In January 2018, I participated in the second annual Louisville Rock Lottery, where 25 musicians were invited to Headliners Music Hall in the morning to have their names randomly drawn, creating five bands. Then, the newly-formed bands went to different rehearsal spaces across town to write a few original songs in 12 hours for a charity concert that same night. When it was time to perform our new songs, the show was packed, and all the bands were impressive. During our set, where I played keys and sang, I acknowledged the venue as well as the event’s organizer. After this moment of gratitude, I used the platform to make a statement that, in some aspects, overshadowed my entire experience of the day. I peered into the predominately-white crowd, took a deep breath and sarcastically said “… give me a round of applause for being the only brother on this stage tonight.” The audience cheered in agreement, warming my heart, but the fact remained: I was the only African-American musician performing in the concert. The third annual Rock Lottery took place this past weekend and there wasn’t a single African-American musician onstage, which is a microcosm of our city’s unfortunate segregation issue.
Some might think me being the lone black isn’t an issue, considering it was a rock-themed show, or the fact I’m not even a rock musician, so I shouldn’t have been there anyway. But there were plenty of musicians from blues to country to folk and everything in between. When considering the origin of these genres, it makes even less sense that there was a lack of black musicians, since black musicians started every single one of these genres. In fact, Native and African music inspired every genre of American music — period. So why is it that when people think of rock and roll, they think of Led Zeppelin over Chuck Berry, or Pink Floyd over Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or Nirvana over Little Richard? In 2019, shouldn’t we be able to look at a stage of random musicians from the city of Louisville and see more people of color? I’ve been the token black in plenty of situations — community events, festivals, bands, orchestras… the list goes on. I’ve sat back, observed and waited for the perfect opportunity to open the flood gates and drown out the local norm of excluding black musicians.
Louisville Public Media just revamped the 2019 Louisville Music Awards with this mindset. The West Louisville Showcase at Forecastle Festival 2018 was aware of this. Louisville Downtown Partnership entrusted me with organizing four of the five ReSurfaced activations. Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra took the risk of having me perform my original, socially-conscious hip-hop songs with them at their July 4 concert at Waterfront Park in front of over 40,000 people. These organizations have it figured out.
Diversity is inviting me to the event, the concert, the festival. Equity is making sure I have a fair opportunity to attend, whether it be ticket prices, location, travel, etc. Inclusion is booking musicians who look like me, or even booking me, or having me book it. In a guest feature verse on Yons’ song “Forever” I rapped, “I am not the gatekeeper, I tore the gate down.” This is my mantra, but we all need to start adopting the mindset that we can accomplish much more together than apart. And to keep it real, getting rid of the music scene segregation will without a doubt influence the larger segregation issue within our city, the Ninth Street Divide. •
[Ed. note: LEO asked the Rock Lottery’s organizer to comment on this piece, but he declined to do so.]
Jecorey Arthur is a Louisville-based musician who performs under the name 1200. He is also a community activist and Louisville Public Media’s music education manager.
More Rock Lottery Coverage
Read more of LEO’s coverage of the Louisville Rock Lottery 3 here. Writer Julie Gross followed each of the five newly-formed bands last Saturday, reporting about their writing process during the 12 hours they had to come up with three or four original songs, as well as about the showcase that evening.