Soul prom was a 'back-slapping event for the old boys' club', says Gregg Kofi Brown
A top musician has criticised the BBC for a lack of diversity at an event that he says should have been a “celebration of black music”.
Gregg Kofi Brown, who has worked with Sting, Gorillaz and Craig David, said the organisers of Prom 65, Stax Records: 50 Years of Soul made it a “back-slapping event for the old boys club” with few non-white performers.
The concert, at the Royal Albert Hall on September 1, was held to celebrate Stax Records — the US label that looked after artists including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Johnnie Taylor. This year is the 50th anniversary of the first Stax tour of the UK. Two surviving artists from the label, Booker T Jones and Sam Moore — one half of Sam and Dave — performed with Jools Holland and his band leading the night’s music.
Memphis-born Mr Brown, who now lives in Wimbledon, praised Beverley Knight’s inclusion but questioned that of white stars Tom Jones, in his first Proms, and James Morrison.
He said Jones “dominated” the show, which also was not promoted adequately, so that the audience was “99.9 per cent white middle-class”.
Mr Brown, 67, who was in the band Osibisa, added: “Having lived in the UK for over 37 years I was overdue for a dose of authentic soul first hand. As the band broke into Arthur Conley’s Sweet Soul Music my heart starts pumping … excited. Then Beverley Knight takes to stage. Followed by James Morrison, then Tom Jones. Tom Jones? To say I was in shock would be an understatement. Then, as the band start playing Otis Redding’s Hard to Handle, I think surely my guys will come out on this soul classic. But Tom Jones starts singing this song solo with the band.” He added: “The BBC turned this celebration of black music into a back-slapping event for the old boys’ club … The only saving grace was that Booker T and Steve Cropper were on hand.”
A BBC spokesman said: “We take our role in championing and showcasing diversity at the Proms very seriously — this season has featured musicians from many different backgrounds, from a celebration of the music of Charles Mingus to the classical music of India and Pakistan.” He added: “We work hard to ensure our concerts are accessible to all and are always looking at ways of attracting different audiences, but given our mission is to reach the widest possible audience there is always more we can do.”