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Music’s Road Crews Are Overwhelmingly White and Male. Meet the People Trying to Change That

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Music’s Road Crews Are Overwhelmingly White and Male. Meet the People Trying to Change That

Artists and roadies alike are stepping up to address a long-standing industry problem

By David Browne Rolling Stone Magazine

By the time he signed on for Justin Bieber’s Believe tour in 2012, Lance “K.C.” Jackson had more than 30 years under his belt as a stage manager and touring pro; he’d worked with Prince, Destiny’s Child, Luther Vandross, and Earth, Wind, and Fire, among others. Now, on a tour headlined by a white artist, he drew quizzical looks backstage whenever he went to help Bieber with a harness that allowed him to descend onto the stage sporting wings. “There aren’t a lot of black props workers out there, so people were looking at me like, ‘Who is this guy? Can he make it happen?’” Jackson recalls. “It was a prejudgment.”

While anecdotal, Jackson’s story was revealing. Anyone who’s been backstage at a concert or on the road with a music act will have noticed two things about the employees scurrying around to prepare the stage and venue: Most are doing difficult, back-breaking work that’s vital to live shows, and most are white and male. In a recent Pollstar/Venues Now survey of 1,350 live-music professionals, 67 percent were male and 85 percent were white. Black workers constituted only two percent, with Hispanic workers at 3.6, and two percent deemed “multiracial/multiethnic.”

“There’s been some progress, but not enough,” says Tony Bulluck, currently Earth, Wind, and Fire’s production manager. “A lot of times, I walk into buildings and people make assumptions that I’m the janitor or with security.”

But as part of the reckoning in both in the entertainment business and the world at large, the spotlight is now shining on and others working on that side of the music industry: the people who set up lights, sound, and the stage for shows, and even handle backstage catering. Jackson is the cofounder of , launched in 2009 and devoted to connecting people-ofcolor crew employees to share stories and job

news. And this past spring, co-lead singer , who was also becoming aware of this disparity, took i t upon herself to launch ,dedicated to spreading awareness about this issue and educating both music professionals and those who want to enter that side of the business. Diversify the Stage is particularly setting its sights on BIPOC, LGBTQ, and “female-identifying and gender-nonconforming” individuals.

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