Aaron J. Thornton / Getty Images – Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre
Singer Maxwell performs on stage during the Mix92.3 Summer Breeze at The Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre on July 27, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.
The Black Promoters Collective is a relatively new group of Black concert industry professionals who saw the need to unite in the face of the industry shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but is finding itself in a moment as events grew to include the Black Lives Matter movement and increased societal attention on systemic racism.
Membership isn’t restricted to concert promoters and includes venue operators, festival directors and other business owners facing many of the same challenges not only of a viral pandemic but of a segregated industry wrestling with its own history.
Pollstar spoke with some of the BPC’s founders including Lionel Bea, owner of Bay Area Productions in Oakland, Calif.; Shahida Mausi, owner of The Right Productions and manager/operator of Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in Detroit; Shelby Joyner, owner of SJ Presents; and Gary Guidry, CEO of G-Squared Events. All are seasoned entertainment industry veterans and represent a wide swath of the concert industry, as do the dozen or so other BPC members to date.
POLLSTAR: Please take a moment to tell us about your businesses.
Shahida Mausi: My company is a family operation; I own it. We manage and operate the 6,000-seat Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in Detroit. We’ve been doing that for the past 17 years. The company is a summer operation, primarily. A lot of major names play this downtown venue on the river. The company itself is 24 years old and, to my knowledge, we’re the only company in the United States that operates and manages a venue of this size that is Black-owned.
Shelby Joyner: I’ve been a concert promoter for 16 of my 44 years. I live in Pennsylvania but I do most of my events in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut corridor. I own a few properties; I have the Good Music Festival that I’ve been doing at Barclay Center in New York for the last three years, which averages 25,000 patrons over the weekend. I’m the exclusive partner of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. I manage a venue in New York City called Paradise, in the Bronx. I produce 20-50 events a year.
Lionel Bea: I’ve owned Bay Area Productions in Oakland, Calif., for 36 years now. We officially have three companies: BAP Festivals, BAP Events and BAP Entertainment. They all do similar things but my festival company produces special events. I’ve promoted the likes of Jamie Foxx and Chris Rock, music acts including everyone from Stevie Wonder to BB King to Beyoncé, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Charlie Wilson, Frankie Beverly, the usual suspects (laughs). I own three annual events, two that I co-promote with Live Nation, here in the San Francisco market and in Concord, Calif., and we own the Oakland Jazz Festival.
Gary Guidry: I have been in the touring business for about 20 years. I transitioned from more of the stage play/theatrical realm about 10 years ago. I started touring artists like Frankie Beverly and Charlie Wilson to Lil Wayne and, last year, the “Millenium” tour that was hugely successful, nearly $26 million at the box office and about 340,000 tickets. I worked on festivals including the Spring Jams and have a few annual events including joint ventures with iHeartRadio, Entercom and others. I do 40-50 concerts minimum per year.
Monica Morgan / Getty Images – Shahida Mausi
Shahida Mausi (far right), CEO of The Right Productions and manager/operator of Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in Detroit, joins Renee Lawless, Kathy Taylor, Kurt Carr, Regina Belle, Jenifer Lewis and Angie Stone backstage during the Aretha Franklin Tribute Concert at the former Chene Park Theatre Aug. 30, 2018.
How are you all holding up during the shutdown?
Mausi: We normally do about 40-50 events in the summer, in about a 90-day period, for about 150,000 attendance. Now, we’re in a world where I’m functioning at 1.4 percent of my capacity. We’re not doing drive-ins at this point, but we are doing DJ sets with local and national DJs, and a capacity of 100 people.
Guidry: The current status of where we are is we all have shows that are postponed or moved to next year with the potential to be moved again. I had 30 events, most of them being arena concerts, so I have to move 30 arena concerts to next year and for an independent promoter, that’s a big task.
We’ve heard from many that the pause has given them time to deeply think about issues of race, diversity and inclusion. How do you respond to that?
Mausi: This whole year is providing an opportunity for substantive reflection in the business corridor and hopefully also provides us with some time to build relationships that maybe we always wanted to but never found the time to do. We have a chance to reflect upon the opportunities afforded to African Americans and other persons of color in this industry.
What challenges do you continue to face as Black entrepreneurs in the music business?
Bea: We promoted all of these artists in the beginning, whether it was Beyoncé, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Mary J. Blige, DeAngelo, Lauren Hill, Eryka Badu; I can go on. On the urban side, when they get to a certain level, the rock ’n’ roll promoters take notice. We are the local credit union and they’re like Bank of America. When people think, “I need to be with a bigger bank,” it doesn’t necessarily give them better service or whatever. Maybe you’ll get a larger advance, but at the end of the day we sell more tickets because we know how to market them. I’ve done tours and done very well in the top 50 markets around the country.
Guidry: We have the ability to promote Rihanna, Beyoncé, Drake. We have the capability to promote a lot of these artists, who were promoted by us earlier in their careers. Once they reach a certain level, we are often given a piece of one market here and there. And when I say a piece, it’s probably a market where maybe one of the promoters might get 10-15 percent of an advertising budget toward that date, and that’s considered “cutting us in.” These are the same people who, when these artists earlier in their careers had a hot single climbing the charts, and they weren’t getting the calls from the Live Nations or the AEGs of the world, they were relying on this network to tour. There’s a gap.
Arun Nevader / Getty Images – Gary Guidry
Director Je’Caryous Johnson and G-Squared Events CEO Gary Guidry appear at the Vivica A. Fox & Brian McKnight Performance of “Cheaper To Keep Her” At The Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
What does the rest of the industry need to know about your businesses, and the Black Promoters Collective?
Guidry: We have the money, we have the experience, we have the relationships and we often have a more connected relationship to the market whether it’s to the radio stations, the culture, the street teams that still have those barbershop, grassroots connections and your main corporate giants often don’t have those connections. They’re often not as connected as that urban promoter who survives thanks to those relationships. The group of promoters that we represent all know each other and can attest to the quality of the shows and we all pay our bill no matter what, win and lose, and artist riders are met.
Joyner: It’s very important for us to get a message out to the artists and entertainers because I see a lot of times they are disconnected from the community. They want to do well and they want to do the right thing by the culture. They don’t know the right people to call. A lot of the big companies say they want to support Black Lives Matter and they want to invest in the culture and the community. The best way to invest in the culture is to invest in groups like ours. There is a group here that knows what they’re doing: intelligent, God-fearing people who want to do the right thing by the culture and have the ability to do the right thing for the culture.
Mausi: From the perspective of a venue, I am managing one of the most beautiful venues in this country. It is a place that is appropriate for all kinds of magnificent entertainment. I have been told that I can’t buy white acts. In servicing Detroit, which is a predominantly Black community, I do not work in a strictly “Black” world; I work in a big, beautiful world and I should be able to buy whatever talent I choose to buy and can afford to buy in the world to service the entire Detroit metropolitan area. I grew up in Canada. My upbringing was definitely multicultural in the entertainment industry. And I would like to be able to present that culture as well, because it’s part of my American life, too.