No blacks on rock beer cans

Selections for Miller-Rolling Stone promotion come under fire

Aug 16, 2004 - Miller Brewing's promotion to celebrate the "50th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll" with eight commemorative beer cans that feature Rolling Stone cover shots of Elvis Presley, Blondie and others, has sparked protests because there are no black artists featured.


Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, called the absence "beyond conspicuous," because black artists often are credited with inventing rock 'n' roll. "It would be like doing a set of cans of six great Impressionist painters and not including any French people on it," he said. "It leaves out an enormous amount."

The promotion, which ties rock's anniversary to Presley's debut at Sun Studios, also depicts Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Willie Nelson, as well as the guitars of Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh, on cans being issued this summer by the brewer and the magazine.

Gary Armstrong, chief marketing officer for Rolling Stone publisher Wenner Media, said race wasn't a consideration when choosing the artists.

"We didn't even consciously think pro or con, the same way that the only woman on there is Blondie. We just went with the people that we thought were appropriate," he said. "We went through (the covers) and said these people we don't think are appropriate, or wouldn't appeal to Miller drinkers."

Miller spokesman Scott Bussen said the company started with a broad wish list, but its choices were limited to Rolling Stone covers. "I'm sure that our objective was to get as diverse a representation of musical acts as well as diversity," he said.

Armstrong noted that Rolling Stone wasn't around for the birth of rock 'n' roll. It debuted in 1967, years after many formative black artists of the genre emerged. And some artists who appeared on its covers balked at being associated with a promotion involving alcohol, he said. "These are the artists that gave us approval to use their images on the beer cans," Miller spokeswoman Molly Reilly said.

Six of the initial 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1986 were black, including Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles and Little Richard.

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