10 Cases Of Musical Frauds
In the end, the music industry is about recognition and making money, so the desire to “hit it big” can lead to some unsavory practices. The history of music is rife with chart-topping hits created by people who turned out to be less than honest.
10C & C Music Factory
Known for their hit single “Everybody Dance Now,” C & C Music Factory was caught in a compromising position in 1990. Martha Wash, an accomplished singer best known for her hit “It’s Raining Men” with The Weather Girls, sang the famous refrain of C & C Music Factory’s most iconic song, but she was deemed too unattractive to appear in the official video and replaced by a model. In fact, Wash never appeared in any of the music videos for the songs she sang with a number of other groups, including Black Box and Seduction, and was even replaced onstage.
The public outcry that followed led to the introduction of various laws that ended the practice of using uncredited singers and prerecorded material onstage without public notification. As for Martha, she filed lawsuits herself against the bands she worked for and their labels. She won handily, finally receiving the royalties to which she was entitled.
China is a country notorious for counterfeiting almost everything, from clothes to computers and beyond. Apparently, producing counterfeit singers, too, was not beneath those organizing the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Adorable nine-year-old Lin Miaoke was put onstage to lip-sync the song “Ode to the Motherland” in the opening ceremony of the games. The games’ organizers decided that the real singer, seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, wasn’t “cute enough” to appear onstage.
The musical director of the games admitted to the fraud on Chinese radio, saying he and the organizers were pressured into it by an unnamed Communist Party official. Meanwhile, Lin Miaoke—already a minor star in China known for her appearances in commercials—became an overnight sensation with her “performance” and remains popular in China today despite her involvement with the scam. The Chinese people remain divided on the issue, with some regarding it as a national blunder and others as an inconsequential attempt by China to put on the best opening ceremony possible.
Known as “Japan’s Beethoven,” Mamoru Samuragochi was an imposter who was neither deaf nor could even write music. The real person behind the music, a music professor at Tokyo College named Takashi Niigaki, came forward to expose the fraud just before one of his compositions was to be played at the Sochi Olympics. Unable to carry on the charade in front of the whole world, he confessed via press conference to the stunned nation.
Samuragochi was credited with many beloved pieces of music, including work Niigaki did for the Resident Evil game series, which brought him his first taste of international fame. In 2003, the song “Symphony No. 1: Hiroshima” gained him the adoration of the nation and a citizen’s award from the mayor of the eponymous city. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that leveled Japan, the piece became somewhat of a national anthem, helping to lift the spirits of a populace in grief.
In response to Niigaki’s press conference, Samuragochi held one of his own, apologizing for the fraud and asking the nation’s forgiveness. As the press conference went on, however, Samuragochi became defensive, claiming that Niigaki was always hounding him for more money and denying allegations that he threatened to commit suicide if the charade was revealed. Unbelievably, Samuragochi even promised to sue Niigaki for defamation of character.
In the end, the fraud was just another case of public relations taken to an extreme level by choosing a more marketable figure to stand in for a musician. Niigaki continues to write music and perform live, while Samuragochi has all but disappeared from the public eye.
One person claiming the work of another as their own is offensive enough, but one person claiming the work of 66 different people is downright ridiculous. Amazingly, that is exactly what Joyce Hatto managed to pull off.
Hatto was a mediocre pianist who released dozens of recordings to little acclaim during the ’80s and early ’90s before experimenting with her first fraudulent recording in 1993. She and her husband began to steal from other pianists on a regular basis, careful to only use the works of great but obscure musicians that they could pass off as her own. Until Hatto’s death at age 75 in 2006, almost everyone in the classical music world believed she was one of the greats.
The technological innovation that allowed the couple to manipulate recordings and thereby more successfully cover their tracks would eventually also lead to their downfall. When certain recordings of Hatto’s pieces were uploaded to iTunes, they were matched up with other, less-known pianists whose work was also hosted on the service. This, along with the discovery of an almost completely fabricated recording career that included a fake orchestra and conductor, revealed the truth.
It is unknown to what level Joyce herself participated in the fraud. During the period of her career when most of her fraudulent recordings were released, she was old and terminally ill with cancer. What is known is that the man she married, record producer William Barrington-Coupe, had been involved in shady dealings of a similar nature in the past. In the end, he claimed he did it to give his dying wife a sense of happiness and accomplishment. “My wife was completely unaware I did this, and I simply let her hear the finished editing that she thought was completely her own work,” was the statement he made concerning the affair. Whether she was in on the fraud or not, the damage it did in terms of lost recognition to those whose work was stolen is incalculable.
The subject of the acclaimed 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, Sixto Rodriguez is the real deal when it comes to his music. Unfortunately, the executive behind his career, Clarence Avant, fraudulently released a great deal of his material under false identities to bypass his contract. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, two of his 1970s albums became very popular in South Africa in the ’90s, becoming the soundtrack to the anti-apartheid movement. It was only when he traveled to South Africa and discovered his immense popularity there that he began to suspect all was not right.
When Searching for Sugar Man was released, Rodriguez discovered that his album Cold Fact had sold over 500,000 copies in the exotic nation. Most of the tracks were released under the name of a fictional brother, Jesus Rodriguez. Avant simply swapped names and released the tracks under his own label instead of Rodriguez’s. Shortly after the evidence came to light, Rodriguez sued Avant for the royalties he was unjustly denied for over three decades. Avant’s response was unapologetic, saying of the singer he stole from “I wish him the best. The fame will be over within a year.”
