What if Motown founder Berry Gordy had collaborated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights era to form an organization leveraging the dominance of African-American-music culture to create initiatives for politically activating the Black community? It might have looked something like the Black American Music Association (BAM), founded in 2017 by veteran record executives Michael Mauldin (at left in pic) and Demmette Guidry.

Mauldin (dad of mega-successful producer Jermaine Dupri) has held lofty titles at Warner Bros. and Columbia; Guidry cemented a stellar reputation behind the scenes marketing and managing music clients. They’ve worked with/on the music of Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent, Nas, Mariah Carey, Anthony Hamilton and many others. Through BAM, the duo has partnered with Voting Rights Are Civil Rights, promoted the use of SeeSay—an online tool to report voter suppression—and broken ground on the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame in downtown Atlanta, which launched in January. We spoke with the pair in December about Election 2020, Black male support of Trump, celeb political endorsements and more.

Why did you guys come together to create the Black American Music Association?
Michael Mauldin: We came together in 2017 with the idea that Black music as an art form, its creators and the community need to be uplifted. We wanted to give some solid lift to our legacy, thinking about the preservation of great artists and Black music leading the way in pop culture. We didn’t feel the Black music community, its creators and its executives were getting their proper due.

Both ’Mette and I have been senior executives in the music business for a long time. We can say that there have been very few opportunities for executives and others in Black music to build—we tend to be marginalized in our communities. Executives, as we get older, people wanna put you on the outside instead of being in the mix, though we are just as vital today as we were 20 years ago. The same thing applies to the creators of our music. Black music has dominated globally for so long. It’s had such relevance. We need to be felt that way. So that was the idea.

Demmette Guidry: Without question, Black American music is the greatest art form on the planet. We saw a need for the art form to have a unity of purpose. We saw the need to have those that have labored to advance it, as well as those who have made profits from it, to protect it, preserve it and promote it. We knew that by pulling together a membership-based body for those who appreciate the creators we could create a narrative that would help innovate the next 50 years of the art form.

BAM has a partnership with Voting Rights for Civil Rights. How did you collectively help move the needle in Election 2020?
DG: Getting the vote out, first and foremost. Working to bring voter registration to the youth helped tremendously across the country. In addition to Voting Rights for Civil Rights, we pulled together a coalition of about 100 organizations that had boots on the ground in the swing states and counties we knew were predominant in voter suppression over the last 20-plus years. So we put our focus there.

Nationally, we registered over 35,000 poll workers and got them trained. Which means we got them paid. So we’re talking about cats who were just sitting at home wanting to work but, in the pandemic, could not. Here in Georgia, specifically, we worked with Evan Malbrough, who has Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project, where we helped employ over 1,000 poll workers, which allowed Georgia to have 80 more polling locations.

Can you say a bit about SeeSay?
DG: That’s a voter-protection tool. It’s free. It’s web-based, from another of our coalition partners, Dem Labs, out of Silicon Valley. We had probably 500 hits on that every day, people all over the country reporting intimidation, machines down... It was really sophisticated. We’re gonna continue to provide those tools, social media toolkits so they can alert Gen Z, millennials and others about the importance of not only voting and registering to vote but helping identify suppression tactics.

MM: Hopefully, we’ll see it still being used as we go into the Senate [runoff] in Georgia on Jan. 5. Everywhere in the world, they’re talking about how important Georgia is right now. Our organization being based in Georgia adds an extra stamp for us. It’s really education that we’re pushing, for our youth. Now’s a great time in history to be doing that. We’re just happy to be doing our part.

What do you think is the biggest factor in flipping Georgia blue this year?
MM: The youth got out. And also the fact that people were going into it with a plan. I voted early. I initially sent off for an absentee ballot. But when I saw the shenanigans, I was there on day one in person putting my vote in.

I think the word got out. I’m proud of the artists. They used their social media and influence to tell people to get out and vote. We knew [our opponents] were gonna double down on shenanigans: trying to hide the polling places, purging people from the rolls. That’s why we pursued the strategy we did. We’re in the record business and we know how to move people, particularly from the street level. The streets can flip states; we can mobilize the youth to get involved. Y’all ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Why do you think 20% of Black male voters turned out for Trump?
MM: We’re in a time when a lot of young Black men who are trying to do the right thing are literally making more than $300,000 or $400,000 a year. That’s not your everyday person. But people used that and made them believe they’d pay less in taxes.

The other piece for me is lack of awareness, lack of knowledge, lack of understanding how local and regional politics and the government really work. Unfortunately, I think we are somewhat misinformed and misguided. I feel like we were sold a bill of goods by the other side, and that influenced a lot of people.

I noticed Beyoncé sporting an “I VOTED” sticker on her Instagram. Why don’t more artists do more to get the vote out?
DG: Some of it comes out of this culture; when we were coming up, we were taught that you don’t talk about politics or religion. Also, some people may not be registered to vote. But even though you’re not registered to vote—and I’ve had to counsel on this process—I still need you to speak about this. I’m still gonna send you the social-media toolkit because if we can get the polls filled with workers, then your auntie, grandma and cousins, folks that are registered to vote, won’t have to stand in line for eight hours.

I was proud of what I saw with our artists getting people out to vote. Some people waited on opportunities; some people just used their voice and platform. But I think it goes back to the education. Some information isn’t out there; if you’re a felon, for instance, how does that affect your right to vote? If I mobilize my fanbase to go be poll workers, can they do that if they’re felons? In some states, they can’t. But even the NBA guys came out saying, “I’ve never voted; this is my first year voting.” I think when you’re hyper-successful like that, you don’t necessarily wanna choose sides. You’re in business.

MM: I think there’s a concern about making a commitment to one side or the other. God forbid if the other side gets in. I don’t think it’s much different than people bowing out and saying, “I’m not a role model so don’t hold me responsible for what I say or do.” We are all role models.

That’s where we come in with BAM. Beause we really believe that the community has to stand up, and there have to be community leaders. That’s what we are as an organization. But we all have our personal beliefs. We stayed away from announcing who we were voting for. Though I’m sure some of our actions and statements kinda made it clear.

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