Adam Blackstone will play a key role in bringing the 2021 NBA All-Star Game to life. As the league’s music director over the weekend, Blackstone, who has worked with artists such as Alicia Keys, Cardi B and Justin Timberlake, as well as events such as the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards and the Oscars, he is tasked with working with diverse artists to balance their creative and musical visions and develop a fluid show.
In the run-up to Sunday’s game in Atlanta, which will be played in front of a limited group of spectators by invitation only., Blackstone teamed up with several HBCU musical groups, including the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band and the Florida A&M University Marching 100, to weave their identities into the broadcast. For in-game player introductions, the FAMU band will back Team LeBron, while the Grambling State band will perform when Team Durant is called. The bands themselves were previously recorded, however Blackstone will be in a production truck on Sunday during the intros, cueing the recordings in real time to suit player reactions at the time.
“The NBA and the musicians, and music in general, have had a great marriage for a long time,” says Blackstone, who has played a role in almost every all-star game in the NBA since 2010 and has been the All-Star. league official. Music director of the game since 2017. “I love that our game is one of the things that always allows music and basketball to be at the forefront at the same time.”
Fostering a commitment to HBCU performing arts groups, the Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Society Choir is scheduled to perform an original rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the passing teams from Spelman College and Morehouse College. They will also be featured during Sunday’s broadcast. Blackstone, who is teaching a songwriting and composition class at Morehouse this spring, hopes to showcase both the tradition and the talents of the various schools.
In the run-up to the All-Star Game, which will see more than $ 3 million donated in initial support to HBCUs and communities of color impacted by COVID-19, Blackstone spoke with Illustrated Sports on what it was like working with marching bands, what we can expect to see and hear on Sunday night, and the NBA’s partnership with the HBCUs for this year’s game.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sports Illustrated: What was the biggest challenge you faced for this year’s event?
Adam Blackstone: One of the biggest challenges was that when you pre-record music you have a timestamp. What I mean by that is, let’s say I do five minutes of live music, when we had an audience if Kobe or Dwyane Wade or LeBron got a longer applause than others, then on the fly I had to make a decision to say I’m going. to loop these eight bars because the announcements are still going on.
I take that same mindset when it comes to incorporating marching bands for this weekend. Something as small as some of the players getting hurt before the game and now being replaced by other players will add time to everyone we announce. I may need another 20 seconds of music, so I’ll have to loop eight bars and say let’s have the announcer review these eight bars. Because technically I hadn’t recorded that, so now I’m going to make it look like I’m producing it live at the venue as if we’re all together. So that would be one of the challenges of a concert like this, to say that we leave a feeling, but the music is already recorded.
SI: How do you act on that feeling?
SINCE: The music is really recorded, but I’m looping it, making it flow, making it feel live in the venue by indicating different sections while announcing to announcer, teams, headlines, reserves, and coaches.
SI: You mentioned the HBCU, what was it like working with the marching bands in particular?
SINCE: We’ve been on a lot of calls and the HBCU band culture is a completely different phenomenon. They have evolved from playing just soccer and basketball games to having their own competitions, be it drum line competitions or band competitions or training competitions, so I have been very involved in making sure we continue that tradition this weekend. – Give TV crowds a great show and help players exaggerate.
I picked out a bunch of songs with them and was able to say, “Give me your top five Atlanta albums that are recognizable.” We are not coming this year with a specific artist, so you don’t hear a lyric. So one of my jobs was to say, “What are melodic songs? That when you hear the melody and you don’t hear the lyrics, you know what it is and you still get excited about it.”
SI: Do you have more details on what we should expect?
SINCE: I think I just hope I have a really good and entertaining party. For anyone who has not experienced HBCU culture, especially at a basketball game, they will have fun, stand up in their living rooms, be able to dance and be capable. to hopefully sing along with some of the trumpet lines and drum line melodies. And we want players to have fun too.
I hear LeBron talk about it all the time, that no matter how many All-Star Games he’s done, it’s always an honor to get that call and to be considered one of the best players in your conference. What I want to do, in a musical sense, is show gratitude and appreciation to those players who bring us this entertaining sport and continue to elevate us in our culture and in our communities. If I can provide the soundtrack for this weekend, so be it. I’ve done my job if everyone is happy and having a good time.
SI: Continuing with the theme of HBCU involvement, what message do you think HBCU involvement as the league sends out more broadly this weekend?
SINCE: It means a lot to me. We can’t take for granted how long the NBA has been around, and we can’t take segregation for granted before it was called the National Basketball Association. It was a segregated sport. We have a lot of work to do in our world, don’t get me wrong, but we have come full circle and now we are rooting for it, just for the look of the court, for the sound with this music, and just for an opening. Attending historically black colleges and universities through a platform like All-Star Weekend is huge. I also think it’s going to open the door to a lot of student-athletes who may be a little torn that they didn’t get into Kentucky or Duke or Kansas or North Carolina and maybe end up going to Howard or maybe end up going to Morehouse and playing game. ball. And just knowing that the NBA is watching out for them right now is something very important. It gives hope to men and women across our country to say, “No matter what you are doing and what school you are in, eyes are on us, so we must always do our best.”
SI: And you have personally started teaching at Morehouse this semester as well, correct?
SINCE: Correct. So what we do by highlighting these HBCUs, and especially what I teach, is that you don’t have to play an instrument or throw a ball to be in the NBA. From what I do, I can be on the court for the All-Star Game and it has nothing, technically, to do with basketball itself. I’m grateful to be able to raise awareness and bring that light, to say, “Hey, all the camera operators are in the NBA All-Star Game, all the technicians, one sound person, they’re in the NBA All-Star Game. “Education really outweighs everything and I think this year plays a special role in highlighting HBCUs and highlighting the fact that school is a big part of culture. School should be a big part of our successes. It is not. cheesy to be polite. Actually, it’s really, really fun to be smart. We watch someone like LeBron James, who may not have been to college, but he’s still a student and learns, and still gives people a point of view. Higher than where we go after a sport like basketball.
SI: You’ve certainly been involved in many All-Star weekends, but what is your favorite look on the court?
SINCE: That is very, very easy. I’d have to say slam dunk. I have been a part of going to the Slam Dunk Contest live since 2016. I remember Paul George when he had just arrived. I remember seeing Aaron Gordon last year, seeing Zach LaVine take off. I remember Victor Oladipo in New York. It’s been a dream come true since I saw Vince Carter on my parents’ couch in 2000 and now be a part of going to the All-Star Game on Saturday night. And now, with the halftime of this year, I’m really looking forward to it.
SI: So who do you think will win it this year?
SINCE: I have to go with [Knicks rookie Obi Toppin.] He has the youth to do some creative things and he dives in with power.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.