My Rhythm and My Blues: Gail Mitchell

In this episode we meet longtime Billboard journalist Gail Mitchell. She shares how she got started, some of her most memorable interviews and what she hopes her legacy will be. Take a look:


People should pay attention. There are a lot of us out here who know a lot about the history of Black music, have a lot to share. Both my parents were into music. My father was really into a lot of jazz. Mom was into jazz as well, really loved piano players like Dave Brubeck and George Shearing and Erroll Garner. So, I grew up with a lot of music, and then I fell in love with Louisa May Alcott. I was a book reader. So I remember writing stories, then when I ended up at Loyola, I graduated with a degree in writing communications. I worked in the president's office, working as the assistant to the executive secretary to the president, because I could type. It was RKO Radio, they had about 12 stations. And then two days of the week, I worked with their national music coordinator, and that's when I learned about trade publications, Billboard- I saw that maybe I could marry my writing with the music so it would all come full circle.


I thought I wanted to be a music director at a radio station, so I did try out for that job at one of the radio stations with RKO. And they were basing their charts on actual airplay, where you would literally- before computers got big - we would literally sit there and call stations that best represented the various genres. I was able to get on because they started a Black radio department, and when the guy delivered the Radio and Records to RKO Radio, I asked the guy "are they looking for anybody?" and things kind of morphed together, and I ended up being the assistant to the Black music editor at Radio and Records. So that's how this whole thing started, and I wanted them to know that I could do more than just Black. So I was all over the place, and eventually, when I left there, I was Vice President Executive Editor of the entire publication.


What does Black music mean to me? I guess foundation for me, that's what Black music is, because it's from there that a lot of different things spring out. I started at Billboard in 1999, and everybody was talking about this woman named Jill Scott. We were the first ones to do an interview with Jill Scott.

Interviewing Stevie Wonder:

My favorite artist to interview, I think, was Stevie Wonder. He was a Century Award winner that year. I'm scared to death because I try hard not to fangirl, and the president of his company said "okay, you've got 30 minutes with him", so I'm like oh my God, there's just so much to ask of him. And I went to the studio, and I could hear him playing the harmonica in the distance, and I'm sitting there going "Oh my God, it's Stevie Wonder." And he came out, he took me back to where he works, and we ended up talking for almost four hours. She kept signaling to me through the window of the studio, and I would tell him, you know, "she's saying we need to stop talking", and he goes "no, I'm not ready yet. I like talking to you." So that was something that I hold dear to my heart.

Being a Black executive:

What it means to me to be a Black woman holding my position as Executive Director at Billboard, I think it's a sign post, especially with my longevity here. I think at that point in time, it also let a lot of people know it doesn't have to be a male, doesn't have to be anybody white. We have a lot to bring to the table, and that's what I always tried to do.

Experiencing racism:

I was called a four letter word when I was working at Inside Radio. I just said "You know what? You don't have to talk to me like that." She would talk down to the Black people that were there, in front of the production people, the white production people that were laying out her publications, and at one point, she got upset with me about something. Then she started tapping me on my arm like this. I pulled my arm away and said "you know what? You don't have to tap me like that to talk to me. And you know what? Maybe I just need to step aside, and not do this anymore." And I left.


I think it's just uncovered- three years ago, when streaming was finally looked at as a true barometer of what people are consuming- I think it just unveiled what I think everybody who works in Black music already understood, that the music is popular, you all just didn't want to see that.


I would like my legacy to be that I fought the good fight. We should have a say so in the creative process, in the promotion process, in the marketing process, cause it's- you know, we know the culture.
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