*With a two-year interruption due to the global pandemic, the Living Legends Foundation (LLF) will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Friday, October 7, in the heart of Hollywood at the Tagalyn Complex in Los Angeles, California.
EURWEB’s longtime contributor Gwendolyn Quinn interviews Chairman David C. Linton on the organization’s Pearl anniversary, who last interviewed him in October 2016. Linton discusses the future of the Living Legends Foundation and its longevity. For many decades, the LLF was the only Black organization servicing Black music executives.
Linton is currently the program director of Jazz 91.9 WCLK, an NPR-affiliated station in Atlanta, Georgia. As program director, he has led the station to record audiences and ratings. Linton believes Jazz is an art form long overlooked and says now is the time to take its rightful place as the foundation of modern music. He works at creating a format sound, which provides a space for modern, contemporary and smooth jazz to co-exist on the radio in a harmonious flow. When he is not programming music, he regularly fills in for on-air talent at the station.
In his dual roles at Jazz 91.9 WCLK, Linton is also part of the team for the inaugural Jazz Music Awards: Celebrating the Spirit of Jazz. Linton’s more than 40-year career encompasses radio and television broadcasting, and music marketing and promotions. He has held senior-level executive positions at several leading music labels including Arista, Warner Music Group, Island/Def Jam, and Capitol Records, and represented a who’s who of music and entertainment. He has been awarded for his outstanding work and service receiving more than a hundred R.I.A.A. Certified Platinum, Gold, and a few Diamond Records totaling 100 million units sold for projects including award-winning artists such as Prince, Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Usher, Fourplay, Take 6, Kenny G, Diddy, and Notorious B.I.G., among countless others.
Before his career in the music industry, he served as general manager and program director at WSHA (Raleigh, NC) and WRVS (Elizabeth City, NC). The latter he launched in 1986, making it the first public radio station in Northeastern, NC.
He is also a contributor and has penned Op-Eds in Huff Post and has been featured in Billboard magazine, where he has addressed the State of Black Music and issues surrounding social injustice in the music industry.
Gwendolyn Quinn: Congratulations on the Living Legends Foundation’s 30th anniversary. How did the global pandemic impact the organization, good or bad?
David C. Linton: The global pandemic’s impact on the Living Legends Foundation was like most organizations. We had to regroup, we had to cancel two of our annual galas, which is one of our major fundraisers. However, it showed us how resilient we are and how creative we can be. We held two virtual events to stay connected to our community, we used our podcast, “Music Day-A Verified Hit” to educate people about the foundation and we tackled some of the pressing issues facing the Black music community. We were one of the first organizations to address social justice issues within the industry.
GQ: Why is the Living Legends Foundation necessary?
DL: The Living Legends Foundation is necessary because like everything else in America relating to Black Americans’ contributions to society it tends to be whitewashed, revised, or forgotten. Black people have made tremendous contributions to the music business going back to the beginning of music, but you must search deep to discover those stories, and when you find them, you see inconsistencies from the reality. We need to tell “Our Story” with accuracy. I know when many executives today talk about Black music and opportunities, many of them don’t remember or have little recollection of the era of Black Music divisions when Black executives ran divisions autonomously generating millions, I dare say billions of dollars over the years for music labels breaking some of the most popular artists on the planet. They created an eco-system that provided jobs for other Black people in allied industries like concert promotions, public relations, fashion and beauty, and video promotions, journalism, and so many other professions. Today, hip-hop is the leading genre of music that is generating billions of dollars. This is not a new phenomenon; this has always been the case. It’s why Clive Davis commissioned the Harvard Report back in the 1970s which show major labels how to be successful in Black music. The playbook is the same just the technology has changed and that’s why it’s important to know your history. Also, the business is cruel, and no one is guaranteed twenty-five years, a gold watch, and a pension. People need a support system to help them during those tough times. We are that support system, like MusiCares, the fact is we’ve been doing it longer.
GQ: As the leader of the Living Legends Foundation, what business lessons have you learned from the pandemic?
DL: What I learned during my years in radio and as a senior executive at music labels have helped me during the pandemic, which is being adaptable and flexible. Sometimes major labels couldn’t be flexible as independent labels because of layers of bureaucracy, but running a Black music department or division, I could be almost as flexible as an independent label; it was that spirit that helped the Living Legends Foundation during the pandemic. However, the most important factor is having a board of directors who believe in what we stand for as an organization, coupled with their extraordinary leadership skills. We have a multi-faceted and multi-generational board. It was important to be open to doing different things and doing them differently. This is important in any organization, especially, one made up of creative people, and in our case, it’s all voluntary, no one gets financial compensation.
GQ: What plans does the Living Legends Foundation have to bridge the generational gap among the new music executives and their constituents?
DL: We have made a concerted effort to reach out to current executives to become a part of both our Board of Directors and our Advisory Board, and to educate them about the foundation and its mission. We are instituting a mentoring program to help current executives have access to season professionals they can reach out and help navigate the corridors of the music business. We are currently in a membership drive, something we tried many years ago but now with technology, we are accelerating those efforts. This will help us get current executives from radio, music, and allied industries involved. We have a scholarship program that will assist students interesting in broadcasting or the business side of the music industry. We are doing a better job of defining our mission in simple terms because what we do isn’t necessarily the sexiest thing but it’s vital. We are always working on behalf of our constituents to protect the legacy of Black music, documenting the contributions to the culture and giving support when times get tough.
