05 Mar 2013
- Written by LaRita Shelby
Logan H. Westbrooks kicked off Black History Month 2013 at Indiana University with his signature lecture titled "Bustin' Loose: Breaking Racial Barriers in the Music Industry." The subject matter was fitting because the Memphis native is a music industry pioneer.
"I decided to pursue a career in music while participating in a management training program at RCA Victor Distributing Corporation in Chicago in 1966," said Westbrooks, a Booker T. Washington High School graduate.
During his tenure at RCA, Capitol, CBS, CBS International and Soul Train Records, Westbrooks used his marketing savvy to navigate the careers of – are you ready for this – Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderly, Lou Rawls, Glen Campbell, The Beatles, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Buddy Miles, Rod Steward, Errol Garner, Melba Moore, Carlos Santana, Earth Wind and Fire, The O Jays, Sly & The Family Stone, Billy Paul, Johnny Nash, Taj Mahal, Johnny Mathis, O.C. Smith, Ronny Dyson, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Ramsey Lewis and The Isley Brothers.
While fans fell in love with the stars, it was business executives such as Westbrooks who secured airplay, staged major tours, scheduled television appearances and booked community events that sealed the imprint of soul music and African-American culture around the world.
"We made sure that black music not only benefitted the record company, but that it also had an impact on the black community," said Westbrooks. "We raised the consciousness of people of color in an esoteric manner and we spiked economic growth from the allocation of millions of dollars in revenue for advertisements in African American-owned publications such as Ebony, Essence, Jet, Black Enterprise and more.
"By doing this, it not only enhanced the popularity of black artists, it resulted in more sales for the artists," said Westbrooks. "This revenue also supported social and political causes of organizations such as Jessie Jackson's PUSH-Black Expo (Chicago), the Martin Luther King Center (Atlanta), Congressional Black Caucus (D.C.), National Medical Association (representing black physicians) and for various political candidates."
South Memphis roots
Westbrooks' journey began in South Memphis on Carnegie Street. After graduating from BTW, he spent his collegiate years at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. His ambitions led him to Hollywood, where he broke ground as the first African-American territory salesman for Capitol and Mercury Records. He later became CBS Records' first Director of Special Markets (1971) and led their expansion into Africa.
With his mark made at major labels, Westbrooks founded and presided over Source Records, which was distributed by MCA Universal. It became the home to Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers, Sharon Paige, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and the group Smash (which was composed of the Debarge brothers).
The Source Records label string of hits included the chart-topping "Bustin' Loose," which made it to No. 1 in 1979. Recorded by the late, great godfather of go-go music, Chuck Brown, "Bustin' Loose" also provided the catchy rhythm tracks for Nelly, who customized his version in 2002 under the title "Hot In Herre." Nelly's version shot to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 and was certified double platinum, earning him the Best Rap Male Solo Performance award at the 2003 Grammys, which was a brand new category at the time.
Westbrooks documented the academics of the music business when he authored the book "The Anatomy of a Record Company," which became widely used as a textbook at many colleges and universities.
The co-architect of "The Harvard Report, A Study of Urban Music in the 1990's," Westbrooks contributed to the book "Soulsville USA" and has appeared on several PBS specials.
Today, Westbrooks spends a great deal of time as an educator and lecturer on African-American music and culture.
"It is important to share my experiences and hopefully to motivate young people of today and make them aware of the many opportunities available on the business side of music," he said.
That was Westbrooks' intent on Feb. 4 as he spoke to students, faculty and members of the community gathered at the University of Indiana's Neal-Marshall Grand Hall. His address was part of the "Black History Month-Bloomington Style: Lessons in Leadership" celebration.
The occasion also served as the unveiling of the "Logan Westbrooks Exhibit, " a personal collection of artifacts from his career as a music industry executive, entrepreneur, teacher and philanthropist. On display throughout February in the Neal Marshall Bridgewater Lounge, the exhibit was presented by Indiana University's Archives of African American Music and Culture.
'My biggest fan'
Westbrooks and his wife, Geri Westbrooks, enjoy a dual residence in Los Angeles and in the Southwind area of Memphis.
An active member of the Booker T. Washington Alumni Association, Westbrooks is working on the 2nd Edition of the book "The Anatomy of a Record Company." He's a real estate entrepreneur and pastor of The Temple of Faith, COGIC in Azusa, Calif., where he serves as a founding member of the City of Azusa's Human Relations Committee.
The Westbrooks formerly owned the Helping Hands Home for Boys and their story inspired the movie "The Gridiron Gang," which starred Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (2006).
For those desirous of pursuing opportunities in today's music industry, Westbrooks offers this advice:
"You have to love your work and be 100 percent dedicated to all of your endeavors," said Westbrooks.
"My drive and determination was instilled in me by my parents and my teachers at Lincoln Elementary and Booker T. Washington, and thus it has carried over into my adult life," he said.
"My biggest fan has always been my wife, Geri, and that has kept me motivated."
(Logan H. Westbrooks' appearance at Indiana University was also sponsored by the Liberal Arts and Management Program; the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs; Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology; African American Arts Institute; African American & African Diaspora Studies; and American Studies. For more on the exhibit, visit http://bit.ly/Wpi56t. Online readers may access the exhibit at http://bit.ly/YydGhk.