Michael Mauldin’s fight to preserve and honor Black music

Music mogul puts spotlight on artists, producers and executives from across different generations.
Michael Mauldin on why he and other music industry vets created the ICE Medal of Honor event: "We feel like there has never been a legitimate honors program associated with Black American music," he said. Courtesy of Vaughn Alvarez/CR8 Agency

Credit: Courtesy Vaughn Alvarez/CR8 Agency

Credit: Courtesy Vaughn Alvarez/CR8 Agency

Michael Mauldin on why he and other music industry vets created the ICE Medal of Honor event: "We feel like there has never been a legitimate honors program associated with Black American music," he said. Courtesy of Vaughn Alvarez/CR8 Agency

It can be tricky trying to cut Michael Mauldin off in conversation, especially when he’s talking about two of his favorite topics: family and music.

Over the phone, he’s talking excitedly about the latter, specifically an upcoming honors program taking place in Atlanta.

“Please stop me,” he insists. “I’m not a rambler, but I’ll start talking about it because I’m pretty passionate.”

The legendary music mogul, producer and, yes, Jermaine Dupri’s dad, is explaining his latest passion project, the Imperial Crown of Excellence (ICE) Medal of Honor celebration produced by the nonprofit Black American Music Association (BAM), and its board of directors.

Mauldin, BAM’s chairman, has a blunt explanation.

“We feel like there has never been a legitimate honors program associated with Black American music,” he said, adding that though The Soul Train Awards and BET both recognize Black musicians, both are rooted in television entertainment and ratings, not giving flowers to an art form, so to speak.

The inaugural, invite-only June 2 celebration at Bank of America Plaza is an effort to celebrate generations of influential Black artists and executives in music and serves as a fundraiser for BAM to further the organization’s work in the areas of music education, leadership and mentorship.

For a longtime veteran of 30-plus years in the music business, Mauldin isn’t, as he says, just rambling. In an industry lacking diversity on almost every level, where fans annually question racial implications of nomination oversights at awards shows like the Grammys, Mauldin hopes his ICE Medal of Honor ceremony can distinguish itself as one made by and for Black folks with lived experiences in the music business.

All eyes on us

As Mauldin sees it, the ICE Medal of Honor is, in some ways, a version of the Country Music Association awards ceremony, which started out untelevised with an event from an organization of artists from the community.

For a first time affair, what the ICE Medal of Honor may lack in history, it more than makes up for with a star-studded list of honorees and tributes.

Honorary hosts will be Mauldin, LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid and longtime exec Chaka Zulu.

Honorees include super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (global creative impact honor), hip-hop forefather Grandmaster Flash (transformative award), singer-songwriter Muni Long, Jermaine Dupri and Bryan Michael Cox for R&B song of the year for “Made for Me.”

Motown legend Suzanne de Passe, the woman who discovered the Jackson 5 and the Commodores, is getting the Trailblazer Honor. The ceremony will also award influential Atlanta record labels So So Def and LaFace Records for the artist development label of an era award.

Mayor Andre Dickens will be on hand to make a toast to the honorees, which include himself. Dickens is getting the ICE Culture and Community Leadership Honor. In more city connections, the program also includes recognition for contributions made by late Atlanta music pioneers Rico Wade and Clay Evans.

The event is the brainchild of Mauldin and BAM. The latter is a nonprofit cofounded by Mauldin and Demmette Guidry in 2017, focused on preserving and celebrating contributions of Black creatives and executives in music. The organization’s mission, said Mauldin, is “just trying to make sure that we are constantly telling the stories, shedding light, giving people hope, educating the next generation and giving flowers to those that have been here before us.”

Even with guests donning cocktail attire, Mauldin is quick to point out that this show isn’t really about designer red carpet looks, questionable nominees (technically, there are no nominees), weird genre mashups and moments that rock social media.

06/17/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Black Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame co-founder Michael T Mauldin Tmakes remarks during the inaugural induction ceremony for the Black Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“We try not to call it an awards show as much as it’s an honors program. It’s not about what’s the big hit today or who’s got the No. 1 record,” he said about the ticketed program that also functions as a fundraiser for BAM.

It’s also not one big throwback-style git down for just aunties and uncles. “One thing that we also realize, as much as it’s important to recognize our history, our legacy and the preservation, we also have to amplify and educate the next generation,” Mauldin said.

Back to the future

In a lot of ways, Mauldin’s path to where he is now at 70, is informed by lessons learned along a storied career.

As a kid growing up in segregated Murphy, North Carolina, Mauldin got his start singing in local groups before moving behind the scenes, becoming a road manager for Atlanta-based R&B and funk band Brick. Eventually, Mauldin landed a gig as president of Columbia Records’ Black music division in the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s.

Whereas young generations are more familiar with Mauldin’s Scream Tour, Scream Nation brand, and legal battle with Bow Wow, he got his initial event chops with the Fresh Fest. He says the idea was first hatched in 1983 at famed promoter Cedric “Ricky” Walker’s office off Old National Highway. They would produce a traveling festival, capitalizing on the rise of rap.

From 1984 to 1986, Mauldin produced the Fresh Fest, which featured acts such as Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, Whodini, Grandmaster Flash and a young Jermaine Dupri. “We showed out the gate that hip-hop had an audience, that rap music had an audience,” he said.

These days, as the father of a hip-hop legend, and a 12-year-old-daughter, Mauldin is experiencing music in myriad ways. Not all of it he loves.

“You’re not selling albums anymore. We’re now selling streams. We’re now selling individual songs,” he said.

Stories behind classic albums — the artists, executives, producers — are lost in today’s streaming shuffle, but Mauldin wants programming like the ICE Medal of Honor help keep that history alive.

“I’m really pleased in one aspect of where we are as a nation or as a world in which we support Black music,” said Mauldin of seeing artists go from performing in segregated clubs to dominating streaming charts. “I’m a little let down that we’re still missing the education that comes along with it, so that’s why I fight every day with this association and foundation to make a difference.”