Twitter fight ends with an old-school solution

It had all the makings of a typical Twitter fight that solves nothing, two people in an us-against-them world exercising their fingers. But something unique happened in the confrontation between music producer Erick Anderson (Afrokeys) and Sean Tillmann, known as Har Mar Superstar: they worked it out.

Har Mar Superstar is on a Sam Cooke tour, something Anderson objected to because he sees it as another white musician appropriating black culture for personal gain.

And he let him know it earlier this month.

And so and so forth for 10 days and so very Twitter.

Then the two went old school. They met face to face.

(h/t: Julia Schrenkler)

Archive: Hip hop, The Current, and the conversations we don’t know how to have (MPR NewsCut)

  • MrE85

    This Twitter fight started off like a “Chain Gang,” but ended like “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons.”

    Makes me glad. I’m a big fan of HMSS, and of the late, great Sam Cooke.

  • Gary F

    Be glad someone’s performing Sam Cooke’s music and move on people. I’m all for the youth of today to listen to some Sam Cooke, no matter color they are. A tip pf the hat to HarMar, I don’t see anyone else putting on show like that.

    • I think there’s a historical perspective here that goes well beyond Sam Cooke, and even “blue eyed soul” basically stealing the work of African American artists because the white artists could get the airplay. It goes back, I suspect, even to the controversy a few years ago when white media attempted to develop a hip hop celebration and ran into objections.

      I mean, yeah, I get that white people think African American artists should just suck it up and move on, but that fails to consider the history of white exploitation and appropriation of art from African Americans.

      • Jerry

        Their is a line between appropriation and appreciation of other cultures, and I don’t think making rules on who can like what based on race helps anyone.

        • Kellpa07

          “I get that white people think African American artists should just suck it up and move on,”

          Nope. No middle ground. You either think they should suck it up or not. No room for anything else, apparently. A reflection of our culture, unfortunately.

          • These are the times when I wish NewsCut had a more diverse audience beyond white guys.

          • Turns Out I’m 100% That Bug

            Welcome to those times

          • Jack

            I’m a female in a mixed race household. Does that count for anything?

          • Of course.

      • Gary F

        Sure, I get that. From Elvis to Eminem. I try to go see one show a month at various places from the Turf/Dakota/First Ave/Palace so I get most, not all, of the emails from most of the live music places in town. Most of the acts playing blues and old R & B are white, not black. The only James Brown kids get today, both white and black, is a sample in rap music. I’d go see a black artist do a James Brown review show in a heartbeat. But, I don’t see them come across my emails. I have seen St Paul and the Broken Bones, Alabama white guys, play some great R & B/Soul. Hey kids, less rap, more Motown, Muscle Shoals, & Stax.

        Don’t blame HarMar for having the entrepreneurial skills do a review show of a great black R & B singer.. Get out and do one yourself. People will come.

  • Mike Worcester

    I’d also say that one could develop quite the list of artists who were influenced by and performed amazing covers of tunes by not only Sam Cooke, but many of his predecessors in the blues and r&b scene. For starters, let’s go with: Eric Clapton.

    • BJ

      The Rolling Stones

    • The problem is the whole “influenced by” thing is presented as tribute but it masks a systemic problem. On those rare occasions when white-dominated radio dares to play the blues, for example, you’ll hear Clapton’s version of Hoochie Coochie Man. Not Muddy Waters’.

      • Mike Worcester

        I certainly won’t dispute your point. Which is why I like to listen to The Current as they would play Muddy Waters version 🙂

        And I have enough Pandora stations that I can hear the originals and covers and enjoy both.

      • BJ

        Great song, is it appropriating?

        • Jerry

          An argument could be made that it is reclaiming.

          • Agreed. I’d argue that’s blues which exclusively is rooted as an African American art form. Heck, so is rock ‘n’ roll.

          • Jerry

            I’d say rock ‘n’ roll, like most great things from country, is blend of many different cultural traditions, the largest of which are probably African American blues, Appalachian (Celtic) folk, and Hispanic music.

          • John Climber

            Except that a lot of the blues depends on other cultural products (e.g., the harmonica). So to assert that it is exclusive to one culture totally ignores the fact that, as this case shows, arts develop and benefit from their interaction with other cultures. This of course raises questions about ownership.

          • Jerry

            But African Americans were the ones who used those tools and sources to first make the connections.

          • John Climber

            What do you mean by “connections”? Be specific. Shouldn’t one argue that the blues is an occasion to celebrate what human beings have in common? Heartbreak, loss, hardship, to name a few? These are universal human experiences. To say that one group owns them is plain wrong.

          • // Heartbreak, loss, hardship, to name a few? These are universal human experiences. To say that one group owns them is plain wrong.

