by Tiara Williams
How many times have we heard the story of an unsung African American company, artist or person that was the first to introduce a product, band or art form but never received credit because someone with more money or business savvy was able to take ownership. As a result, that creator didn’t experience his just due while, 50 years later the savvy businessman is still being recognized. Sounds familiar, right?
This is what happened to the boutique record label, Vee-Jay Records in Chicago, Il. The label was known in small pockets across the nation for their diverse music distribution. They were the first company to introduce many popular acts such as Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jimmy Hendrix and Little Richard. However, Vee-Jay’s biggest successes occurred in 1962-1964, with the growing popularity of the Four Seasons and the distribution of early Beatles material. That’s right. The Beatles. Before the Beatles were signed to Capitol, they partnered with Vee-Jay.
In the initial stages, The Beatles met great resistance from record execs claiming that the group would not sell in the US. But Vee-Jay’s knew better. The owners were husband-and-wife Vivian Carter-Bracken and James Bracken, and they had an eye for talent.
Seeing what the Beatles could bring to the world, the company created a partnership with the the Beatles management and the team began recording and pushing their singles as a launch pad into American territory. Needless to say, the blast off was overwhelmingly successful.
The launch was so successful that the group began to gain the kind of traction they needed. But, with more attention, came larger record labels with better deals. That’s when people like Ed Sullivan started to join the band wagon.
By 1963, The Beatles were a household name in Europe, and Capitol Records wanted a piece of them. They signed the group and started distribution of the Beatles material, even though it was owned by Vee-Jay records.
Within a few years, Capitol had dominated all the Beatles’ recordings, including the early music and pushed the smaller company completely out of the picture. Their new management now had complete control over new Beatles releases in America.
This caused legal issues for Vee-Jay Records, which eventually had to shut their doors due to management disagreements and financial issues. Since that time, the record label has had challenges staying afloat, and keeping their doors open but they’ve managed. Under the direction of Michele Tayler, the company is now know as The Vee-Jay Limited Partnership. Its main office is located in Connecticut.
This week CBS celebrated their 50th year anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, and they credit the show for “discovering” The Beatles. But without Vee-Jay records, The Beatles may never have experienced their American Dream.
Financial Juneteenth lessons from this story:
1) We are learning more and more about things that whites have stolen from African Americans. But the truth is that these stories are likely just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless stories of African Americans creating successful businesses and being undermined by white-owned companies or having their property stolen from them via outright violence or arbitrary changes in the law. These stories need to be told, for every time a black business is chopped down by manipulative business practices, that’s more black wealth that could never be passed on to African American children. This only further strengthens the argument in favor of reparations.
2) If you enter into any industry where money is being made, make sure you are fully aware of the business model for that industry. If you are a singer, dancer, actor, rapper or athlete, you should never be so concerned with the love of your craft that you don’t also understand why someone is putting you on the stage in the first place. Not understanding the legalities and business interactions that create your current platform only increase the odds that, when the music stops playing, you’ll be left out in the cold.