David Bowie passed away late last night and his legacy will live on forever. Everyone, including us here at BET, remembers his incredible talent as a game-changing musician, actor and fashion icon. Perhaps just as important but more overlooked was Bowie’s knack for progressive thinking and calls for equality in music media.
In 1983 he had a what was then groundbreaking and now infamous back-and-forth with MTV media personality Mark Goodman. Bowie questioned why the network wouldn’t feature Black artists even though the demand for the music and videos was there.
“Why are there practically no Blacks on the network?” he asked “There seem to be a lot of Black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.”
Goodman would reply, “We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by… a string of other Black faces, or Black music. We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock and roll station.”
“Don’t you think it’s a frightening predicament to be in?” Bowie said following up.
“Yeah, but no less so here than in radio,” replied Goodman.
“Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them,’” David Bowie said in closing out the discussion. “Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair… to make the media more integrated?”
At the time, MTV's original head of talent and acquisition was Black and questioned why music had to be so narrowly defined. Carolyn B. Baker refused to play Rick James’s “Super Freak” (after he publicly called out the network for excluding him) not because he was African-American, but on the count that she felt it misrepresented Black women.
MTV did play a limited amount of videos by Black musicians including those of Michael Jackson, Prince, Herbie Hancock, Eddy Grant, Musical Youth and Donna Summer, however the network hid behind the pretense that they were a "rock music channel." Later in the decade MTV would also catch heat for not integrating hip hop into their network as it would take until 1988 for them to finally integrate rap videos into their daily rotation.
David Bowie died late Sunday (January 10) at the age of 69 after an 18-month battle with cancer. He had just completed and released his latest album, Blackstar, on his birthday just two days prior.
Watch a clip of David Bowie and Mark Goodman’s exchange below.
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