Henry Stone on NATRA 1968, The First Black Record Convention: “We Had A Lot Of Incidents”

“The convention was at the 4 Ambassadors, it was the first black convention. We had a lot of incidents happen there. It was a very upheaving convention because of the blackness. It was kinda early in the days of integration. Marshall Sehorn from New Orleans…Whatever the reasons are, these black mafia dudes from New York tried to muscle in on the record business y’know, they got a hold of him, this white guy Marshall, and beat the shit out of him in the elevator. Busted his face open with the butt of a pistol or something.

Also, a threat came through to Jerry Wexler that they were really gonna hassle Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records. I heard about that and I got a hold of Joe Robinson from Harlem, who later on started Sugar Hill Records with “Rapper’s Delight,” which I put up the seed money for, and I sez, “Joe, we gotta step in and get Jerry out of this convention cause there might be something happening.” Which we did and nothin happened with Jerry. But the threat came through the underground that they were gonna like, they didn’t like what Jerry was doin with the black artists whatever the reason was yknow.

They tried to hold up Jerry Wexler and I stepped in with a couple of my New York mafia guys, black guys from the mafia who I used to have around me too. I had a bodyguard by the name of Rico. But when the black mafia started to move in I got real tight with em’. Rather than fight them I joined them.

Why not?

They tried to get control of the record business but they didn’t, which was great. They didn’t. Too many factions, not just one faction, too many people to deal with. They had their little niche like everything else yknow.

They left me alone though. I had the black mafia protecting me. You remember King Coleman the disc jockey? He brought Joe Robinson to my office cause Joe said he wanted go in the record business. King Coleman said, “You don’t go in no record business without seeing Henry Stone.”

So he came to the office and I said, “Alright Joe, I’ll set you up with the distributors and so the first record he comes up with was Little Sylvia, “Pillow Talk.” A national hit!

And then later on see I was the distributor for his rap records. C’mon whats the fuckin?….Grandmaster Flash. That and what’s the other one? There was three big ones. I was pressing them for him ten thousand at a time. He couldn’t get any pressing on credit, and at that time TK was starting to cook. I had my own pressing plant.

I said, “OK Joe, i’ll make ya a deal. I’ll go in business with ya on the label.” But Joe was a tough guy from the hoodlums in Harlem yknow, and I got along with em great so I made a deal. Some kind of a deal. Not 50% but 20%, and then later on after we’re selling a nice amount of records I get a call from Morris Levy. He says, “Henry. I’ll tell ya what, man, I’m takin over. You’re out.”

I sez, “Good.” Cause I didn’t really wanna get too involved with Joe.

He was too tough. I could handle street shit, but not that Harlem shit, man, at that time that was too rough.

Morris said, “Whatever money we owe, we’ll take care of it.” And he took care of it.”


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