Celebrating 30 Years: A Talk with Living Legends Chairman David Linton

The Living Legends Foundation (LLF) is gearing up for its 30th Anniversary Celebration. Since its beginnings in the early `90s, the organization has feted more than 300 of the industry’s most revered and accomplished professionals serving in Black music. ‘

This year’s event will be held on Friday, October 7, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. at Taglyan Complex, 1201 N. Vine Street, Hollywood, CA. The esteemed group of nine honorees include: Ronald “Slim” Williams & Bryan “Birdman” Williams, co-founders of Ca$h Money Records, who will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award; Charlamagne Tha God, entertainment personality, author, and co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show, The Breakfast Club with DJ Envy and Angela Yee will receive the Jerry Boulding Radio Executive Award; Curtis Symonds, CEO of HBCUGO.TV will be presented with the Media Icon Award; Geo Bivins, CEO of Port Perry Entertainment will receive the Music Executive Award; Johnnie Walker, founder and CEO of the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment, Inc. (NABFEME) will be presented with the Mike Bernardo Female Executive Award.

Tuma Basa, Director of Black Music and Culture at YouTube will receive the Digita Executive Award; Sharon Heyward, founder and CEO of The Solutionist LLC and music
industry legend (formerly of Perspective, Virgin, and Harmony Records) will be presented
with the A.D. Washington Chairman’s Award; Hank Caldwell, founder and CEO of Expert
Fixer and music industry legend (formerly of WEA, SOLAR, Epic, and Death Row Records) will receive The Founders Award.

The 30th Anniversary honorees reflect the brilliance and excellence of today’s global music leaders and follow the tradition of the organization’s past honorees, who are trendsetters, trailblazers, legends, and icons. The foundation’s core mission is to honor the best among us in today’s ever-changing multimedia industry in the areas of broadcasting, recorded music, media, publishing, radio, publicity, and marketing.

To discuss the history and current direction of this esteemed organization, Music Industry Quarterly chatted with the Foundation’s Chairman, David Linton, who has been in his post for seven years, and been with the organization since its genesis.

Living Legends Foundation Chairman David Linton

30 years of producing LLF events: talk a bit about the significance of accomplishing such a milestone, and what the organization means to the industry at large.

30 years is a long time of doing anything in this business. The significance for the Living Legends Foundation is we are a nonprofit organization that was started back in the
nineties by [former Warner Bros. President of Black Music] Ray Harris and the late [Radio Programming Veteran] Jerry Boulding. We’ve been able to sustain through the changes in the music industry. It’s really about having a quality group of people on our board of directors, who compromise, and as Quincy Jones once said, leave their egos at the door.

We’ve been able to come together for the greater good of what the Foundation stands for, which is to preserve and honor the contributions of professionals in our industry. So, that our story is told right. We also formed the Foundation to help each other when needed, because you know, this is one of those industries where you don’t necessarily work for 25 or 30 years and get the gold watch, and then the retirement plan. The music industry overall comes with a lot of occupational hazards, and oftentimes people find themselves out of work.

We try to be that lifeline to help people get over those difficult times, sort of like a bridge over troubled waters. As the Foundation has grown over the years, we’ve tried to pay it forward. We’ve started a scholarship fund where we are helping students, who are interested in the music business or in broadcasting; to help them with their education.

How much goes into producing not only the main event, which is the dinner, but the overall weekend?

We’ve been able to put together a stellar team over the years. When we started out,
Cynthia Badie used to produce our shows. As time evolved, the late Mike Bernardo took it
over. Now, it’s led by Pat Shields. Anybody who knows Pat Shields knows that she’s the
woman who finds 36 hours in a day. She, along with her team, starts about six months out with the planning. It starts with determining our honorees and figuring out the location. We found somewhat of a permanent home in Los Angeles with the Taglyan Complex. It just takes everybody’s effort: fundraising, identifying entertainment, etc. But it’s a six-month process if not longer.

There’s another organization that shares some of our same people: Music Industry Legends
and Icons, which is L.A.-based. They hosted the picnic every year. So, when we moved the
LLF event to L.A., we got with them to form the Legends Weekend. And so, it is really two
organizations, working together to come up with one big Legends Weekend.

Do you still do other events like the golf tournament?

