Richard “Dick” Griffey, an iconic figure in the Black music who went from being a concert promoter to owning his own record label SOLAR (Sounds of Los Angeles Records)–credited for releasing hits such as “Fantastic Voyage” and “Rock Steady”–died Sept. 24, after complications from an earlier quadruple bypass surgery. He was 71.
SOLAR, founded in 1977, became the second largest African American-owned record company in the United States.
Griffey was born in Nashville, Tenn. and early on developed an interested in music that was evident, when he attended Tennessee State University.
After college, his music career as a nightclub booking agent, and then he founded Dick Griffey Productions. Iin no time, he established himself as one the nation’s most prominent Black concert promoters, overseeing tours for acts like Stevie Wonder and The Jacksons.
Before founding SOLAR, which was home to such top artists as the Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, Midnight Star, Klymaxx and The Deele, Griffey worked for Don Cornelius as the talent coordinator for “Soul Train.” The two later partnered to form the label, Soul Train Records.
In a statement, veteran music producer and musician Quincy Jones said: “Dick Griffey was one of the great pioneering executives in the music business. Although Dick stepped away from the music industry many years ago, his presence will forever be felt through the artists that he worked with and shepherded over his time in the business.”
“So seldom do you get the opportunity to live among such significant people, and you don’t even know they are there. Dick was truly interested in us liberating ourselves. He believed that our minds and bodies should be used to benefit us. He resented the fact that our talents were used to benefit others and fought to make sure that those talents came back to develop our communities,” said long- time Griffey friend and Director of the Pan African Film Festival Ayuko Babu.
“In 1967, Dick proposed a partnership between his promotional company, Dick Griffey Productions, and the Black Student Alliance (of all the Black student unions in Southern California.) He encouraged the BSA to bring Black entertainment acts to his company and shared the profits with Black Student Unions across the country, 50-50.
“Dick, as well as Stokely Carmichael, Janet Dubois, and Mariam Makeba, were very instrumental in helping me bring the Ballet Africains, one of the greatest Black dance companies in the world, to the U.S. Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. All of the promotional and touring companies at the time were owned by Whites, and the President of the Republic of Guinea–Sekou Toure– wanted a Black company to promote the ballet. This was an important collaboration between an African nation and African American companies, (the Pan-African Film Festival and Dick Griffey Productions),” added Babu.
“Dick showed that it was possible to determine your own life and build connections around the world with other Black communities and countries. He left a message that, if you think clearly, be persistent, and clear about what you are doing, you can get up and do for yourself and still build economic and cultural relationships with Africa which is our base.
Griffey spent many years heavily involved in African affairs as a supporter of South Africa’s African National Congress, established a trading company in West Africa, and built a school for girls in Ghana in honor of his mother.
Griffey moved to Ghana and had been living there for the last 10 years. He also used surplus capital from his record company to put back into African development.
Griffey is survived by his wife, Carrie Lucas Griffey; daughters Regina Hughes and Carolyn Griffey; sons Lucas Griffey and Che Scelsa; adopted son Haile Williams and five grandchildren: Curtis, Devin, Paula, Reggie and Kennedi.