African Americans have made significant contributions to the art of music in many genres across generations. One musical genre that has roots back to slavery is gospel music. As slaves became Christians, a religion forced upon them, they began singing hymns later termed spirituals. Then with the abolition of slavery, a new form of music began to emerge. Free Blacks found themselves expressing their disappointment in a post-slavery society, birthing the smooth sound of the blues. Fast-forward to the late 1970’s, Hip-Hop was born. This cultural movement encompassed all past and present music expressions like spirituals, the blues, poems, art, stories, and dance, making it the most popular genre in the United States. Now in 2023, learn about the women behind the music, who are making moves to expand our genres’ reach through their work in business, activism, and representation.
Desiree Perez is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the full-service entertainment agency Roc Nation. Based out of New York City, Roc Nation started as a joint venture between Hip-Hop mogul Jay-Z and Live Nation in 2008. Roc Nation is comprised of a comprehensive talent agency, sports agency, record label, management agency, television and film enterprises, fashion clothing line, and educational and philanthropic endeavors. More than half of the agency’s employees are women and minorities.
Perez rose to her leadership roles at Roc Nation after starting her career as a part-time nightclub manager. In that role, that’s when and where she first met and booked Jay-Z, and later helped launch the 40/40 Club in Manhattan. Perez has negotiated major deals for Roc Nation, like the Beyoncé Formation stadium tour and the Rihanna deal with Samsung. She is a part of a collective that runs the entire operation of Roc Nation, along with its sections of management, labeling operations, publishing, and the popular streaming platform, Tidal.
Perez succeeds former CEO and now chairman, Jay Brown, and now oversees development and growth across the Roc Nation portfolio of services and ventures, including new business development, music, management, publishing, touring, television and film development, and philanthropy, like the Shawn Carter Foundation, Team Roc, the REFORM Alliance, and the RC24 Foundation. In 2019, Brown presented Perez with the Billboard Executive of Year Award at the magazine’s annual Women in Music award ceremony. Her contributions to the multi-million-dollar agency have solidified her place in Black history.
On June 2, 2020, Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas took a stand against racism in the music industry and founded the movement #TheShowMustBePaused. In conjunction with Blackout Tuesday, a black square on social media — shared more than 700,000 times — calling out the music industry for its historic profit from Black artists while reinforcing systemic biases, #TheShowMustBePaused was birthed out of frustration after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and many other young Black people. “Pause, process, and heal” have been the key points of the movement’s reflection process when dealing with traumatic experiences involving police brutality and white supremacy.
Agyemang and Thomas hosted three discussion groups on June 2nd and were joined by 1,500 invitees from the Black music community to discuss their thoughts and experiences about racially charged tragedies happening in their community. Meanwhile, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and other companies suspended normal operations to organize workshops for their employees to help deal with the reoccurring incidents, resulting in the death of many Black people. Spotify and Apple Music, as well as numerous radio stations, offered playlists and other programming focused on Black music and artists, in hopes of promoting solidarity and inclusion. And because of their courage, there has been a significant increase in diversity, inclusivity, equity, and representation across all areas of music and entertainment.
The Black Music Coalition (BMC) was founded in the United Kingdom in 2020 by an all-female team, Afryea Henry-Fontaine, Char Grant, together with Komali Scott-Jones, and barrister Sheryl Nwosu, as a response to the movement #TheShowMustBePaused. The BMC is dedicated to eradicating racial injustice and establishing equality for Black music executives, artists, and their communities, by equipping the next generation with knowledge and resources to succeed. This movement was inspired by executives working in the industry and reflecting upon their experiences of both interpersonal and systemic racism in the music industry.
The collective was established to act in the best interests of its network and encourage industry leaders to make meaningful and effective changes. The BMC has maintained the coalitions mission and goals through demonstrations like Blackout Tuesday, important conversations with The Half Cast Podcast, and sharing their stories in the June 2021 issue of Music Week. The coalition and its members give a voice to Black execs and ensure the challenges they face are recognized, heard, and ultimately removed.
Black women have always been historically present in music. Beyond record sales and performances, their presence is still needed behind the scenes to fight for representation and equity in an industry they’ve helped build and maintain. Since its inception, the Black woman’s imprint on the culture has remained relevant in music.