GQ: Do you think the new generation of music executives are receptive to the legends that laid the foundation for their careers in the recording and music industries?
DL: The new generation is receptive once they know the backstory and fully understand the mission. They are both surprised and happy to know that there is a support system in place, but we can’t force ourselves on them, we can only let them know we exist to assist. When today’s executives hear these stories and know that there were Black executives with power that helped to shift the culture, they are surprised. When they learn that there were ten or more senior executives like a Sylvia Rhone who reported directly to the president/label head or how Sylvia broke the glass ceiling for both Black women and men executives by becoming Chairman of Elektra Records they are floored. One of those executives is one of our honorees this year. Mr. Hank Caldwell was the senior vice president of Black Music at Epic and responsible for Michael Jackson, Sade, Luther Vandross, and years later headed Death Row Records. Many never heard of Brenda Andrews, who headed Rondor Music, the publishing arm of Herb Albert’s A&M Records. Brenda, a past Living Legends Foundation honoree (1997), mentored Sony Music Publishing’s CEO and Chairman, Jon Platt who has been on our board for many years. When we can connect the past to the future it is empowering to all involved.
GQ: Radio and retail have changed drastically since the Living Legends Foundation was formed in 1991, how has this changed the direction and goals of the organization?
DL: Believe it or not, we are needed more than ever. We have just expanded our reach into other segments of the business. There are new executives trailblazing new paths in the streaming world, the digital world, and Black music continues to thrive. We are excited about tapping into today’s leaders and celebrating their accomplishments. Our honorees are not just those of yesteryear but those doing the ‘damn thing.’ We’ve re-defined what is legend. Most people think of a legend as someone who has done something over a long period of time. We don’t define a legend by the length of years that someone’s worked but by the level of work they’ve done or doing now. What Tuma Base is doing at YouTube Music is legendary, what Charlemagne Tha God is doing with his brand is legendary, and what Sharon Heyward did as a bold Black woman as General Manager of Black Music at Virgin Records or President at Perspective Records is legendary. We continue to salute the best Black men and women in the business of music regardless of age. Each one has a story that is inspiring and when you can inspire, move the culture forward in a substantial manner that’s legendary and should be acknowledged.
GQ: Where do you see the organization in five years?
DL: I see the organization still growing and expanding under whoever is at the helm. We are creating a succession plan. Most Black organizations fizzle because of no succession plan. It’s one of my pet peeves when organizations don’t groom future leaders. I was groomed for this role and I’m now working to groom our next successor. Our founder Ray Harris lives by the motto “Each One, Teach One” that’s what we are striving to do. We currently and have since our inception focused primarily on the people behind the scenes but we are looking to recognize artists in the future, not just for their musical talents, but for other aspects of their brand and business acumen, including their philanthropic works. This year, we are honoring Slim and Birdman of Cash Money for their entrepreneurial spirit. We applaud them for creating a business and staying true to their brand and the culture. In the past, we honored Quincy Jones who is a walking enterprise. So, I see us exploring and honoring more artists in the future.
GQ: What advice do you have for music executives who are interested in forming a not-for-profit organization?
DL: Do it for the right reason; if you’re looking for notoriety, this is not the venue, if you are thin-skinned this is not for you. However, if you have a burning desire to make an impact and make a difference then move forward.
GQ: What did the Living Legends Foundation do right for the past 30 years; what did the organization do differently?
DL: I believe what has kept this foundation growing for thirty years is one) Our board is diverse representing various segments of the business, and they believe in our mission; two) We operate with integrity and transparency. Most organizations fall apart due to fiscal mismanagement or egos; three) We help people and don’t disclose who we help unless they want to make it public; four) A succession plan is necessary and we plan for the future, I’m the result of a succession plan; and five) We are not afraid of change or to change.
GQ: Does the board have plans to take the awards gala back to New York City or another location?
DL: It has come up a few times to move the annual event to another location. Los Angeles has been good to and for us. We have “Pop up” events in other cities to introduce the organization to people. We recently had a “Pop up” event at Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s Sugar Bar in New York City. We taped an episode of our podcast/vodcast, “Music Day.” In that episode, the legendary songwriter Valerie Simpson was interviewed by our board member and legendary radio executive Skip Dillard.
If you are interested in any aspect of the music or record industry and would like to join a progressive organization, please consider becoming a member of the Living Legends Foundation. Join the Living Legends Foundation Awards gala on Friday, October 7, 2022, at the Tagalyn Complex in Hollywood, California. The organization also produces the annual A.D. Washington Golf Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia. Both events support and help students at Historically Black Colleges and universities.
To read more stories about the legends and icons of the Living Legends Foundation’s 30th-anniversary series, click here for our story on Ray Harris, the founder of the Living Legends Foundation.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning communications strategist and consultant with a career spanning more than 25 years. Quinn is the Chief Content Officer of Global Communicator magazine. As a contributor, she has penned stories for NBCNews.com, Black Enterprise, Essence.com, Huff Post, and EURWEB.com. She is currently a board member of the Living Legends Foundation and the Blues Foundation.