T-Shirt Tuesday: Budweiser Superfest

Under safer circumstances, spring and summer time are welcomed by outdoor concerts and festivals. One in particular caught our attention when we got this shirt from the Budweiser Superfest in ‘84.

The 1984 Superfest featured Maze with Frankie Beverly, Patti LaBelle, O'Jays, and Gap Band. Some dates also included performances by Run DMC, James Brown, Rick James, Smokey Robinson, and Herbie Hancock. 

Superfest was held yearly from 1979 through ‘99 and featured some of the biggest names in R&B and Soul, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, TLC, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Kool and the Gang, Ashford and Simpson, Luther Vandross, and Quincy Jones, and hit the country’s biggest stadiums from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to the Superdome in New Orleans, to Houston’s Astrodome.

Patti LaBelle at Budweiser Superfest in 1986

Thought to be the “Godfather of the Budweiser Superfest” was Victor Julien, the Manager of national events for Budweiser. The big-name festival is lauded for providing jobs and generating money for Black people and in black communities. They had substantial money for hiring stage hands, ushers, ticket takers, parking lot attendants, security, and other helping positions. On an even larger scale, the millions of concert goers boosted record sales for the headliners and performers exponentially.

In an issue of Jet from 1984, Julien states, “With today’s economy, it’s good business sense for major corporations and the entertainment industry to come together. Black music provides an excellent vehicle for marketing communications. Corporate involvement helps keep concert events happening and affordable to the public.”

Superfest had a significant economic impact for the black music market as a whole and the communities who hosted the festival. On the business-side as well, minority businesses were employed for the concert tour.

Aaliyah at Budweiser Superfest 1997

Still, the festival was not without its flaws. A boycott of Budweiser Superfest in 1983 spawned after it was revealed that the promoter of the festival was white, gaining all of the rewards earned by black musicians and performers. Following public outrage, he would step down to be replaced by Alan Haymon.

The Cleveland-born Haymon was known to be one of the top concert promoters in the U.S. He took on the position of tour promoter for the 1984 Superfest. Haymon had promoted almost every major Black entertainment act, including the Jacksons, Earth, Wind and Fire, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, MC Hammer, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, New Edition and more.

Bouncing back from the controversy, the ‘84 tour saw sold out stadiums around the country, handled by Haymon. He later became a boxing promoter, and manager of superstar boxer, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Another Superfest souvenir lies in our collection, from the 1990 festival. The 11th annual show featured performances by Luther Vandross, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Stephanie Mills, Bell Biv DeVoe and Toni Tony Tone.

The '90 fest was billed as having something for everyone; including ballad singers Regina Belle and Patti LaBelle, rapper Big Daddy Kane, funk with the Gap Band, youth-oriented R&B by Bell Biv DeVoe, Tony Toni Tone and After 7, and classic R&B with Maze and Frankie Beverly. 

This shirt comes from the June 30th show, held at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. Due to security problems and timing issues, the concert was not as hyped as its predecessors. In an article from the LA Times, the 1990 concert at the Rose Bowl was reported as a disappointment with fistfights breaking out among the crowd, at some times getting more attention than the acts on stage.

1995 Chicago Budweiser Superfest news clip

Budweiser Superfest was revived back in 2010, with performances by Anthony Hamilton, Kem, Jaheim, Raheem DeVaughn, Abraham McDonald and Hal Linton, to name a few. The 2010 fest stayed true to its origins in R&B rather than succumbing to the latest trends. 

The revamped Superfest also introduced a new aspect called “Battle for the Crown” where local artists compete to be the opening act for their local concert. The spirit behind the competition, however, is one in line with the original mission of the festival, to promote and feature minority and local artists alongside the legends and newcomers of R&B and soul. In the video above, Hamilton sings Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" a tribute to those who came before him and an ode for those who will come after. 

Shop our collection of vintage R&B t-shirts here!
Shop our vintage Budweiser collection here!



Piper Rosenberg
Piper Rosenberg