Those in the music world who hit it big reap untold millions for their efforts, but Robert Mawhinney proved that one does not even have to have any success in the music industry to cash in on the spoils. He simply faked his own success, and in the process, he bilked investors willing to sponsor his band out of over $11 million.
His band, Lights Over Paris, toiled in obscurity until Mawhinney decided to take the common advice to “fake it ’til you make it” much too far. He took out loans from four different banks to fund the filming of a professional video with a cameo appearance by a rapper called Game and the recording of an album entitled Turn Off the Lights. He was bold enough to claim over $8 million in assets, even though his own bank account had less than $10,000 dollars in it. What the banks did not know was that Mawhinney had set up something of a Ponzi scheme, using payouts from some of his loans to covers the payments on others, all the while skimming off the top. While the getting was good, he bought a luxury apartment in Los Angeles and traveled the world in style.
Unfortunately for him, his scheme collapsed, and his fraudulent activities and lifestyle were exposed. For his efforts, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, his only claim to fame being a rock star who never was.
On June 25th, 2009, the world lost one of its most beloved entertainers, Michael Jackson. His last album, Michael, was released the next year. Many conspiracy theories surround the singer and his death to this day, but perhaps one of the most damaging ones is the theory put forth by members of his own family that he did not sing some of the tracks on his last album.
His daughter, Paris, and other members of the Jackson family have claimed that the real singer behind the tracks is a man named Jason Malachi. Indeed, Malachi’s voice is uncannily similar to that of the late King of Pop. The rumor mill exploded as web pages covering the subject filled the web and a Facebook page devoted to uncovering the truth popped up. Both Michael Jackson’s record label and his estate have denied the rumors, claiming it is just another case of celebrity infatuation gone mad, and Paris herself officially recanted the story via Twitter. Still, the controversy rages on as some fans of the legendary singer refuse to let go of their newest pet theory.
In 1972, David Bowie released one of his most successful and acclaimed albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. Forty years later, a recording of an awe-inspiring gospel cover of the song “Starman” from that album by an unknown singer named Milky Edwards went viral on YouTube. Soon, other covers of Bowie’s work under Edwards’s name surfaced, and a sensation that had been lost for decades was seemingly reborn.
It was all a hoax, however, uncovered after some diligent research and straightforward thinking on the part of music fans. For one thing, the album cover art presented in the YouTube video seemed to fit the style of the 1960s more than anything that would have been released in the decade that followed. Second, the recording itself seems to have been digitally manipulated and unlike how a record would sound played on a record player. Lastly, the fact that “Milky Edwards” and his band “the Chamberlings” came out of nowhere to the limelight seemed a little too convenient, especially as it was reported that the lead singer was now dead and very little information could be found on him or his band anywhere.
Some fans don’t care whether the recordings were faked, claiming that the music is too great to ignore regardless of its origins. To this day, Milky Edwards has a strong following via YouTube and other social media outlets, even though he probably never even existed.
2Will And Monifa
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno featured several popular recurring segments, including one called “Pumpcast News.” In this segment, a newscaster appears on a video screen installed above a seemingly random gas pump and interacts with seemingly random customers, asking them to perform acts of hilarity for free gas. Will and Monifa were two such customers who were asked to sing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” and The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” The video of the couple’s amazing performance was released on YouTube and went viral shortly after, gaining 7.5 million views and a great deal of free publicity for the show.
What the show didn’t disclose is that Will and Monifa were actors, both of whom had extensive acting experience and even formed their own theater company in Chicago before moving to Hollywood, and the whole thing was staged. Monifa had even appeared on “Pumpcast News” nearly two years earlier in the same car at the same station, even wearing the same clothes. In that segment, she claimed to be a fitness instructor. The newscaster in the famous clip even introduces Will by name, which would have been impossible if it were a random event.
To this day, both actors deny the fraud, claiming that it was a freak coincidence that they managed to appear on two Leno segments. Representatives of The Tonight Show, for their part, have been silent on the matter.
The German duo known as Milli Vanilli (real names Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan) who skyrocketed to fame and fortune in the early ’90s with the album Girl You Know It’s True were the most famous front in music history. They were a pair of dancers/models who took on the role of accomplished singers, the real voices of whom—Brad Howell, Johnny Davis, and Charles Shaw—remain obscure to this day.
The charade was exposed as dramatically as possible when the record of their prerecorded voices skipped during a televised performance. Speculation that the group was a fraud had long run rampant, fueled by inconsistencies such as their thick German accents, no trace of which could be found in their flawless English singing, and now it was undeniable. The pair was stripped of the Grammy award they won in 1989 and faced enormous ridicule from the public and the industry.
Although they claimed that they themselves were innocent victims of the fraud, forced into it by an unscrupulous record producer, the duo nevertheless fastidiously maintained the charade until it was forcibly exposed. After facing multiple lawsuits and a tidal wave of fan hatred, the pair attempted a “comeback album” on which they actually did sing their own songs, but it bombed almost as quickly as it hit the shelves, and they faded into obscurity.
Fab Morvan still works tirelessly to restore his good name, having recently released a new single on iTunes called “Anytime.” Rob Pilatus, on the other hand, endured an extensive series of run-ins with the law, suicide attempts, and public breakdowns in the ensuing years, eventually dying of an overdose in a hotel room at the age of 33.
Damien B. is a part-time writer and basketball lover who is interested in history, politics, crime, and of course, basketball.