The Black Forum label — founded by Berry Gordy and the Motown Corporation in 1971 — will relaunch in 2021, “providing a platform to a new generation of writers, thinkers and poets,” according to the announcement. In addition to newly recorded releases, Black Forum will reissue six of the historic albums that established its legacy, beginning with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” on February 26.
Ethiopia Habtemariam, President of Motown Records, said, “As we navigate our way through unprecedented times, racial and social tensions are at a high. We felt an urgent need to reactivate Black Forum in order to provide information alongside inspiration. The label provided a clear-cut reflection of who America was at the time of civil unrest in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Now, we look to extend and expound on the original principles and purpose of Black Forum.”
The move comes as part of a collaboration with Motown Museum in Detroit, the home of Hitsville U.S.A. — a significant cultural institution that serves as the storyteller and heritage keeper of Motown Records’ legacy for millions of fans around the world.
Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry said, “We are delighted to collaborate with our partner Motown Records for the relaunch of this iconic label and the yearlong programming around Black Forum. Storytelling, education and the power of shared experience is a vital part of Motown Museum’s DNA. The rich heritage of the Black Forum label has long been an important chapter in the continuing story of Motown.” Inspired by Black Forum, Motown MIC: Spoken Word Competition, currently in its eighth year, calls on poets and orators to perform original pieces for the opportunity to be named Motown MIC Artist of the Year.
Gordy’s vision for Black Forum was sparked by his work with Dr. King, who recorded and released several speeches, including “The Great March to Freedom,” on Gordy Records, a Motown subsidiary label. Black Forum’s first release was Dr. King’s “Why I Oppose The War In Vietnam.” Released in 1970, it won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album the following year. The landmark speech was recorded in April 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Black Forum also gave other notable spoken word artists of the time a platform. In three years, the label released albums by Stokely Carmichael, Langston Hughes & Margaret Danner, Wallace Terry, Ossie Davis & Bill Cosby and others.
Elaine Brown’s self-titled album and Imamu Amiri Baraka’s “It’s Nation Time” were reissued in 2018. The remaining five albums listed below will be reissued over the course of 2021:
- Stokely Carmichael “Free Huey”
- Langston Hughes & Margaret Danner “Writers of the Revolution”
- Guess Who’s Coming Home “Black Fighting Men Recorded Live in Vietnam”
- Ossie Davis “Congressional Black Caucus”
- Various Artists “Black Spirits: Festival of New Black Poets in America” (includes appearances by Imamu Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, and The Last Poets)
The relaunched Black Forum also aims to spark candid conversations to mold and inspire the next generation of “game changers” via podcasts, Black Community Forums, Motown Museum events and programs and digital initiatives.