Rock'n'roll beer-can promotion leaves sour taste for black stars

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The Independent US

Some people say Miller beer has little taste. But in a row over a promotion featuring the heroes of rock'n'roll, the company itself has been accused of bad taste.

Some people say Miller beer has little taste. But in a row over a promotion featuring the heroes of rock'n'roll, the company itself has been accused of bad taste.

Miller Brewing is celebrating the "50th Anniversary of Rock'n'Roll", with eight commemorative beer cans with cover shots from Rolling Stone magazine showing artists such as Elvis Presley, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton and Blondie. The promotion takes Presley's debut at Sun Studios in Memphis in the summer of 1954 as the birth of rock'n'roll.

But what is missing from the joint promotion - conspicuously so, say critics - are black performers. Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, called the absence "beyond conspicuous", because black artists were often credited with inventing rock'n'roll. "It would be like doing a set of cans of six great Impressionist painters and not including French people on it," he said. "It leaves out an enormous amount."

Miller, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said it started with a longer list of artists but was constrained by the need to feature people who had been on the cover of the magazine. Several artists who did appear on covers declined to be associated with a promotion for alcohol. "I'm sure our objective was to get as diverse a representation of musical acts as well as diversity," Scott Bussen, a Miller spokesman, said.

Rolling Stone also denied that race had been a factor. Gary Armstrong, chief marketing officer for the Rolling Stone publisher, Wenner Media, said: "We didn't even consciously think pro or con, the same way the only woman on there is Blondie. We just went with the people we thought were appropriate. We went through [the covers] and said these people we don't think are appropriate, or wouldn't appeal to Miller drinkers."

Critics point out that six of the initial 10 artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1986 were black, including Chuck Berry and Little Richard as well as James Brown and the late Ray Charles.

Todd Mesek, senior marketing director at the Hall of Fame, which has a summer concert series sponsored by Miller Lite, said African heritage was "critical" to rock's development. "Arguably all rock'n'roll came from, or at least was greatly influenced by, African culture," Mr Mesek said. "Rock'n'roll came from R&B, jazz, folk. All those genres before rock'n'roll came together to birth rock'n'roll."

Mr Armstrong said the artists were not paid, but some got free beer and magazine subscriptions.

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