I was surprised when Radio One's Cathy Hughes added my name to the list of African American artists and civil rights activists she's attacked in her vicious campaign against fairly compensating musicians for their work. Then again, since smearing African American leaders to protect her profits has become Ms. Hughes siren song, maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all.
Every time we buy a CD or download a song, the artist is paid for their work. You might not know that this isn't the case when a musician's work is played on the radio. That's because corporate radio CEOs like Cathy Hughes are exploiting a legal loophole that allows them to play these artists songs without paying them for their work.
Ms. Hughes is now very angry with me, other black recording artists, and civil rights leaders because we support the Performance Rights Act, which many now call the Civil Rights for Musicians Act. This bill, which was written by the Dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman John Conyers, closes the legal loophole the radio corporations and CEOs are using to ensure that African American artists receive fair pay for airplay.
In defending her refusal to fairly compensate the artists on whose back she earns her living, Ms. Hughes now claims poverty, which is pretty amazing considering Radio One owns 54 radio stations and reaped $316 million last year alone. She even paid her own son, Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins, a $10 million bonus. Far from a struggling company, Radio One sounds more like one of those Wall Street rip off firms where executives pay themselves big bonuses while they rip us off and throw their workers in the street.
If their profits and the bonuses Ms. Hughes has paid her son are any indicator, Radio One is hardly struggling. But there are small stations, especially gospel stations, in our communities that we love and that deserve our help. That's why the Civil Rights for Musicians Act protects these truly small radio stations while insisting even a big corporate radio firm like Radio One would only pay roughly what they earn off of about five commercials each day.
You can begin to understand Ms. Hughes' willingness to rip off black artists when you take a look at who she attacks and the kind of company she keeps. During the last presidential campaign she repeatedly attacked Barack Obama, calling him "a dazzling deception" and implied that we supported him because black people are easily fooled. She has even supported the current chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, who said he would attract more African Americans to his party by offering "fried chicken and potato salad." This is hardly a woman who is looking out for what's best for the African American community.
The struggling musicians who need the Civil Rights for Musicians Act don't want a handout from Cathy Hughes or Clear Channel or the National Association of Broadcasters, which is the mouthpiece of big -- largely white -- corporate radio. They just want to be paid for their work. This legislation would make sure that these artists are directly compensated, not the recording executives who may have stolen from them much as Ms. Hughes and Radio One steals from them now.
I am proud of my support for the Civil Rights for Musicians Act, even if it means suffering though the tirades of Ms. Hughes. I hope she understands that the struggle to pass the Civil Rights for Musicians Act isn't about us any more than Rosa Parks bravery was about getting a better seat on the bus.
Better women than Ms. Hughes have spent a lifetime toiling to ensure equal rights and economic opportunity for black Americans. There is nothing "stupid" about insisting that African American workers are paid for their labor. The Civil Rights for Musicians Act is about economic justice for African American artists. It's about what's right. And it's about time.
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