Arista knew, Milli 'singer' charges

November 18, 1990|By Chuck Philips | Chuck Philips,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Officials of Arista Records knew that pop duo Milli Vanilli's Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan did not sing on their 7 million-selling "Girl You Know It's True" album before the duo won the 1989 Grammy Award for best new artist of the year, a group member and a former manager said Friday.

The allegations contradict claims made by a spokesman for the record company earlier, after record producer Frank Farian and Mr. Pilatus admitted that the performers did not sing on the album.

If Arista officials were aware that Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan did not sing, then the company may have purposely misrepresented the album in its marketing and advertising to the public, as well as to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the recording industry organization that awards the Grammys. The allegations made Friday also raise questions about the role of Arista President Clive Davis and leading Hollywood talent manager Sandy Gallin in what has become the first major challenge to the integrity of the Grammy awards selection process.

Because Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan are wrongly listed on the album credits as its vocalists, the pair could lose their Grammy, a first in the 33-year history of the recording industry award. The duo won their award during a nationally televised program from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in February.

"We told Clive Davis. We told Sandy Gallin. We told everybody six months before the Grammy awards," Mr. Pilatus told the Los Angeles Times Friday. Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan plan to release written material that Mr. Pilatus says substantiates the claim at a news conference this week.

"Everybody who worked closely with Rob and Fab at Arista knew what was going on," said Todd Headlee, who represented Milli Vanilli from August 1989 to August 1990. "That's why they always tried so desperately to insulate the guys from the press. Sandy Gallin and Clive Davis did not even want Rob and Fab to appear on the Grammy broadcast."

Mr. Headlee, who handled the Milli Vanilli account for the management firm Gallin Morey Associates, claims that Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan were pawns in an elaborate corporate marketing scheme, approved by top officials at Arista, a New York-based label owned by the European conglomerate Bertelsmann Music Group.

Mr. Farian, the German studio whiz who produced the album, on Wednesday denied that top officials at the labels had any knowledge of the lip-syncing. Mr. Farian said he recorded the album in Munich, and it was released by Arista in the United States.

Arista president Davis did not return numerous phone calls Thursday and Friday. Roy Lott, executive vice president of Arista, denied the charges in an interview Thursday.

"There is no way that anyone ever could have known whether they sang or not," Mr. Lott said. "We are merely a distributor of their records. Rob and Fab and Frank assured us that they sang on the record."

Efforts to contact Mr. Gallin were unsuccessful Friday.

"I find it very irresponsible that the record companies continue to deny knowing about all this," Mr. Headlee said. "As hard as Rob and Fab worked to meet their obligations to these corporations which were raking in millions off the concept. For them to leave them out to dry when the truth hits the fan is reprehensible."

Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan released a statement Thursday backing up Mr. Headlee's claims.

"We have strongly expressed to Frank Farian and to our record labels, Arista Records and BMG Records, our reluctance to participate in any kind of misrepresentation," Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan said. "Through a variety of coercive maneuvers, our wishes to creatively participate in our recordings have been denied."

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a former top official with Bertelsmann Music Group also said that top Arista officials knew about the Farian strategy.

Entertainment attorney Steven Ames Brown, who is representing American singer Martha Wash in a lawsuit against European group video act Blackbox and Bertelsmann Music Group Records, claims the conglomerate regularly hires models to lip-sync in videos and on tour for records featuring other singers -- such as Ms. Wash -- in the studio.

Mr. Brown said Friday that Bertelsmann Music Group and its U.S. labels, Arista and RCA Records, were fully aware that they were deceiving the public. "The idea that the chief executive officers at BMG don't know this is going on is completely absurd," Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Headlee claims that the duo was manipulated into participating in the lip-sync plan because they were promised the opportunity to sing on tour and upcoming projects, a promise that he said Mr. Farian did not follow through on.

Mr. Headlee, who is writing a book about his year with Milli Vanilli, said that record company officials and other associates of the duo were concerned about their appearance on the Grammy show, where they lip-synced to a recording of one of their songs.

"Everyone at Arista who worked closely with the group was walking on eggshells before the Grammy lip-sync performance last February," Mr. Headlee said. "When they walked off the stage clutching the trophy, I remember thinking to myself that they may not have deserved the Grammy for their performance, but they sure as hell did deserve an Oscar."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.