The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Why We Should Be Like The Blues Brothers …

Yes, this post really is about the movie The Blues Brothers.

The one where paroled convict Jake — and his blood brother Elwood – set out on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised, from foreclosure.

Where to achieve their goal, they not only have to reunite their R&B band and organise a concert so they can try to earn the $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s tax bill … but also have to navigate around a homicidal mystery woman, a bunch of Neo-Nazis, an entire police department hellbent on stopping them and a Country & Western band.

And yes, I am really saying we should be like them.

However this is not because I am advocating violence against authority [ahem], or even a return to the true definition of rhythm and blues [versus the sanitised version being flogged by record companies left, right and centre] but because of how Dan Aykroyd – the writer and actor of the movie – ensured the creative value of the artists appearing in the film was rewarded rather than exploited.

Music has a long history of exploiting artists.

Where their talent is used to fund the lifestyles of everyone other than themselves.

It’s been going on for decades and affected everyone – including those who got to ‘the top’ like The Beatles and Elvis Presley [there’s also a great book on how badly Bros got ripped off, which is worth checking out] … however no group of musicians has been as badly affected as black artists.

From not being paid to not being played … black artists has consistently been exploited and abused by white music industry leaders, from record companies to MTV.

To give you an idea of it, here’s a clip of David Bowie challenging MTV about their lack of black artists on the channel …

Bowie, as usual, was right.

Recently I watched a documentary where legendary musician, Herbie Hancock, talked about his iconic Rockit video and how they purposefully created something that didn’t really show his face to ensure MTV would play it in heavy rotation.


And while you may think the music business is now dominated with black artists, the reality is they are still getting screwed by organisations who want to profit from their talent.

Which leads me back to the Blues Brothers.

You see this movie was dominated by African American musicians – and while many studios would try and underpay them by saying the worldwide exposure they’d gain is commercially valuable to them, Dan Aykroyd did something else.

That’s right, he let them keep their publishing rights.

Which means every time a song or the movie was played, the artists behind the music would get paid.

Not the studio.

Not the writer.

Not the networks.

But the artists.

What’s sick is that 40 years later, this act by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is still rare.

Since then, we have consistently seen people of colour have their creativity exploited and profited from by others.

Whether that is through acts of cultural appropriation to corporate intimidation to down right theft.

Frankly, nothing highlights this more than the plight of Dapper Dan and his store in Harlem during the 80’s and 90’s. Here was an individual who created fashion that changed and impacted culture on an almost unprecedented scale … and yet he faced a constant barrage of abuse, exploitation and theft from organisations who appreciated his talent but just didn’t want to pay for it or acknowledge it.

Given black culture is the driving force of almost all youth culture around the World, it is disgusting how little of the money it helps generate ends up in the pockets of the black community … which is why I suggest another way companies can demonstrate their diversity and inclusion ambitions is to follow the approach of the Blues Brothers.








20 Comments so far
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This is a brilliant post Robert. I didn’t know the backstory of the Blues Brothers and I had not seen the video of Bowie. The key takeout for me is how they both pushed for equal rights for the artists they were working with. I love how Bowie doesn’t give the MTV guy an inch. Just keeps pushing him into the corner. Arguably Aykroyd and Belushi went further by ensuring the artists were given their financial rights when I assume they could have kept it for themselves.

It is frightening how recent this is. But then it is frightening how little things seem to have evolved given we are in 2020.

Comment by George

Bowie is excellent, given MTV was becoming the dominant force in making/breaking artists at that time. Still would have loved him to have followed through on his comments with some implications to MTV in terms of giving access to black artists … but maybe he did and it’s just not documented.

But the Blues Brothers act is great. Ensuring financial independence and security is always a big thing – something most People of colour have taken away from them by a system designed to undermine them rather than help them thrive.

But what’s scary is how even people who think they are liberal contribute to this system.

Yesterday I posted a photo of the Wells Fargo CEO – the whitest looking man on the planet – saying that the reason he can’t hire People of Colour is because there’s not many of them. Apart from that being bollocks, even if it was true – the questions are [1] what are you going to do about it and [2] maybe it’s because POC feel they never have a chance working for that organisation so don’t even bother trying.

But that’s not even the point of this comment …

Someone I vaguely know – who describes himself as a liberal – then slagged me off for calling the CEO out. Said he found it hard to hire POC as there just aren’t enough out there. That it’s the systems fault and we need to fix it.

And while I agree about the system, to just act like you can just keep the prejudice going because hey, it’s not your fault absolutely pissed me off … so I called him on it.

Cue: a day of him calling me names, calling me stupid, saying I’m naive. Basically a perfect example of white male fragility. And this from someone liberal.

The system is broken but what’s worse is it’s convinced people who I believe aren’t bad people to act in bad ways and still think they’re not to blame.

Comment by Rob

Nothing makes someone think they’re doing the right thing like being told they’re not.

Comment by Bazza

you know some fucking dickheads. and dont even think of trying to turn that around on me. prick.

Comment by andy@cynic

I hear you on Bowie, but it is well documented how much he did to ensure black artists were elevated and rewarded.

Comment by George

Thank you for this Robert. It is a very good post.

Comment by Mary Bryant

Fascinating read Rob. That the wealth disparity between white and PoC is so extreme highlights the systemic prejudice of the infrastructure we all work within.

That companies reinforce this with their hiring and salary protocol just makes it more insulting.

Comment by Pete

I miss Bowie.

Comment by Billy Whizz

That’s the second thing I agree with you this week. This is frightening.

Comment by Bazza


Comment by Billy Whizz

if he crawls, hes smaller than a fucking ant.

Comment by andy@cynic

I am going to listen to the Blues Brothers soundtrack now I know the royalties go to the artists not the directors.

Good post Rob.

Comment by Bazza

I’m imagine the Wells Fargo CEO could find some people to hire if he’d done recruitment at Howard, Spelman, Morehouse and other HBCUs. That’s a greater talent pool than the 8% proportion that African Americans comprise at Ivy League institutions where I’m sure he recruits.

His mindset ijust contributes to the situation highlighted in Grayson Perry’s show where some successful African Americans in Atlanta suggested they found business life easier and viable when they didn’t have to deal with white folk.

Comment by John

As I said recently, talented POC are everywhere, you just have to want them to be part of the team, let them be part of the team and set them up to prosper in the team – without asking them to change who they are.

I get some industries may not have the same abundance of PoC talent as the creative industry. I absolutely agree that is the issue with the current construction of the system … but what I am angry about is when people negate to do anything to change it, preferring to hide behind blame culture rather than recognise their own complicity in maintaining it.

Comment by Rob

Absolutely. And while I see he’s rowing back on his comment, that just smells like damage limitation. Yet again they’re worried about how things look from the outside when what they need is some introspection.

Comment by john

whats it say about governments and companies when a drug binging alcoholic shows more fucking compassion to other people than any of their so called fucking systems and promises.

Comment by andy@cynic

It says exactly who they really are.

Comment by DH

Love the story of the BB but Bowie is like a tiger playing with his food. Doesn’t eat them, but maims them.

Comment by DH

Especially the smile at the end. The “I’m destroying you and you don’t even realize it.”

Comment by Pete

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