            But they’re not. The blues — like hip hop — is storytelling of experiences. African Americans own an experience that white Americans have not, do not, and will not experience. That’s what the blues represents. The appropriation by white artists is a claim that they did, do , and will.

          • John Climber

            Your statement is ambiguous. Are you saying that only African Americans experience heartbreak, loss, and hardship, or that every song that qualifies as a blues song is strictly about the specific experiences of African Americans? The first statement is obviously wrong. The second sounds like a narrow view of what blues music is.

          • // The second sounds like a narrow view of what blues music is.

            Blue music is an invention of southern slaves and ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves. The redefinition of the blues to anything but that is, itself, a white appropriation.

          • Sonny T

            What would be a good example of appropriation? Can others sing the blues?

          • The best example is blue eyed soul.

          • Sonny T

            Is it wrong? Bad music? I guess I’m not catching something.

          • Sonny T

            I just got nothing out of this article, but thanks for sharing.

            He lost me right away:

            “… white artists like Sam Smith & Adele have very powerful, politically-driven marketing machines pumping millions of dollars into their careers, while black artists like Jazmine Sullivan don’t nearly get the support they deserve.”

            This is a statement of great foolishness. Money and attention will find the artist who deserves it. Race has nothing to do with it.

          • Presumably you’re white, right?

            Do you understand why white artists doing the music of black artists got airplay in the first place? If you do, then there’s still a chance you can understand the symbolism of white artists appropriating the music of black artists. Har Mar Superstar does.

          • Sonny T

            Answering this would not contribute to our dialogue.

          • You asked about blue eyed soul and said “I’m not catching something.”

            The element of race and privilege is what you’re not catching.

          • Sonny T

            You’re right. I’m not. The article didn’t help, and the statement I quoted is but one example. I could continue, I think the whole concept holds very little water.

            There is a danger here. There are real issues of racism in our society, in jobs and schools, which are diluted when weak or non-existent arguments are advanced.

          • I would suggest you go back, then, and read that hip-hop piece. The world is full of white people who will insist that the perspectives of African Americans and people of color are built on weak and non-existent arguments. That’s the white perspective. But that doesn’t mean the arguments or weak and non-existent. It only means that white people think they are.

            The point that both Erick and Sean were both making at the conclusion was the value of listening to those perspectives, a point that was substantially lost in this space and most everywhere else in society when the issues are “the real issues of racism” , and accepting that there are perspectives that differ from our own and which are valid .

            It might not be a bad idea for people to go back and read the open letter from that hip hop controversy. But if people are insistent that there isn’t race and privilege involved in who has artistic opportunity and who doesn’t — both historically and currently — then don’t bother. Nothing will change your mind.


          • Sonny T

            Regarding your link, and the accusation of disparities, I hope MPR is a fair employer. I imagine they are. Unfortunately, too many are not.

            Blue eyed blues singers is a small issue. A nothing issue. This may be my conspiracy side talking, but powerful forces would love us to talk about blue eyed blues singers, and not talk about employment disparities in large, powerful organizations.

            This is my point.

          • Jerry

            That’s obviously not true. Race is an unavoidable factor in everything in this world, especially when money is involved.

          • Sonny T

            But the issue is whether the above is true.

          • There’s plenty of evidence that it’s true in the history of black artists in the US. Are we really arguing that it isn’t. Seriously?Really? You didn’t get airtime if you sounded too black. This is historical fact. There are few roles for black people on TV and in theaters. THIS is fact.

          • Sonny T

            “You didn’t get airtime if you sounded too black.”

            I did not know that. If true, I stand corrected.

          • Jerry

            We are kidding ourselves if we think we live in a meritocracy

          • Sonny T

            You got that right. But how we spend our entertainment dollar is as close as it gets.

          • Jerry

            Have you watched TV talent shows? Black singers always get voted off before white singers.

          • An ongoing complaint of mine as a regular watcher of The Voice. At the end, the America Votes part always sends the white people on, while pitting the singers of color in a sing-off. It’s nauseating.

            There waas a good article in the Baltimore Sun a couple of years ago on this and the problem of white America not appreciating the black voice. It’s a throwback to when Sun Records searched for whites to do black music because he didn’t think whites wanted to hear the black voice.

          • Sonny T

            “…he didn’t think whites wanted to hear the black voice.” That dude was sure wrong.

          • But, historically, money and attention was not something that black artists found – much less were given. And race had /everything/ to do with it.

            There are dozens of examples of songs by black artists that were appropriated by white artists – who were the ones who found the money and the attention. Example? “Tutti Fruitti” was not a pop (i.e. Top 40) hit for Little Richard; it was a pop hit, instead, for Pat Boone.

