This morning I was listening to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition by Rob Gifford talking about British soul singer Amy Winehouse, who is nominated for more Grammy awards this year than any other female artist. The bulk of the story focused on how Winehouse and her runaway hit album, Back to Black, has paved the way for new wave of young women songwriters with a decidedly retro outlook, harkening back to the glory days of Motown. But then it took a twist I wasn’t expecting: the impact of media concentration on musical diversity and the US racial divide.
I’ll let Gifford pick it up from here:
What’s perhaps most noticeable about the new young women singers is the crossover in styles and influences: blues, jazz, soul, folk, even Celtic rhythms.
Author and broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who has spent 30 years covering the British music scene, says this is partly because of the diversity in what gets played on the radio in Britain, compared with often centrally programmed stations in the United States.
“In the States, it has been possible, with narrow casting and formatization, to only hear the kind of music you know you like,” he says. “The result of this is that in American music, the tendency has been for white music to get whiter, and African-American music to get more ghetto. The point is that in Britain, where there is no such formatization of music, you can have an Amy Winehouse singing ‘Back to Black’ and nobody thinks you shouldn’t be doing this.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone make the argument that media concentration in the US commercial radio market negatively impacts the range of music you can here in your community. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the same damn song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers or 311 on DC’s local rock stations, I might not get rich, but I probably could use it to buy a satellite radio receiver and tune them out for good. But it’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone say in such direct terms that media concentration is contributing directly to a racial/cultural divide in the US.
What do you think? Does Paul Gambaccini’s interpretation of the impact of media concentration have merit? If Amy Winehouse had been born in New London, CT rather than London, England, would the Clear Channels of the world prevented her from going back to black?