From Curtis Mayfield To Chaka Khan Rhino Records Celebrates Black History Month

Rhino Records – the catalogue development and marketing division of Warner Music Group – is celebrating Black History Month throughout February by reissuing classic albums on limited edition colored vinyl every Friday, along with treating fans to the digital debut of albums and deluxe editions from artists including Nina Simone, Adina Howard and Tevin Campbell.

“The goal was to create a cross section of releases from the Warner vault that would be appealing to people who wanted a special edition of the colored vinyl from our superstars like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan and would give access to certain releases that may have been languishing in the vault for a while, like Jimmy & Vella, which had never been available digitally before,” Alicia Yaffe, Senior Vice President of catalog development and marketing at Warner Music Group, told Pollstar.
“Tevin Campbell, his album had been available for download but it wasn’t available for streaming because there were some rights issues that we needed to get cleared up. And we’ve got Adina Howard’s Welcome to Fantasy Island, which was originally slated to come out in 1997 and never came out.”
The series of vinyl reissues began on Feb. 5 with George Benson’s Breezin’ (blue/beige vinyl) and Donny Hathaway’s A Donny Hathaway Collection (a 2 LP purple vinyl), followed by two selections by Curtis Mayfield: Roots (orange vinyl) and There’s No Place Like America Today (North America only – blue vinyl) on Feb. 12. Sheila E’s … The Glamorous Life (teal vinyl) is out on Feb. 19. Feb. 26 reissues include Ray Charles’ The Best Of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years (2 LP blue vinyl), Chaka Khan’s Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan, Vol. 1 (burgundy vinyl), Lil’ Kim’s The Notorious K.I.M. (2 LP pink/black vinyl) and Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted, and Black (1 LP burnt orange vinyl).
“Lil’ Kim is obviously a huge star today still. But people forget how groundbreaking her lyrics were in the early ’90s when Notorious K.I.M. was released. To hear a female rapper in a world dominated by men just come out swinging the way that she did, sort of laid the groundwork for songs that are coming out today,” Yaffe says.
“Donny Hathaway has been out on vinyl, but not in a while. … I think there is sort of a reawakening to his particular style that this is the right time to remind people how incredible he was and how influential he was to the John Legends of today or the Maxwells. With Curtis Mayfield, he’s a perennial favorite and his music is so, so relevant right now. ‘We Got To Have Peace’ and some of the other songs on There’s No Place Like America Today, these songs were written in the early ’70s and are lyrically still so relevant talking about the way that people of color are treated in this country. … And Chaka is still such a badass and such a force of nature. It felt worthy to include Epiphany in this collection and remind people of that.” 
The pandemic has inspired many people stuck at home to turn their attention to hobbies, including collecting vinyl. Vinyl sales topped CD sales in the United States for the first time since the 1980s, with vinyl bringing in $232.1 million of music sales for the first half of 2020 compared to $129.9 million for CDS, according to a report from the Recording Industry Association of America. Vinyl sales were up 4% while CD revenue was down 48% during that period.  

A selection of reinterpreted cover art inspired by Rhino’s Black History Month vinyl reissues
“Vinyl keeps growing. So, it’s just a matter of picking the albums that we think especially newer vinyl buyers may be looking for and making these songs available in the best fidelity possible. The colored variants – that’s really for the collectors. They want opportunities to repurchase, that’s not just something that they have already,” Yaffe says.

As part of the Black History Month celebration Rhino worked with about 30 Black-owned, independent record stores and up-and-coming artists of color to reinterpret the covers of the vinyl records that were reissued.

“We created prints that those stores exclusively have to give away as gifts with purchase and we’ve been featuring the artists and the stores on our social channels,” Yaffe says. “And some of those artists we’ve been posting on TikTok about their creations and about the stories. We’ve been having conversations between store owners and some of the descendants of the artists featured in our campaign. We’ve been supporting them with social boosts and generally just making sure that they are given the same preferred treatment as some of our more well-known retailers.”