            Half of Elvis Presley’s schtick was a direct appropriation of Otis Blackwell’s singing style. (Col Tom Parker required songwriters to give Elvis – and by extension, Parker – half the songwriting credit before Elvis would record their songs. Otis got all of $50 for writing “Don’t Be Cruel”, and nothing for giving Elvis his “unique” singing style.)

            Also, unless one is already familiar with blues, one might think that that it was Led Zeppelin who invented some great classic licks and lyrics Instead, “Whole Lotta Love” (to name but one of several LZ “appropriations”) was a rip-off of “You Need Love”, by Muddy Waters. It took until 1997 before Waters got proper credit … but he was gone by then.


          • Sonny T

            Agreed. Very accurate. But not sure how it impacts today’s issues.

          • Jerry

            If you define genres by race you are putting limitations on the experience.

          • For whom?

          • Jerry

            On the genre, on music in general. As long as a creator acknowledges the originals and doesn’t claim creation over something he didn’t create, it’s alright. Some of the best rappers are white, some are Asian, and that is fine. There are great non-white classical composers. There are great Black Country singers. Nothing is gained by putting musical genres in their own little ghettos except stagnation of the art forms.

          • Sonny T

            “What we don’t need in country music is divisiveness, public criticism of each other, and some arbitrary judgement of what belongs and what doesn’t.” –Charlie Pride

          • John Climber

            Splendid. I’ll leave it to the musicologists and historians to debate the merits of your thesis. In addition to what others have just said, here’s another implication of your claim you would do well to ponder. If it’s the case that white people (or any other group for that matter) wrongly appropriate African American culture when they play the blues or adapt it to their own experience, then what room is there for white people to listen to, or appreciate blues music authentically? On your view I don’t see how they could, since they lack the strict historical/cultural experiences that blues music is about.

          • I would disagree with your conclusion. Artist expression is an attempt to tell a story to an audience. Listening — or viewing in the case of a museum — should be an attempt to understand THE ARTIST experience. If the artist has appropriated the music, then the audience is getting a fraudulent experience.

            To the extent that white people have a difficult time LISTENING to the story, experiences of a different culture, it’s not the fault of the artist.

            This comment section is a perfect example.

          • John Climber

            If you regard aesthetic experience (listening to music, viewing artworks) as an intellectual endeavor then I can see how your claim follows. But that is only one view of what aesthetic experience is. When you listen to (any) music or artwork, is that really what you’re doing? Is your aesthetic experience simply about trying to understand where the artist is coming from? I don’t naturally do that in my own experience; nor have i found that human beings naturally do this. Whether it’s music, literature, or visual art the experience is mostly about how the artwork resonates with how the individual is feeling and where they are at. We have the music, literature, and art that we like; sometimes it remains with us but it often changes as we change.

          • As I’ve said I consider the art form storytelling. You either want to listen to the story or you don’t. You either want an authentic story or you don’t. Both can certainly be classified as an aesthetic experience but that your particular experience doesn’t change the artistic expression… only what you think about the artistic expression. And in either case, the art and the culture behind it it belongs to the artist, not the audience.

          • John Climber

            What you say seems to confirm what I had suspected. My question was not about which artist (authentic or inauthentic) the audience desires to listen to, but what kind of experience the audience was seeking by listening to the particular artist. Since a white guy lacks the cultural/historical background of the original blues artists, then evidently he cannot genuinely identify with the essential characteristics of that music. He can appreciate it as an historical artifact, maybe (understanding its context, artist’s intentions, etc.), but he cannot enjoy the significance it was meant to convey. If he would try to enjoy it thus, he would be appropriating it? That’s how I understand you.

          • The fact that Har Mar Superstar won’t perform A Change is Gonna Come during the Sam Cooke Tour would seem to reinforce that reality, yes.

          • John Climber

            No no no, I know you already think that. I am talking about whether the white audience can authentically enjoy blues music.

          • Turns Out I’m 100% That Bug

            No one owns music.

          • This will come as big news to ASCAP and BMI.

          • BAWLing

            I they wrote it then yah hah!!!

          • Jerry

            What I’m saying is that African Americans were the ones who took the instruments and the traditions and combined them together to create the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. They didn’t invent the guitar, but they are the ones that made it wail.

          • John Climber

            OK. So what’s your point?

          • jon

            It’s good for all of us to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, regardless of ethnicity or culture…

            I’m reminded of the guy who said “muslims never invented anything” a few years back and sparked many internet lists of islamic inventions that were leveraged by europeans… including the napkin, fork, and the concept of zero.

