DJ says he lost gig due to racism

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When Mike Robertson got a call from a fellow DJ Tom Brown about splitting a new six-hour per night gig at the 941 Saloon on Liberty Avenue, it sounded like a nice job, and it would certainly help with the expenses of having a new baby on the way. So the two went to meet the owner to firm up the details of the job—and things went from good to bad.

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SPINNING—DJ Brotha Mike, who spins discs at the New Amsterdam in Lawrenceville, said he was denied a gig at the 941 Saloon on Liberty Avenue in February because he is Black.

“I thought it was pretty much just a formality,” said Robertson. “The owner’s girlfriend had recommended us because she’d heard both of us down at New Amsterdam. But when we sat down with the owner, she gets up and calls Tom way to talk. And when he comes back he said, ‘She doesn’t want you because she thinks you’ll bring in the wrong crowd.’ He said she’d had an incident with some rowdy Black patrons a few months earlier—so we weren’t hired because of my presence.”

Robertson, who is originally from Washington, D.C., has been spinning records as on radio and as a house DJ for 30 years, and has worked in Gay and Lesbian oriented bars before, said he was stunned.

“I know the crowd, I worked at Club Havana for eight years,” he said. “I don’t want to sue or anything. I just want her to know that  this isn’t right. Even if you think that way—you can’t do that in a public business. Okay, yeah I had shades and my leather jacket and looked like Cornell West, but that doesn’t mean I’m  Three 6 Mafia. She needs to understand her actions are not savory.”

The 941 Saloon, also known as the Liberty Avenue Saloon and Club Tilden originally started in Wilkinsburg as a drag club ands remained so after moving Downtown, but it has recently been renovated and caters to a broader gay and lesbian crowd.

The business is owned by Sonia Verrasso, who according to Liquor Control Board records, purchased the license in 2006. The building has been owned by family members since 1978. Verasso could not be reached for comment. Brown also declined to speak to the Courier about the incident.

Robertson initially complained to District Attorney Stephen Zapalla’s office, which referred him to the Pittsburgh Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He has also filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Human Relations Board and met with the American Civil liberties Union.

“She had a profile in her head that, if I was hired, bad stuff would go down, that’s I’d bring in the crowd that gave her trouble,” said Robertson. “But no matter what you feel, you can’t have that in business. I don’t expect anything out of this, but if I don’t say something, someone else could get run over.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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