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Black music industry icon to receive inaugural Medal of Honor this summer

Written by on February 12, 2024

On June 2, Michael Mauldin, who is the co-founder of the Black American Music Association (BAMA), will receive the Imperial Crown of Excellence (ICE) Medal of Honor. The award ceremony will take place at Ray Charles Performing Arts Center, on the campus of historically-Black Morehouse College (Atlanta, GA). The ceremony will occur as the country celebrates 100 years of the art form of Black American music this year.

Mauldin grew up in the mid-1950s and 1960s, during the civil rights movement, when many changes and challenges occurred in the world, and he got a chance to witness them up close.

“I remember when television sets were all black and white, and when the first color televisions came onto the market. When I was growing up, the community was to be trusted and very few families locked their front doors,” said Mauldin.

“Although I’m from the segregated south, our little town of Murphy, North Carolina, and the surrounding areas were fairly calm as it relates to race issues and communal disruptions back in the day.”

He grew up in the community of Texana, which was mostly segregated, with schools being integrated in Murphy when he was 12 years old.

He is the eldest of his parents’ four children, and he has two sisters and one brother. Growing up, the siblings were much closer to their mom’s side of the family than their dad’s, since they lived only a short distance away from their maternal grandparents

“My dad was a tractor and trailer driver, and in the early days before I was born, until I was about three years old, he was also known as a moonshine runner (driver for liquor distribution) in the prohibition area,” he added. Mauldin’s dad was well-known throughout Western North Carolina, East Tennessee and North Georgia as Lightnin’: a man that could drive the wheels off of an automobile.

Mauldin, at age 13, was in a R&B/Soul band called The Berets, where he sang background vocals, danced and played the tambourine. Two years later, he joined a rock and roll band called The Other Side, with his best friend and four white guys, where he was the lead singer.

Mauldin credits his dad as his inspiration for having a strong work ethic, along with a love for cars and motorsports. “But more than anything, he taught me to always go for what I really wanted in life as no one was going to just give it to you. Just always do it where folks respect your ability to get the job done, whether they like you or not.”

As a Black man in the South, he said that always seemed to be the best way, but it’s also essential to hold on to your dignity, pride and community upbringing.

Mauldin’s interest in wanting to become a musician started in the community. “My cousins (the Hall Brothers; Harry, John and Roscoe) were all great musicians and singers, so I was always around watching them rehearse and play, and I was determined to do that one day,” he continued.

He started out in his career as a road manager, and in 1977 he met  Earl “Speedo” Sims, who Mauldin considers to be his mentor. Sims was the road manager for the band Brick at that time. As he was from Macon, Georgia, he was previously the road manager for the Allman brothers and the late Otis Redding.

As a result of meeting him, Mauldin started to consider a career as a producer. “He supported me and suggested that I stay in production and make it a real career,” said Mauldin. “He would always emphasize that if you do your job right and at the top of your craft, the band would eventually believe that they could not do a show without you and you would always have income, as long as they worked.”

For Mauldin, working with the band Brick was the deciding factor to go from musician to working behind the scenes as a roadie, lighting director and stage manager. This role led him to be recognized as a leader and hard worker with a mission to always finish the job and do it precisely and fast, without fuss or distractions.

While working with Brick, Mauldin met entertainment attorney David Franklin, who admired his work ethic, and connected him with his colleagues. Franklin at this time had managed artists including

RIichard Pryor, Donnie Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, and Brick. In 1979, a new young school teacher and artist from Memphis, TN joined: Anita Ward (Top #1 R&B song: You Can Ring My Bell), and he started working with her.

In addition, while still working with Brick, Mauldin built a working relationship with Bunnie Jackson Ransom, who managed a new band called The SOS Band. “She hired me and my company, MTM Roadworks, to help put The SOS Band tour production and crew together,” Mauldin stated.

For Mauldin, joining Columbia Records/Sony Music was not the plan. “From 1988 through 1995, I managed and directed the careers of many artists and creatives, many of them being from Atlanta or the South in general.  I also managed my son, Hall of Fame songwriter and producer Jermaine Dupri. Together we launched So So Def Productions and Recordings,” he continued.

Mauldin also said that with his son Jermaine’s success, along with artists Kris Kross and Arrested Development, he was offered a position he couldn’t pass up.

“They initially brought me in under a dual title: Executive Vice President of Black Music and Senior Vice President of the Columbia Records Group, allowing me to sit in on all company -wide decisions.  But they were clear that they wanted my focus tobe building their Black music department,” he said.

