Black Creators Who Got Their Material Stolen
Remember that classic Kirstin Dunst movie Bring it On when the newly appointed high school cheer captain goes on a trip and finds out her cheer team won all those championships because the former cheer captain had been recording and stealing routines from an inner-city (black) cheer team and suddenly all the white people who watched that movie understood what cultural appropriation was?
It's the oldest story in the book -- a Black person works hard on a personal project, Black person excitedly puts it out into the world, a white person creates exact same product but with a white face attached to it, the white person reaps in the money and success while the Black person sits in their living room trying to understand why white people are the way they are.
It always sucks when something's stolen from someone and becomes wildly successful, leaving the original creator in the dust; it's much worse when it happens to a child.
Jalaiah Harmon was a Black 14-year-old classically trained dance student from Atlanta who hit up one of her friends and decided to create a fun dance together, as kids do. She choreographed an intricate series of moves to the song "Lottery" by rapper K-Camp and posted a vid of herself doing it on the Funimate app and then on Instagram, calling it the "Renegade Dance". It started to catch fire; then someone brought it over to TikTok.
But here's a plot twist -- turns out that was a lie and Jack Daniels owes his career to a slave named Nearest Green. See, it wasn't Mr. Call who was a big-time whiskey maker, it was his slave, Nearest Green, and Mr. Call sent his slave to teach Daniel everything he knew, saying, "Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker that I know of."
Once slavery ended and Jack Daniel opened up his own distillery soon afterward, he did end up hiring two of Nearest Green's sons, and all records seem to show that he treated them and Nearest Green himself with relative kindness and respect (as much as can be expected in those times) but still, the distillery's history was deliberately white-washed for 150 years. Turns out people like they were distilling some bullshit in addition to the mash.
Led Zeppelin Double-Dipped On Stealing From Willie Dixon ... On The Same Album
Led Zeppelin is a group that loves the blues. They love the blues so much they aggressively stole from Black blues artists repeatedly, and just Kanye-shrugged when they got hit by lawsuits. But how ballsy do you have to be to steal two songs from one artist and put it on the same album?
Famous blues singer/songwriter Willie Dixon was horrified to find that Led Zeppelin had come out with a song called "Bring It On Home" which sounded a lot like the one he had written for Sonny Boy Williamson in 1966, same name and everything. He sued them for copyright infringement and won. Years later he was again horrified to discover that they had a song on that same album called "Whole Lotta Love," which sounded a lot like the song he wrote for Muddy Waters called "You Need Love." They had played him twice in one album. He sued them again and actually won again
Fun story: when Led Zeppelin member Robert Plant turned to bandmate Jimmy Page and suggested that "Whole Lotta Love" might not be original, Page responded by saying, "shut up and keep walking," so ... I'm kinda hoping Willie and his family took him to the cleaners for a whole lotta bucks.
Imagine channel surfing at home one day, coming across the Lion King on TV, and hearing your dad's song that he wrote being sung by a snooty meerkat and a farty warthog. That's what happened to Solomon Linda's daughter when she realized how badly they had been played by Disney.
Solomon Linda was a Zulu man who wrote the song "Mbube" in 1939 and recorded it with his homeboys The Evening Birds. Over the years the song kind of became a cult hit, being recorded by over 150 different artists, featured in at least 15 movies and stage musicals, most famously by Disney's Lion King. But Solomon Linda died with less than $25 to his name because he wasn't credited for any of that shit, financially or otherwise. His family was so poor his wife couldn't even afford a stone for his grave.
We're ready to make the controversial statement that this is better without Nathan Lane singing lead
But it was Lion King's success that finally pushed his family to the breaking point. After being featured in a Rolling Stone article, and an Emmy winning documentary, his family decided to go ahead and sue Disney for the $1.6 million in back royalties they were owed for the use of the song in the Lion King film and musical stage productions. They eventually reached a legal settlement, dropped the suit, and had their own personal Disney ending.
Top image: Ashwini Chaudhury/Unsplash, Sarang Pande/Unsplash