LOS ANGELES -- About 50 people gathered outside the office of the high-powered William Morris talent agency Thursday morning (Feb. 11) to protest alleged racism in the concert industry on behalf of five African-American promoters.
When the protesters, holding signs reading "This agency does not represent civil rights" and "Stop discrimination," were accused of trespassing by a security guard there, they moved on to the nearby Creative Artists Agency, another major entertainment firm, where they received similar treatment from security.
The protesters tried to deliver letters to both companies. The letters, written by the Black Promoters Association of America, urge the companies to provide black promoters equal rights to produce, present and work on concerts by white performers as well as top-selling black acts. The letters, however, were not accepted by either firm.
Thursday's protest was meant to be the first of a series of demonstrations to draw attention to a $700 million lawsuit filed last November against several leading talent agencies by Leonard Rowe, head of Rowe Entertainment; Bernard Bailey, CEO of B.A.B. Entertainment; Jesse Boseman, president of Sun Song Productions; Fred Jones of Summitt Management; and Lee King of Lee King Productions.
"People don't know the depth of the racism we have to go through,"
Using such artists as pop stars Celine Dion, Elton John, Billy Joel and the Spice Girls as examples, Rowe charged that black promoters are deliberately excluded from promoting top touring acts. "We are laughed at when we try to promote white entertainers," he said.
Rowe charged that although William Morris is one of the largest talent agencies in the world, the company "does not have one black agent. I think that's horrible in America in 1999 -- an insult to all of America," he said.
Jeffrey Schneider, a spokesperson for William Morris, said Thursday afternoon the company had no comment on the demonstration.
After the protest, Leslie Klotz, director of media relations for Creative Artists Agency, read a prepared statement: "It's hard to find merit in a lawsuit alleging that the entire industry is aligned against five small promoters. At CAA, we work with some of the top African-American talent in film, television and music. We also work with all of the top concert promoters in the country. This suit is entirely without merit. We are confident of our position and will defend it vigorously."
There was no comment from CAA about Thursday's demonstration itself.
After speaking to the press, the protesters attempted to personally deliver a letter to the William Morris Agency President Arnold Rifkin, urging him to "exemplify courage in reforming and redeeming our industry." Security, however, turned them away.
As the group waited at the doorway, several of the participants shouted out pleas for justice: "We are not here to put them out of business; we are here to put justice in business," one proclaimed.
"You are all trespassing," a security guard responded.
To that, King announced, "We're leaving, but we will return."
King -- whose Lee King Productions operates as a promoter mainly in the Southeast -- then led the protesters in a series of call-and-response chants. "No justice," he called. "No peace," they responded. "Racism," he called. "Lives here," they responded.
They then walked several blocks to the Creative Artists Agency, where they rallied for nearly an hour. Warning the participants not to impede traffic along the way, rally co-organizer Reverend Joseph E. Lowery reminded them, "We are non-violent. ... We are on a sacred mission for justice and equality."
Several of the protesters who do not work in the concert promotion industry said they came to support the broader cause of civil rights and equal opportunity. Ronald Bullock, a 35-year-old boxer, said he was there to "stand up and send a message that we must have equal opportunity across the board."
King said the protest accomplished "quite a bit," despite receiving no formal recognition from the agencies. "It brought focus to the William Morris Agency and the community," he said.
"We will continue to demonstrate at the CAA and William Morris Agency until they begin to get the message and the racism begins to cease," he added.
The protesters plan to gather again on Friday (Feb. 12) outside the
city's Century Plaza Hotel during SFX Entertainment leader Robert F.X.
Sillerman's keynote address for the Concert Industry Consortium. SFX
is one of the defendants named in the lawsuit.