Postmodern JukeBox became a YouTube sensation with their renditions of new-age songs with vintage twists. Recently, a collective of Black performers sent a letter to the group and its founder Scott Bradlee calling them out for their delayed response to the BLM movement and countless other instances of racial disparities within the group.
“When I saw PMJ’s response to the killing of George Floyd, I was ashamed that they were a month late, carefully decided to omit Black Lives Matter, and didn’t even mention George Floyd. They also didn’t speak to if or how they would do anything to support anti-racism,” the anonymous member told Bleu. “Later on, when we had a zoom call with Scott, we sent him our list of action items. He did not address our concerns, so we decided to write an open facing letter to him. We also formed the collective #BlackatPMJ.”
The anonymous member also discussed how fearful some people are of losing their jobs at PMJ for speaking out, but they also know how crucial it is to call on those in power to change their ways. “The goal with #BlackatPMJ has always been to help shed light on racism and discrimination within the PMJ, in order to help make that work environment better for everyone,” said the anonymous member. “PMJ is an amazing platform and could be an example of a brand that’s willing to listen, learn, and change.”
Read the #BlackatPMJ letter to Scott Bradlee below:
Dear Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox,
The last couple of months have been challenging for many of us, as our country reckons with the many forms of racism and structural inequities within our society. In this moment, we feel the responsibility lies with each and every one of us to contribute to this growing movement calling for change. Both on an individual level and collectively, we must hold ourselves and our institutions accountable. Businesses from Starbucks to the NFL are taking on the challenge of addressing issues surrounding race within their organizations and beyond. We are asking PMJ to do the same.
PMJ’s rise into a multimillion-dollar international corporationis in large part due to music created, arranged, performed and popularized by Black artists. Jazz and tap dance are forms of Black art. Furthermore, PMJ features many Black artists and has profited greatly from their talents. With this in mind, we feel Scott and Management have a responsibility to use the PMJ platform to support us in the ways we say we need to be supported.
Over the years, there has been constant racial disparity within Postmodern Jukebox. There has been a noticeable lack of diverse representation on videos, posters, marketing campaigns, socials, advertisements, etc. from PMJ. A Black performer was asked to remove a “Black Lives Matter” pin during a tour. A Black performer was demoted or given significantly less work after the entire cast refused to perform in Gainesville, FL, near a white supremacy rally. A Black performer was not taken seriously when they reported an incident of sexual assault and harassment. These are but a few of many instances of racial disparity, aggression and discrimination within PMJ.
While we recognize PMJ does cast many people of color, these members have often been given excess work (with no additional pay), less promotion, less video inclusion and overall less of the general exposure to PMJ fans than white cast members have received through the years. There is a significant lack of people of color — and women — in leadership positions at PMJ, including agents, management, tour staff, music directors/band leaders and so forth. This has to change. We are willing to work with Scott to facilitate a more equal and fair representation of people of color and women in these positions of power within the organization.
Now is the time for Postmodern Jukebox to be a champion of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is not a political statement. It is a human-rights statement. We need PMJ to use all of its public facing platforms to support us. Ultimately, we think that this will make the organization stronger.
Recently we initiated a Zoom call with Scott to address these issues and to share some of our experiences while working with Postmodern Jukebox. Scott responded to our outreach and agreed to virtually meet with us. He listened to each of our experiences without interruption. When it was his turn to speak, he went down the list of our shared experiences, and proceeded to validate or invalidate them based on his own thoughts. He chastised and belittled one of us for sharing their experience publicly.
(Below is the detailed list of action items we sent to Scott and PMJ and would like them to take.)
- Addressing/Acknowledging the Past
o A public acknowledgement of the ways in which PMJ has failed in the past to promote racial equity, and has allowed its Black members to experience harm. This can be broad and not specific to each incident. o Creative credit and retroactive pay for previously unpaid creative work.
- Changing the Present Conditions
o Creating a transparent pay structure to ensure there’s no room for discriminatory pay. o Creating “tracks” for each tour cast to ensure there is both equitable workload and representation. o Creating a pathway for reporting any racial or gender- based incidents of discrimination or harm to a Black or POC member of management. This pathway should have built in support (paper trails, signed commitments) to ensure there is no professional or financial retribution for speaking out. o Holding the white men in positions of authority accountable for their actions (including but not limited to their actions towards Black cast members) instead of giving them impunity time after time.
- Planning for the Future
o Beginning the process of hiring and promoting, especially from within, Black creatives to hold positions of power within the PMJ ecosystem. This includes tour managers, musical directors, and upper management. o Publicizing the letter, the content and results of the
Zoom conversation, and what PMJ has agreed to (i.e. this outline). This will allow all the public to hold all parties accountable.
We set a 24-hour deadline, and Scott asked for a few more days to respond. A few days later, Scott responded with the below requests:
- “That call was tough for me”
Our experiences of racism within PMJ have caused a tremendous amount of pain and discomfort for us.
- To keep this matter private for the time being until changes are further discussed and made.
We believe in full transparency. This is not for blame, shame, or negativity, but for accountability.
- To speak to one Black cast member, of Scott’s choosing, instead of the collective moving forward.
We are a unified collective of Black performers, and we wish to be addressed as such. We wholly reject any attempt to individualize this process. Furthermore, the attempt to appoint a lone Black voice with which Scott is most comfortable, is itself an example of white privilege and of Scott prioritizing his own comfort over the blatant inequities we see.
- To share that there are two (non-Black) people of color on his digital/marketing team, and that he will look into hiring a Black person on this team.
Hiring one Black person in digital/marketing does not address our issue with a lack of Black people, other people of color, and women, in leadership positions.
We consider Scott’s response to be a rejection of our very clear outline, and an attempt to silence and control us. We do not accept this. We believe that the best course of action is for individuals and organizations to be honest, accept our reality, and publicly admit blind spots, mistakes and failures, and then commit to improving the conditions that they can control. To take accountability is allowing for change that will create a brighter future for our industry. We are calling on Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox to be a champion for racial equality and justice.
Thank you for taking the time to listen. We hope that you will stand with us.