Is Har Mar Superstar honoring the work of soul/R&B icon Sam Cooke? Or is the Minneapolis singer, who is white, appropriating black art for profit?
Those questions are swirling online as Har Mar (aka Sean Tillmann) continues his extensive "Har Mar Superstar Sings Sam Cooke" tribute tour, where the shows are half Cooke songs, half Har Mar originals. Afrokeys (aka Erick Anderson), a Twin Cities producer/record label head, began tweeting barbed critiques at Tillmann weeks ago; Anderson, who is black, accused Tillmann of using his white privilege to culturally appropriate and exploit the music of Cooke, a pioneering African-American star in the '50s and '60s.
Back on June 15, Tillmann responded to Anderson's initial tweet regarding appropriation. Then, on Sunday, the local entertainers got into a heated exchange.
Afterward, Tillmann seemingly acknowledged the situation (in their online back-and-forth, he accused Anderson of body-shaming him):
It’s been a while since I’ve been bullied like this. Gotta say, it’s still the worst.— Har Mar Superstar (@HarMarSuperstar) June 26, 2018
Anderson, for his part, addressed what he seems to consider a culture of racism within the local music scene:
MN music scene is full of circle jerking white boys who think they can get away with everything. You fucking can’t. Y’all back each other like the fucking police too.— Afrokeys (@afrokeys) June 25, 2018
At least one high-profile member of that scene -- Heiruspecs bassist and 89.3 the Current DJ Sean McPherson -- came to Anderson's defense:
My friend @afrokeys is no racist and no bully. He took issue with Har Mar's recent Sam Cooke tribute tour, feeling that it is an appropriation of black culture. I feel his view has been written off wholesale & not engaged with. This is a mistake. I'm listening.— SEAN MCPHERSON (@twinkiejiggles) June 26, 2018
On Tuesday, Tillmann issued the following statement to City Pages:
"I am a student of Sam Cooke's music. I grew up on it, and many people know that he is the main influence on my album Bye Bye 17. I have nothing but respect for his music and legacy. I decided to sing Sam Cooke's music at the Dakota Jazz Club earlier this year because I wanted to pay homage to my favorite singer and songwriter. I was very careful in selecting the set list to be just his pop and love songs. I've never once sung "A Change is Gonna Come" because I don't believe it is my place to sing those lyrics. The show is 90 minutes long and the first half of it being Sam Cooke's music serves as a launching board into my own original music inspired by him. The show was a success, so we did it six times at the Dakota and due to demand it unexpectedly became a national tour. Our point is to spread love, and the audiences have been fantastic. I'm celebrating my love and admiration for a remarkable artist. If anyone has been hurt or offended by that notion, I apologize, but spreading happiness has always been my main goal."
We reached out to Anderson for comment, but didn't immediately hear back.
The "Har Mar Superstar Sings Sam Cooke" tour extends into August.