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Dennis Muirhead Response to Keith Harris’ Open Letter

12 June 2020

This Open Letter from Keith Harris OBE appeared in Music Week on 1 June 2020:

‘Make sure this is not another false dawn’

I was the founding chair of the Music Managers Forum (MMF) in 1992. Keith Harris succeeded me a few years later as the first and only black chair so far. He is held in high esteem by the members of the MMF that is established worldwide. Keith has a deep knowledge of the music industry and guides us with his wisdom.

I was brought up during the shameful period of White Australia that didn’t come to an end until around 1975, which is shocking. We tried but thankfully failed to breed indigenous people out of our society. I spent school holidays on a cattle station in Australia’s Northern Territory sitting and eating with aboriginal workers whose land we occupy. Their land for at least 50,000 years. But 434 indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991 when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody reported. Then indigenous incarcertion was 14 per cent of the population. Now it is 27 percent. Their struggle continues as many still die in custody every year.  Why haven’t all the Royal Commission’s 339 recommendations been fully implemented and acted upon by government?

My music during the 1950’s was by black musicians such Fats Domino, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Big Mama Thornton and  of course Sam Phillips at the legendary SUN Studio and the musicians they inspired. My music of the 1960’s was jazz and the blues of Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins. These are still the periods and genres of music I love the most. 

But not many Australian indigenous musicians have broken through in the United Kingdom. Most of us know of Paul Kelly, Yothu Yindi and more recently the wonderful Dr G Yunupingu Gurrumul who died in 2017. There are many more to recognize.

We must act upon Keith Harris’ plea for awareness of racism in society and in the music industry. It is our responsibility to give our talented young black people a chance. Only then will great black musicians, managers and other professionals emerge to the benefit of our industry.

– Dennis Muirhead, Muirhead Management

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