Nelson George Mixtape

If you had no skin in the game, were not even conceived or simply wish to help yourself……take notes and read more while remembering that what you are about to read IS history.  Thank you, Nelson George.



In the late ‘70s Philadelphia was a tough town to be a righteous black person in. The Mayor, Frank Rizzo, who’d been a reactionary police commissioner in the late ‘60s, ruled with an implicit mandate – keep the city controlled by the same (white) ethnic forces that had run Philadelphia for decades. That meant a heavy handed, often brutal brand of policing. Under Rizzo’s authority the Philadelphia Police Department raided the local Black Panther headquarters in 1970 and had its members strip searched on the sidewalk, in full view of passersby and photographers. A photo of these humiliated activists appeared on the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News. The PPD was notorious for both brutality and planting evidence on black citizens.

In 1979, the Department of Justice, in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, charged Rizzo and other city officials with allowing pervasive police abuse. An investigation found that from 1970 to 1978, the PPD shot and killed 162 people. “The cops were just totally out of control,” remembered Michael Simmons, an organizer with SNCC and a variety of other leftist groups, told Vice in 2015. “They were really beating and shooting African Americans and Puerto Ricans. It’s like what’s going on now, but it was all taking place in one city. Take Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, the guy in Staten Island, and you put all that shit in one city.”

This brutality was met by activism lead by attorney, local NAACP chapter head and city council member Cecil B. Moore. These days he’s immortalized with a Philadelphia street and a subway station named in his honor, but during the ‘70s he was a controversial figure whose instincts ran more towards Malcolm X angry than Martin Luther King moral suasion. One of Moore’s biggest supporters was Georgie Woods, who also happened to be big one of Philadelphia’s most popular air personalities. Known as “the guy with the goods,” Woods worked both WHAT and WDAS, wrote a column for the black weekly, the Philadelphia Tribune, and was the host/promoter of concert’s at the Uptown, the city’s version of the Apollo. Woods’ ubiquity, plus his connection via music to the city’s youth, inspired Moore to recruit him to become, at one point, vice chairman of the local NAACP.

Philadelphia was a city of duality and, unfortunately, not all of them as positive as Woods’ story. Gangsters used membership in Nation of Islam mosque to cover a vast range of criminal activities by a brutal gang who became known as the Black Mafia. Their crimes ranged from street rackets (extortion, heroin trafficking, prostitution) to white collar schemes (defrauding the government via a phony anti-poverty organization.) Brutal violence was one of their calling cards. In 1973 they were involved in the murder of seven Sunni Muslims in D.C., including five children. In another horrifying incident involving the Black Mafia a man was decapitated.



There was civil unrest in Philadelphia on a number of levels when I made my first visit there in June 1978. But there was also magic. Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving was defying gravity on a nightly basis for the NBA’s 76ers at the Spectrum. Musically TSOP (the Sound of Philadelphia) was a dominant force in pop and R&B throughout in the decade, creating anthems (“Love Train,” “For the Love of Money,” “Love is the Message,” “You Are Everything,”) and hit acts (the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, the Three Degrees, the Spinners, the Stylistics.) Producer/writers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff set the stage for disco, while their publishing company partner Thom Bell penned classic ballads.

Gamble had a vision that went far beyond composing popular songs. He truly believed “there’s a message in the music” and had composed scores of socially conscious lyrics for performers like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes and Billy Paul. In 1977 Philly International, which he co-owned with Huff, released an album titled ‘Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto,’ which featured the entire roster of PIR artists singing black self-help songs.

Gamble was a real race man. But he was also a son of the Philadelphia streets who’d seen how black folks, without a plan and discipline, could fall victim to self-destruction. It’s one of the reasons that, on the low, Gamble was studying the Koran and would, eventually, announce himself as a Muslim. Wisely he’d buy up large parcels of land on white flight abandoned South Philly avenues and revive it by building housing, schools, and a mosque. That would be a continuation of the ideas that drove the ‘Let’s Clean Up the Ghetto’ album. Unlike so many creative people who talked about black empowerment, Gamble used his money up to backup his lyrics.


PIR LOGOMy introduction to Philadelphia, Gamble, and the R&B world in all its glory was the inaugural Black Music Association convention held in Philadelphia in June 8 to 11, 1979. I was a college intern/stringer for Billboard magazine, but had been recruited by mentor, Billboard staffer Robert ‘Rocky’ Ford, to be part of a four person team covering the historic gathering.

The BMA was a valiant attempt by to address the many issues bedeviling black music’s health by folks with a vested interest in it. Gamble had been a driving force behind the organization’s founding. In retrospect it’s clear that the BMA was his attempt to clean up the black music biz. Lobbying by Gamble, radio personalities Dyana Williams and Ed Wright, along with others, convinced President Jimmy Carter to declare June Black Music month. On June 7th, the President hosted a celebration of the music on the White House lawn, which covered the gamut of African-American musical expression with jazz giant Billy Eckstine, gospel stars Andrae Crouch and Sarah Jordan Powell, rock & roll pioneer Chuck Berry, and young disco star Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King on the bill. In a statement Carter said of the BMA, “The activities of your organization will bring new appreciation and acclaim for black music in your country and around the world. Your goal to preserve and perpetuate black music and it’s artistry is indeed a worthy one.”

BMA was very much an extension of Gamble’s philosophy in that the organization was intended, not just to celebrate black music’s legacy, but work as a trade group for those who made and promoted the music. But the reality was that the varied black music community had many needs that were very specific and sometimes in conflict. Gamble saw BMA as picking up the mantle of an earlier long-standing black trade organization, NATRA (National Association of Radio & TV Announcers), which had been dominated by DJs.

NATRA organization had come undone in the late ‘60s when the same philosophical tensions that were tearing at the civil rights movement came to black at a convention in Miami. The drive for black ownership of soul labels and radio stations lead to threats of violence against white executives who attended. Black nationalist fractions found themselves at odds with others who wanted a less confrontational approach. The conflict ultimately split NATRA apart. Alas similar tensions would undermine the BMA. At an introductory breakfast Gamble said of the BMA, “We all know what the problems are. These are problems that have existed for years. Let’s get organized, then go out and solve them. We’re not about picketing. We don’t wanna force anybody to do anything. We wanna see how smart we are, see if we can figure out this puzzle.”

As a twenty year old rookie reporter, the BMA gave me crash course on the myriad economic and artistic conflicts in the industry that shaped the musical environment pre-hip hop. Some of the issues have disappeared or been re-shaped by technology. Others have been covered up by cosmetic advancements that mask on going disparities. Perhaps because many of these issues had been boiling under the surface for years the BMA conference was full of passion and anger with much finger pointing and virtually no real solutions offered. Welcome to world of black music circa ’79.

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