After a hard period of negotiations, Mauldin convinced them to make the department a division of the company. “I needed that added to my contract, so that I could control my own budgets and that’s what I set out to do.”

The company said they would agree to his request if the Black Music Division he created could show tremendous growth in the first two years of his employment. He was then appointed president of Columbia Records’/Sony Music’s Black Music Division.

Mauldin knew that his son was talented musically. He was given the first name Jermaine, after Jackson 5 member Jermaine Jackson. His middle name Dupri, which Mauldin wanted to be unique, is a reference to Cornell Dupree, one of the most prolific guitar players to ever perform.

“I loved the fact that Jermaine was in love with music, first as a dancer, then as an artist, then a songwriter and producer. Jermaine’s love and draw to the music could be seen (at least by me) as early as three years old, when he received his first drum kit,” he stated.

In the early 1980’s, when Michael Jackson’s career had blown up, Jermaine showcased his dancing skills that led his dad to adding him to shows as the opening act. He opened for funk band Cameo, and he danced in the live music set for musician Herbie Hancock to Hancock’s song Rocket. He even got to dance on stage with Diana Ross in an impromptu performance in front of 16,000 people in Atlanta, GA.

From 1984-86, Mauldin was one of the producers, and production manager, for the original New York City Fresh Festival.

“After introducing Jermaine’s talents to my friend, tour creator and promoter Cedric “Ricky” Walker, Jermaine landed the role as the lead off dancer and performer for the festival. He continued to perform at the festival during its most  stand out years, and also received billing. That era of time changed both of our lives,” he stated.

”As Jermaine built a fondness and love for hip-hop, he got to hang out and interact with some of hip-hop’s royalty, such as: Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Fat Boys and Whodini. Whodini even put JD in their music video for their song ‘Freaks Come Out at Night,’ and JD’s career was born.”

Following this experience for JD, Mauldin has had a connection to hip-hop since then, along with a variety of other genres of music.

His motto is: “Acknowledge your history to inspire the future.” Mauldin said knowing this, we can discover and uncover things about ourselves, and we should use those experiences to avoid many distractions.

“However,  I do believe that one has to be willing to let something go or allow it to somewhat take a back seat, if you are to properly find new territory or new opportunities. God gives to us what we deserve, but he never puts more on us than we can handle,” he added.

“So in order to take on more, sometimes you have to change your current way of thinking or doing, and possibly have to find a way to reinvent yourself, which is sometimes easier than we think, because we have the background and the history to show and prove it.”

Mauldin worked with artists such as Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Nas early in their careers.

It means everything to Maulding to be receiving a Medal of Honor, because he said: “As Black artists, we know that not only it is deserved but our peers and others view our artistic value, craft, humanity and devotion to community and culture as being at the forefront of popular culture, while showing Black excellence in our communities, both personally and professionally.”

For Mauldin, as a producer and organizer of the Medal of Honor, he is proud to have had the vision of creating such an honor, one that will stand the test of time. “It is an honor that I can help bestow on others who may not have gotten their flowers or recognition they solely deserve, for it shines a light on them as a champion, a king or queen of our society, and that is an honor no one can take away.”

Additionally, Mauldin’s passion for working to uplift Black voices stems from  his belief in the youth, Black culture, and the next generation.

“I feel that music is a creative way of being better educated, and I also recognize that education is very necessary whether it is at one of our leading HBCUs or from working a job on the street  from a young age. It always will take someone else to help us move the needle and clear the hurdles. We just have to be willing to roll up our sleeves and deliver as if there was no one there to help.”

He has learned in his career that the harder he works for himself, the more that others want to help or join in. “I believe it’s all about Black excellence in whatever we do.”

In terms of his legacy, Mauldin wants to be recognized as a shepherd, where he leads a flock of sheep. But I also want others to know, particularly our young people: In order to be a great leader, you have to be, or willing to be, a great follower.

Furthermore, Mauldin said he will be fulfilled when he can help champion finding a way to put music and the arts back in the country’s public schools and if not in public schools, at least finding ways for youth to experience the arts free of cost.

“In the Black and brown communities, that is all our kids often need: an introduction that is given to them, without feeling they have to go out of their way to pay for it before it can be afforded to them.”

Those interested can find more details to come on the ICE Medal of Honor event here: https://blackama.org/.They can also follow BAMA on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/blackamaorg/, and Mauldin on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/michaelmauldin/?hl=en.

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