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Slaights' Back City To Support Black Music Biz Professionals

Pictured left to right: Slaight Music President Derrick Ross, UMC Creative Executive Director Kardinal Offishall, Phoenix Concert Theatre’s Lisa Zbitnew, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, (behind) Sony Music Talent Acquisitions Manager Craig ‘Big C’ Mannix, Mayor John Tory, Advance Board member and Warner Music Chappell Music GM Vivian Barclay, and UMC CEO and Chair Jeffrey Remedios.

A little over two months after Blackout Tuesday (June 2) forced the music industry around the globe to galvanize and step up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery by the police — the real change that Atlantic Records execs Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas were hoping to encourage after their one-day #TheShowMustBePaused gesture is starting to happen.

“Our mission is to hold accountable the industry at large, including major corporations and their partners, who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people,” it reads in part on the web site. “It is the obligation of these entities to protect and empower the Black communities that have made them disproportionately wealthy in ways that are measurable and transparent.”

In Canada, all three major labels made statements that month about their commitment to significant change, including internal reviews and training on racial bias, and the hiring and advancement of Black employees.

This month, Advance, Canada’s Black Music Business Collective, was launched by Warner Chappell general manager Vivian Barclay, entertainment lawyer Mira Oballa and Sony Music A&R manager Craig Mannix, after they came up with the idea last year, with the aim to help create conditions for long-term success for Black professionals by addressing racial equality and inclusivity in all sectors of the Canadian music business and hold the corporate, private and government sectors accountable.

And now the City of Toronto, where the majority of Canada’s music industry is based, and Slaight Family Foundation have each pledged $1 million — $250,000 a year for the next four years — to support the entry, retention and advancement of Black professionals in Toronto’s music industry.

“One of the mandates of the Slaight Foundation is to support the creative arts in this country and, in doing so, help expand the vital Canadian entertainment industry, whether it be in front of the spotlight or behind boardroom doors,” Gary Slaight, president/CEO, Slaight Communications, said in a statement. “The Advance program will provide support for young Black entrepreneurs in all aspects of the music industry: record labels, management companies, agencies, publicists, artists and producers. The Slaight Foundation is proud to help assist this necessary and beneficial Canadian initiative.”

The City of Toronto said the terms of the seed funding for Advance were being worked out, and that initial funding from the City and the Slaight Family Foundation will go to other organizations in Toronto supporting the development of Black professionals in the music industry.  Which organizations and projects get funding will be determined by an advisory group that includes representatives from Advance, the Slaight Family Foundation and the City of Toronto.

The statement added the involvement of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee "will reflect the priorities outlined by Advance in terms of data and research, internships, and mentoring, among other initiatives."

During a CTV special, Change & Action: Racism In Canada, back on June 13, Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez called out the major labels for their low numbers of Black staff and executives, citing figures that were not too far off the mark. FYI Music News reached out to the label heads for verification and comment.

At the time, Warner’s staff total was 82, seven of whom are Black, including publishing’s Barclay, and Sony, while not providing a specific figure, said the number of employees who are Black is higher than what was stated (90 employees, only eight are Black, said Reyez), Universal, which Reyez said had “175 employees, 11 Black people,” would not specify a number “to protect the privacy of our employees.”  This week Warner announced the hiring of artist Jeffrey “LordQuest” Nuamah to the A&R team.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) is two weeks into a 10-part online panel discussion series called Breaking Down Racial Barriers, which starts every Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST.

The City and Slaight Family Foundation’s $2 million commitment will help support initiatives aligned with Advance’s four pillars of action: research, advocacy and government partnerships; mentorship and education; community outreach; as well as business development and entrepreneurship.

Among the goals, listed in the press release, are seed funding to support the establishment of Advance; research to analyze and assess racial discrepancies in the business sector of the Canadian music industry; a mentorship and internship program, with placements to begin in 2021; a pilot initiative to support Black managerial talent development in cooperation with community training partners; and master classes on music industry career development.

Mayor Tory and Slaight Music president Derrick Ross were joined Aug. 10 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre for the announcement by Advance’s Barclay and Mannix; Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Ward 21 Scarborough Centre), chair of the Economic Development and Culture committee and member of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee; Jeffrey Remedios, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Canada; Lisa Zbitnew, co-owner of the Phoenix Concert Theatre; and artist/Universal Music Canada’s creative executive director Kardinal Offishall.

“I am proud that our City will be partnering with the Slaight Family Foundation to provide critical funding to help support the advancement of Black professionals within our thriving music industry,” says Mayor Tory in a statement.

“This announcement represents significant and tangible steps towards real change that will help address an ongoing gap within our city’s music industry. I want to thank Slaight Family Foundation, Advance and Universal for partnering with us and for helping us provide opportunities for Black professionals in our city. The time to invest and create change is now as we work towards confronting and eradicating anti-Black racism within our city.”

This new partnership will be reviewed in 2022 to track results and efforts made through this funding commitment and aligns with the City’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Action Plan and the Toronto Music Strategy.

Additional statements:

“Advance is committed to leading the change for real, tangible reform in the music business landscape and infrastructure in corporate, private and government sectors. We look forward to partnering with Slaight Music and the City of Toronto to create pathways for learning, and opportunities for change and development for current and future Black talent and professionals in Canada.” – Vivian Barclay, music publishing exec and Board member of Advance

“The advancement of Black professionals in Canada’s music sector is an essential and long-overdue priority. Universal Music Canada is proud to serve as an industry partner of this initiative. We look forward to working alongside Advance and welcome others from across the Canadian music and corporate communities to join in supporting this important effort.” – Jeffrey Remedios, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Canada

“Toronto’s rich history of Black music has enriched our city’s culture and helped create one of the world’s best music scenes. Thanks to musicians such as Drake and the Weeknd, Toronto’s global identity is inseparably linked with hip hop and R&B. Today’s announcement will help encourage and sustain the next wave of Black talent and leadership.” – Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Ward 21 Scarborough Centre), Chair of the Economic Development and Culture committee and member of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee

“This partnership supports the Toronto Music Strategy and it is another step towards correcting the music industry’s historic under-investment in the development of Black talent, especially in senior leadership roles. I and the members of TMAC look forward to working with Advance to make these critical changes.” – Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York), chair of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee

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