Livn It Southern Soul Style
Music Specialist has not received any gifts yet
Platinum rappers and record labels come and go but only a small handful of them can match the longevity and incomparable success of one unsung hero in the entertainment industry. That one man is the undisputed Music Specialist also known as Allen Johnston. For almost four decades, Johnston has made major moves in music, movies and entertainment law. And quietly, he laid the foundation that most independent southern rap labels follow today.
“My business now is to make other businesses grow and function,” he advises.
Born on the south side of Chicago, Allen’s upbringing was a breeding ground for self expression. Raised by his great aunt and uncle in the 40s and 50s, he and his younger sister were brought up in a 38-room boarding house. His aunt was an opera singer herself. And his extended family included actors, writers and singers.
“I was the only kid in the building for seven years, until my sister was born,” he remembers. “So everybody took care of me.”
By his seventh birthday, Allen was playing classical piano with perfection and heavenly hymns for the Bethel AME Church where his family attended and worshipped under the direction of the renowned A. Waymon Ward. After high school graduation, the cold breezes of the Windy City blew him down South to attend Clark College Atlanta, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1972.
From there, he relocated again to Miami and landed a gig with Capitol/EMI Records. Only 22 years old, he became the youngest-ever regional record promoter. Johnston was responsible for promoting music in six southeastern states and for two distributors in Miami and Atlanta.
“Back in those days, there was no marketing division or promotional department outside the main office,” remembers Johnston. “So I had to work radio and retail. They had a white promotional man but he wouldn’t go into those areas where I went.”
During Johnston’s years with the company, EMI America raked in countless platinum with the highest percentage of sales. Week after week, the two distributors came in number one and two in sales.
“I went into stores with a squeegee and a bucket so the store owner would let me put my posters in the window. People would come in and buy my records because they saw my posters,” says Johnston. “I washed a lot of damn windows.”
Before long, celebrated music industry executive Clive Davis heard of his accomplishments and offered him a regional promotion job for Arista Records. There, Johnston acquired six gold albums for the likes of Ray Parker Jr., Dionne Warwick, Gil Scott Herron and Tom Brown.
“I started out in promotions because that’s all that a black man could be at that time,” says Johnston. “Promotions men that didn’t change with the game didn’t stay in the business.”
Johnston then invested in his own label Joey Boy Records. With Johnston behind the scenes grooming artists and marketing, the label boasted such pioneering southern rap talents such as Disco Rick, The Dogs, DJ Fury and The Puppies and sold more than four million records independently.
Pushing the envelope even further, he created and orchestrated Dade County’s first and largest Black Music Month Festival in Liberty City section in the 1983. Continuing to give back to the music community, he created informational website www.asha.com the following year. Dedicated to educating aspiring entertainers and promoters, the website has been rated in the top five percent of all online sites in 1995.
Around the same time, he joined the ranks of Mindseed Corporation, a high-definition movie and audio studio complex based in Oakland, where Johnston develops international and national movie, audio and publishing deals for major and independent artists and filmmakers.
His efforts led to countless accolades and certificates of appreciation as diverse as Jack the Rapper’s Superior Achievement in Black Music Award and the Reader’s Digest Look Smart Editor’s Choice Award. But Allen didn’t stop there. In 1996, he became the director of urban sales for the K-TEL Corporation, where he instituted the first major catalog of direct-to-VHS/DVD movies.
And if that weren’t enough, Johnston also developed a course of study for non-profit organization Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America. Funded by federal government, the program enlisted at-risk youth in the Miami area, paid them a salary to attend class and taught them the essentials of the entertainment industry. To date, the program has the highest percentage of Black male graduation rate of any program in Dade and Broward counties.
In addition, Johnston is an honored speaker for the Florida, Georgia and Tennessee Bar Associations’ Continuing Legal Education courses. Johnston has written several position papers and contracts. His latest book, Publishing Quick and Easy, is a mainstay for both new and experienced attorneys.
Most recently, Johnston concentrates on international affairs. He has been assisting artists and labels in royalty collections, administration and executive level consulting and is currently working with Hip-Hop icon Kool Moe Dee, Grammy Award-winning blues singer Lucky Peterson and Japanese hit singer Minnie P. He is also working to acquire publishing catalogue for the estate of celebrated late reggae star Dennis Brown.
“I’ve been able to remain in this business by staying abreast of the current changes,” he advises. “You must be morally right, be truthful, be persistent and read.”
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