black power movement while touring England, and the artists didn’t how to respond. There were letters from African American fans to Motown suggesting that the Supremes should wear their hair natural (Afro-style), which Gordy resisted, worried it could make the popular female trio look too radical for white America.While Gordy himself had remained nonpolitical throughout much of the 1960s, he had released an album of speeches by Martin Luther King titled Free at Last on the Gordy imprint in June 1968. He also supported the NAACP, one of the country’s oldest civil rights organizations, founded in 1909 by W. E. B. DuBois. But times were changing with new, more outspoken blackrights coalitions gaining in popularity, and some young blacks began to criticize Motown for sounding too white. The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, was a wake-up call for Gordy to make accommodations and embrace the black power movement. Sometime after that tragic event, Gordy brought together three employees—Ewart Abner, Junius Griffin, and George Schiffer—to organize the Black Forum label and oversee its output. Before coming to work for Motown in the spring of 1967, Ewart Abner had been one of the partners in the Vee-Jay label...


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