The Segregated Pop Charts?

I've mentioned this before, but I am always befuddled by claims that Michael Jackson was "the first" black artist who could score hits with white audiences. I was reminded of this again when I happened to be pointed to Billboard's list of number one pop singles. Take the year I first started listening to pop music, 1970, and consider that the United States is about 13% black, so it is just about impossible to reach number one on the overall pop chart if you are selling only to black record buyers.

What I see for that year is that black artists occupied the number one spot 19 out of 52 weeks: almost 40% of the time. And it was not one "crossover" artist: it was five different ones. And me, a white kid in the suburbs, owned records by all five.

The previous year, 1969, I count black artists at number one 20 out of 52 weeks. And again it is five different artists, with only two overlaps with 1970 (Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Sly and the Family Stone). And I owned records by two of the three acts that would not reach number one in 1970. (I don't recall owning anything by Marvin Gaye at that time.)

Black Americans have had a tough enough time, what with slavery and Jim Crow and lynchings, that we really don't need to make up slights that didn't exist.


  1. The experience of that oppression, combined with that low population percentage, makes their dominance in the music charts all the more amazing.


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