            At some point we have acknowledge that our culture is bigger than our ethnicity, but respect that portions of our culture came from somewhere… europe might owe the middle east a debt, or the middle east might owe europe a debt for what it got in return… more realistically cultural exchange is going to happen, the goal should be to allow for cultural exchange while avoiding violence and exploitation…

            I view it like I do patents… there is a time period, where a small group can claim an innovation be it technical, scientific, or artistic, but at some point that is going to bleed into the world, and once it’s there you can’t put those cats back in the bag.

      • Gary F

        Or George Thorogood.

  • Jeff

    We were at the show Saturday. It was very entertaining. Throughout the show he was very respectful of Cooke. He refuses to sing A Change is Gonna Come since “he’s a white guy” which was done to a standing ovation by the opening singer Lady Lark. Maybe I don’t recognize appropriation when I see and hear it, but seems overblown to me. Glad they settled their differences.

    • Jerry

      I think the difference with Har Mar compared to so many other artists is that he makes it absolutely clear that he is doing it to honor Sam Cooke, not claim it as his own. For too many people, Elvis and Bill Haley invented Rock and Roll. That is also why the Marvin Berry scene in Back To The Future has always bothered me.

  • Kellpa07

    Old fashioned solution: paying indulgences for absolution.

    • Jerry

      I think the term is royalties

  • Angry Jonny

    The easiest way to discern between appropriation and “honoring”? Follow the money. FWIW, I think Led Zeppelin owes a crap-ton of money to the estates of Sonny Boy Williamson AND J.R.R. Tolkien.

  • Turns Out I’m 100% That Bug

    last time i checked music came from your soul not your skin.

    • crystals

      This feels like the musical equivalent of All Lives Matter.

      Identity matters. How Sam Cooke experienced life as a black man influenced the songs he wrote and why he wrote them. I’m not saying a white person should never perform them. I’m saying that context matters, and a white person who is performing Sam Cooke’s songs in an organized tour, and thus personally profiting from them, should be aware of and responsive to that.

      Props to Afrokeys for raising the issues and to Har Mar Superstar for hearing him.

      • Turns Out I’m 100% That Bug

        whenever i’ve ever learned a song on guitar i never cared what they looked like nor did i check with Afrokeys for permission first

        • crystals

          Do you play your guitar and the songs you’ve learned in public, advertising the name of the songwriter(s) as publicity for your shows, and for profit? Because if not, your story is nice but entirely beside the point.

          • John

            I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know what the right thing is/was to do here (though they seem to have figured it out for themselves).

            It’s a strange thing, maybe? If you advertise the name of the songwriter (for whatever your reason – be it publicity or to make sure the name is being associated with the song), it’s an issue, because you’re profiting.

            If you don’t advertise the name (i.e. do it like Elvis or Zepp), then you’re basically just stealing – or in my mind, appropriating in the truest/worst sense.

            So, Har Mar is screwed either way, and he should find a different way to honor his favorite singer?

            FWIW, I don’t have any answers. I’m definitely not trolling – just trying to wrap my head around the whole thing. I have only a passing knowledge of either of the two musicians, so no particular loyalty to either one. From my position as a white dude, I think Har Mar did an okay job “threading the needle” with his donation of profits, but I’m not convinced it is or isn’t enough.

          • I was at the Buddy Guy concert last night which is always an entertaining show (I think this is the third time we saw him) and, again, he talked about his mentors and the people who preceded him and he noted — accurately — that nobody ever mentioned or played the great bluesmen of the past until the rockers from England played their music and got it on American radio.

            I believe it was played in the UK.

            The fact that there are so many young people who’ve never heard of Buddy Guy is a testimonial to the barriers that were placed in the way while the white musicians were given a free pass to stardom.

          • John

            There is something there. I don’t know that I would have come to love the Blues the way that I do without the white (largely British) rock bands – Clapton, Zeppelin, and the Stones for me (I never did become a fan of Elvis’ music). Also, Jake and Elwood Blues – who were likely my introduction to Muddy Waters and Aretha Franklin – though that feels less like appropriation, since they were in the movie. But, again, two white dudes leading me to an incredibly rich art form that they were either paying tribute to or appropriating, depending on how the lines get drawn.

            I recall BB King talking about Clapton and how Clapton was the greatest guitarist in the world, within the style of playing that BB King does, and right up there in every other style of playing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Clapton’s rise certainly came out of appropriation of black music in the days of Cream. (I recall being told of a Rolling Stone interview with Clapton shortly after he was crowned “Greatest Guitar Player of all time” where upon being asked what that felt like, he responded “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Prince.” but I digress).

            BB King is on the small list of artists that I wish I had seen live before they were gone. Buddy Guy should be, but I don’t get out to concerts lately – just not a priority.

  • Gary F