Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO now actively contemplating an independent presidential bid, has had a tricky history dealing with race issues.
He was loudly mocked in 2015 for launching a “Race Together” campaign, which was done to spark conversations about racial inequality among patrons of his coffeeshop empire but which critics called tone deaf. Even before then, his tenure leading the Seattle Supersonics ownership group, raised eyebrows when the team replaced in-arena hip-hop music with “mellow jazz” and Bobby Darin.
Schultz, in his new book, apologized for the 2015 campaign, acknowledging that it was “patronizing.” But if more evidence is needed that race could become a complicating factor in a possible presidential run, one need look no further than the former CEO’s music store.
Starbucks, which sold music alongside coffee from 1994 to 2015, had, what could only be described as, a flat and white selection of tunes to offer.
Over 21 years, Starbucks released and sold 262 records using Discogs.com. A good percentage of these were compilations like “Music for Little Hipsters,” or “British Folk.” The single-artist albums, though, are overwhelmingly from white musicians, according to a review by The Daily Beast. The only living black artists we could find among the 262 Starbucks releases were Herbie Hancock, Mary J. Blige, Sly & the Family Stone, Al Green, Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, and jazz trio Soulive. Blige is the youngest among those; she’s 48 years old.
In selling music in his coffee shops, Schultz insisted that Starbucks would “transform the retail record industry. That didn’t happen. But he did help juice sales for well known bands and artists who were predominantly well known or dead. Sonic Youth, Sia, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Jakob Dylan dominated the lists, alongside late black artists like Ray Charles, John Coltrane, and Nina Simone. Hip-hop music was, essentially, completely absent absent from the stores.
In fact, there is only one disc offered in the online catalog under the “hip-hop” label. It’s an album titled “All You Need Is Love” featuring songs from U2, The Dave Matthews Band and John Legend.
A Starbucks official did not return a request for comment.