In 1978, an 18-year-old musician was about to sign his first record contract with Warner Brother Records when, according to then Warner Brothers Vice President Larry Waronker, the musician turned to Waronker and said, “Don’t make me black.”

The young musician was Prince, a rare talent who would avoid the record industry race record traps that had ensnared so many African American musicians before him. The history of American popular music is rife with examples of black artists and musicians such as Ruth Brown, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Curtis Mayfield, and others, who were not given the opportunity to garner sustained mainstream success. Prince’s insightful edict was not a rejection of his own blackness. Instead, it was an acknowledgement of the ways in which the record industry ghettoizes black artists and who the industry believes black music’s intended audience will be.

In B. Lee Cooper’s 1989 article, “Promoting Social...

You do not currently have access to this content.