We do our golf tournament. We rebranded the golf tournament, the A.D. Washington Golf Tournament, for the benefit of the Living Legend’s Scholarship Fund. A.D. Washington was the longest serving chairman in the Living Legend Foundation’s history. When we lost him a couple years ago, it was really a great loss. He and I were very big on scholarships. We host the tournament in Atlanta.

Obviously, with COVID, we haven’t been able to do it for the last two years. We’re hoping
that we can get that started back in 2023. That’s led by Sam Weaver, the head of the golf committee. He can’t play golf, but he can put together a good tournament [laughs].

Not so long ago, The Living Legends event used to be more of a traveling platform: New York, Nashville, Atlantic City. What prompted the permanent move to L.A.?

We started at Conventions like the Urban Network and Impact. When conventions went away, we found ourselves at a crossroads. Those were the pivotal years. I give A.D.
Washington’s leadership a lot of credit during those times. We had to regroup where we
were going to be. We first decided New York because there were so many labels in New
York at the time; typically, around the Grammys. We were also dealing with cold weather.
New York also got to be quite expensive. We took a gamble and moved to the West Coast.
Los Angeles turned out to be an ideal location, allowing us to make it our home for the
foreseeable future.

The music business landscape has changed in recent years. How has that affected how you all raise money and gather participation?

You’re absolutely right. We got our start back in the heyday when there were about 20 Black Music divisions, and we could count on 20 senior Black executives to write a check. But as the industry shrunk, it did challenge us. We knew that we had to do some things differently.

This business is about relationships, and I will say that our friends at the record labels
and music companies have continued to support us. We’ve had to go out and look for other industries to partner with, too. As our board evolves, we’ve needed to do something else that would make people support us. The scholarship aspect really gave us a new life
because it gave us a different purpose…most people will support education. So that was a
nice addition to our portfolio.

How do you determine your honorees? What are the criteria?

You know, most people associate the term ‘legend’ with being old which can sometimes be a problem for us. We’ve approached some people who have said, “I don’t know if I want this award now because I’m not that old.” But see, it’s not really defined by your age. It’s
defined by your work and what you’ve done.

In our view, it’s not always about longevity, rather, “Have you done something that has
pushed the culture forward? Have you broken glass ceilings, or are you the first at doing
something?” The term legend can mean a lot of different things. We’ve had young honorees and we’ve had seasoned honorees. Look at our honorees this year; some of them are not considered old, they’re young, but what they’re doing in their professions is legendary. They’re opening up doors, they’re trailblazers. That’s what we look at when we describe a legend. Now we have people submit names, usually some people from our board; sometimes other people will submit names to us. We’ll look at credentials, and then there’s a vote.

Our primary categories are in radio and music/records. We don’t do the retail as much as we use to, but there are folks in distribution. We’ve also branched out over the years to include people from the press. This year we’ve got an honoree who comes from the video world, and somebody from the streaming world. So as the industry changes our awards will change. I mean, there’s hundreds of radio people. So, we can’t get every radio person. And there are thousands of record people going back to the very beginning of time. But this year we’re honoring an individual with YouTube. This is also the first time that we’re honoring an artist, per se, in a long time; meaning the guys from Ca$h Money, but we’re essentially honoring them for their entrepreneurial spirit.

How many people are voting?

There are roughly 15 people on our board of directors, and 15 or so on our advisory board. Everybody can nominate, but the board of directors, the governing body, is the one that does the voting.

What do you enjoy most about the Foundation, and do you see a younger group of industry professionals eventually taking it over?

We are creating opportunities for people to become members of the Foundation…making them card carrying members. One of the things that we’ve tried to do with the Living
Legends is begin that process of training and bringing in younger members, familiarizing
them with the Foundation and with the purpose to eventually take over. I’ve been with the organization the entire time. I really believe in what we stand for and in the work that we do…the money we’ve given over the years. We have saved homes. We’ve paid medical bills. People die without insurance. We’ve helped with burials. People have called because they’re about to be put out of their homes. We’ve been able to write a check and assist. That makes me feel really good. That we’re helping the next generation go to school also makes me feel good. I’m working in my capacity as Chairman to groom a group of people who are familiar with the Foundation, so when it’s time to pass the baton, they are ready.

Interview Conducted by David A. Mitchell

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