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That Time David Bowie Called Out MTV on Racial Diversity

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David Bowie didn’t just talk the talk when it came to a passion for R&B music. He walked the walk by openly questioning MTV on its lack of early-era diversity.

“It’s got a lot going for it,” Bowie said of the fledgling network, in a 1983 interview with VJ Mark Goodman. “I’m just floored by the fact that there’s so few black artists featured on it. Why is that?” You can watch the clip above.

Goodman makes several attempts at answering his question, all of which Bowie good-naturedly – but quite firmly – bats away. “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV,” Bowie responds at one point.

Bowie, who died of cancer on Sunday at age 69, famously collaborated with R&B stars like Luther Vandross and members of Chic. His 1975 album Young Americans focused on his love for soul music.

When Goodman later responds by asking if a typical 17-year-old would connect with R&B artists, Bowie says that a black teen would — “and surely he’s part of of America, as well.” He then issues a challenge to MTV: Lead the way in making the media “far more integrated – especially, if anything, in musical terms.”

After a lengthier explanation from Goodman about how the network is trying to address some viewers’ sensitivity by making such moves in a more incremental manner, Bowie is asked if he thinks those are valid objectives. He offers a knowing smile, but says only, “I understand your point of view.”

Bowie’s ideas, as usual, were prophetic. Later that same year, the groundbreaking clip for “Billie Jean” would help hurtle Michael Jackson‘s Thriller to blockbuster status, forever breaking the race barrier on MTV.

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