Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Broadway Veteran Fearlessly Confronts Music Industry Exploiters.

( Let’s begin by introducing Chapman Roberts. In a biographical sketch distributed in a Carnegie Hall celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy, he is described as a “Singer-actor–composer-vocal/choral arranger-conductor-musical supervisor-concert producer.”

He is also a four-time Grammy Award recipient who has been successful in show business for over 50 years. During that time, his vocal arrangements have been acclaimed in hit Broadway and West End shows that have been estimated recipients of at least 50 Tony and Olivier award nominations. Productions arranged by Chapman Roberts have been nominated for or won every single musical theatre award available worldwide. Chapman Roberts shows include “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” “Blues in the Night,” “Eubie,” “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.” Roberts is currently involved in a major confrontation with “big boys” in the music business who have, for decades, financially exploited the talent of Black artists such as himself and their families. Roberts states, “The history of Black musicians is that far too often they died broke.”

Their plight is usually assumed to be the result of bad living habits and lack of business acumen. That’s not always the case. Singer/composer Johnnie Taylor’s heirs have been fighting the world’s largest music publishing company, Sony/ATV, for 21 years. Years of such caustic legal wrangling is a favorite delaying tactic of billion-dollar corporations whose pockets are much deeper than those of their beleaguered victims whom they have deprived and drained of their resources and inheritances.

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My case is the most recent and yet to be revealed as Broadway’s largest copyright infringement and premeditated fraud case. I hope that my citing certain cases as a frame for my current situation will also serve to spotlight the systemic pattern of generational wealth and intellectual property theft from some of the world’s most prominent Black artists and their families at the deft hands of music and theatre industry producers and publishers.

We are reminded of the phenomenon of cultural appropriation in deliberately unexposed copyright and royalty infringements cases ranging from the iconic Bert Williams (1898), Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Billy Strayhorn, Bill Withers, Tracy Chapman, The Isley Brothers, Little Richard, Michael Jackson, J. C. Johnson and Duke Ellington to the more recently infamous multimillion-dollar cases of Marvin Gaye, Martha and The Vandellas, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Prince and numerous other R&B artists such as Ruth Brown, Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy.

Denying Black musicians their royalties has a history emerging out of slavery. BMG’s review found four of its acquisitions paid Black artists below the level of non-Black acts on those respective labels.

So just who are these fearsome “Big Boys” involved in this current heretofore obscured “David and Goliath” confrontation? Among the well armed gangs of super powerful corporate exploiters seeking to crush Chapman Roberts are:

– The American Multinational Technology company self referred to as “one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world” and is one of world’s most valuable brands.
– The independent world leader in the development acquisition and management of recorded music.
– The largest publishing and licensing agent of Broadway theatrical and movie music in the world.
– The world’s number-one multibillion-dollar music publishing company, namely: (Broadway Royalty) Rodgers & Hammerstein Holding., Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, Concord Theatrical Corp., Mike Stoller, the estate of Jerome Leiber a/k/a the Jerome L. Leiber 1997 Family Trust, Leiber & Stoller Productions, Inc., Broadway Asia, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing, HBO, and “The Colossal,” Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.

According to Chapman Roberts, “Collectively, these crooks have knowingly, willfully, repeatedly, and deliberately deprived me of rightful compensation of substantial royalties owed and name credit for contributions to hundreds of unauthorized theatrical productions and tens of thousands of video, film, television, and internet streaming usages worldwide for well over two decades.”

Chapman Roberts is filing these egregious breach of contract actions seeking compensatory relief from the myriad damages foisted upon him in order to expose the Broadway and music industry’s pattern of flagrantly unlawful acts against him and others who have been maliciously robbed, cheated of inherited wealth, stripped of their family’s identity as valuable artistic contributors to cultural society and maligned as frauds, troublemakers, and mere attention seeking money grubbers because they dare to defy the odds and risk the unrelentingly standard harsh reprisals against them and their heirs for seeking full and undiscounted recompense from what Roberts calls “nothing less than a legally protected cabal of thieving, unjustly enriched, parasitic, privileged, talentless, inherently entitled, socially and politically shielded, artistically depraved, musically illiterate, cunning, custom-suited gangsters thinly disguised as managers, agents, promoters, producers and publishers as though they are some variety of culturally relevant endangered species.”

In a most recent stunning development a collective appeal by the pompously confident music moguls to have Roberts’ precedent setting case against them dismissed was soundly denied by the New York state Supreme Court. As a result, ferocious culpability infighting has broken out among the offending defendants themselves and certain highly successful Broadway producers who initially participated in and handsomely benefitted from a multitude of larcenous infringements with arrogant impunity are suddenly skirmishing to alert their legal teams to gird up their strategies in preparation for the ravages of the inevitable embarrassing subpoenas, mob style betrayals, finger pointing and litigious back stabbings as cleverly arranged, orchestrated and hereby publicized by the highly gifted Chapman Roberts.

You see, what the “big boys” failed to realize when they went after Chapman Roberts is that he is much more aware of what goes on under the tables and backstages of the Broadway and music industries than their usual targets. He is a highly experienced and resilient Black artist with a superbly cutting-edge blend of talent, intelligence, keen vision, self-confidence, persistence, savvy and boldness.

This is very evident in every show he has been involved with, including the historic Black Stars of the Great White Way, which he directed, conducted, arranged and co-produced with Norm Lewis. Co-hosts of the inspiring, educational, exciting and entertaining celebration at Carnegie Hall were Cicely Tyson, Phylicia Rashad, Chita Rivera and Ben Vereen.

Another Black cultural giant, the late Ernie McClintock, said, “Serious Black artists have the goal of stimulating an awareness of the Black experience and to express it through theatre which illuminates that experience.” Maestro Chapman Roberts is a master at doing just that.

Columnist; A. Peter Bailey

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