The event, which was part of this year’s Black History Month celebration, brought together members of the diplomatic community, artists and friends of the United States Embassy in Sierra Leone. This year marks the 50th anniversary since the passage of the Civil Right Act. FitzGibbon said in her speech, jointly delivered by the ‘Godfather’ of Sierra Leone contemporary music industry Jimmy B, that Motown music recently celebrated its 50th birthday. She said Motown has produced more than 180 number one hit songs worldwide and continues to produce more hits up to date.
She said: “The record label became a force that helped change attitudes towards race in the United States.” She said the label, which has produced artists such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, created a music that communicated with all Americans and helped closed the racial divide.
FitzGibbon reminded the gathering that Motown started with an $800 loan to become the most successful African American owned and operated business in the US at that time. She said Motown founder, Berry Gordy`s success “stemmed from his efficient and effective management of artists that were able to bridge the racial divide and win widespread popularity and commercial success.”
She paid tribute to Genie Wray and Garnelle Dent, who she said started the Black and White Ball at the Ambassador’s parking lot and has got bigger every year.
She said: “…you two are an act that will be tough to beat.”
On his part, ‘Godfather’ Jimmy B thanked the US Embassy Charge d’Affairs for the opportunity to deliver the keynote address. Jimmy B said music has contributed to peace and helps promote non-violence during and after elections.
“We can never underestimate the power of music in developing countries,” Jimmy said, adding: “we musicians are considered to be social commentators…the mouthpiece of the masses….”
Jimmy B said musicians have the power to effect change through their craft. He recalled their contributions to peace, “a classic example is when I led members of the Paradise Family to Makeni, then rebel stronghold, and held a peace concert that helped stop the fighting there. We brought onstage ministers, United Nations officials, and rebel commanders all dancing and singing to our songs. The atmosphere was tensed, but our songs overcame our differences and even some rebels were brought to tears.”
Jimmy B also highlighted the lack of support structure as a major barrier for development of the music industry. He mentioned piracy which he said is denying musicians to benefit from their craft. Jimmy B said musicians in Sierra Leone have been forced to travel all the way to Ghana and Nigeria to print their CD’s since Super Sound closed down in 2012.
He thanked the US Embassy on behalf of the music industry.
DJ Weaver recognized all the musicians and industry members present on the night and also played songs from Motown artists and the best of Sierra Leonean songs.