In celebration of June being Black Music Month, The Next Twenty, the California African American Museum (CAAM), the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP, the California Legislative Black Caucus, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO (AFTRA), recently presented at CAAM Shaping The Sound Of Television: The Black Music Directors, a panel discussion moderated by Grammy Award-winning R&B and jazz vocalist, composer, musical director and pianist Patrice Rushen.
The panel included six extraordinary talents who hold significant roles as music directors across the broad spectrum of broadcast and cable television: Michael Bearden (“Lopez Tonight”), Ray Chew (“American Idol”), Rickey Minor (“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”), Greg Phillinganes (“ Grammy Awards”) Harold Wheeler (“Dancing with the Stars”), and James “Big Jim” Wright (“The Mo’Nique Show”).
The discussion illuminated their amazing journeys and explored the role of music directors as orchestrators of high-rated TV programs.
“Dr. Patrice Rushen, historically significant in her own right, captured music history with the leading music directors in television,” said program visionary Jeanie Weems, Owner of The Next Twenty. “This one-of-akind event captured the essence of my vision and took it well beyond my imagination.”
“These very visible musical directors are important to our community, because they give our children motivation and inspiration that they, too, can succeed in these creative fields,” said State Senator Curren D. Price, Jr. (D-Los Angeles). As CLBC Chair and Chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts, Senator Price is a champion of arts education and authored successful legislation last year that now allows taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to the California Arts Council on their state personal income tax returns.
“African Americans have gradually disappeared from leading prime time acting and news broadcasting roles on television, but in this context our contributions continue to be quite significant,” said California African American Museum (CAAM) Executive Director Charmaine Jefferson.
“ Tonight’s program not only brought to life CAAM’s mission to preserve and promote the art, history and culture of African Americans, but it allowed more than 400 attendees, including budding high school musicians, to come together to be a part of history, gain insight into the television music industry and enthusiastically celebrate the current contributions of seven fabulously talented music artists of African descent. It was a great night!”
AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth said: “This celebration of Black Music Month showcased the talent and creative diversity of these African American music directors, whose influences on incredible AFTRA-covered television programs are undeniable. We are proud to have partnered with the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP, CAAM, the California Legislative Black Caucus and Jeanie Weems in this historic event, that celebrated and highlighted these amazing artists and their contributions to the television industry, and whose well deserved recognition is long overdue.”
“This was a true collaboration that was able to bring these extraordinary musical legends together in this historic event,” said Willis Edwards of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP. “Thanks to the creativity of Jeanie Weems, Owner of The Next Twenty, the joint efforts of AFTRA and the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP, the organization and beautiful environment provided by CAAM, and the support of the California Legislative Black Caucus, we were able to create a truly memorable event. The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP was proud to participate in an event that brought to the forefront an important segment of the entertainment industry, the multitalents of a select group of exceptional African American musicians who were raised in their local communities, developed themselves through music direction, and have risen to the heights where they now serve as role models for the next generation of musicians.”
An accomplished musical director, keyboardist, arranger and composer, Michael Bearden has worked with music greats such as Madonna, Sting, Carlos Santana, Nancy Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Rod Stewart, to name a few. He’s written for notable jazz artists Rachelle Ferrell, Herbie Mann, Everette Harp and Will Downing, in addition to composing and arranging for several feature film scores and documentaries.
Bearden also served as music director for Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour, and co-producer and music director on the documentary-style film of the same name.
Emmy Award-nominated music producer and composer, Rickey Minor has built a resume of well-known projects and artist collaborations, including Christina Aguilera, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Beyonce, Quincy Jones and Jamie Foxx. He’s served as music director for the “Super Bowl,” “The Grammy Awards,” and six seasons of “American Idol.” He’s a three-time Emmy nominee for outstanding music direction, most recently drawing recognition for the “51st Annual Grammy Awards” show and “Genius: A Night For Ray Charles,” the television special that brought together such diverse figures as Elton John, Kenney Chesney and Norah Jones.
Orchestrator, composer, conductor, arranger and record producer, Harold Wheeler’s body of work includes four decades of composing and arranging musicals such as A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Coco and Scandal; Melvin Van Peeble’s Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death and Don’t Play Us Cheap. Wheeler’s been nominated for six Tony Awards for his work on musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hairspray, The Full Monty, Swing!, Little Me and The Life. He’s secured several motion pictures credits, composed jingles for major corporate brands, and served as arranger and/or music director for special events. Wheeler was also music conductor for the 76th and 79th Academy Awards productions, only the second African American to serve in that role.
Grammy -winning composer, lyricist, music producer, and singer, James “Big Jim” Wright is the Musical Director of the “Mo’Nique Show” and the “Penthouse Playas.” Has worked intimately as a songwriter and producer with many musical greats, including Janet Jackson, Elton John, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Anthony Hamilton, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight. Wright has won several awards, including a Grammy for Best Gospel Song for Yolanda Adams’ “Be Blessed” and as Producer – Best R&B Album for Chaka Khan’s 2007 album “Funk This.” He is also known as one of the lead singers of the original group Sounds of Blackness. Greg Phillinganes has amassed a long list of credits as a musician, musical conductor and producer.
As the 2011 Grammy Awards Music Director, he served in the same role in 2008. Just recently he was the Music Director for “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular.” Having also served as Musical Director for Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours, Phillinganes has been recruited to serve as Musical Director for Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” Las Vegas stage show. He has worked with artists from every musical genre from Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Lionel Richie to Eric Clapton, Anita Baker, and Paulinho Da Costa.
Veteran composer and bandleader Ray Chew is the music director for Fox’s “American Idol.” He has served as musical director for various television series programs including NBC’s “It’s Showtime At The Apollo,” “Showtime at Apollo,” “The Singing Bee,” and “Sunday Best” on BET. Chew’s recording career spans from legendary artists such as Diana Ross and Donny Hathaway through Alicia Key’s three Grammy award-winning albums and many more.