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MPR's only Black classical host Garrett McQueen fired after being taken off air

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Classical 24 overnight host Garrett McQueen
Classical 24 overnight host Garrett McQueen at work at Minnesota Public Radio. McQueen was fired Thursday for "not following programming guidelines."
Courtesy of Garrett McQueen

Updated: 1:17 p.m. Sept. 11 | Posted: 3:20 p.m. Sept. 10

Minnesota Public Radio has fired its only Black classical music host Garrett McQueen. McQueen announced his firing on his social media accounts Thursday morning.

McQueen said he was taken off the air after his shift on Aug. 25. He was then given two warnings — one of which was about his need to improve communication and the other warning was for switching out scheduled music to play pieces he felt were more appropriate to the moment and more diverse, McQueen told MPR News.

“When things happened in the news or when there were hours of programming that only represented dead white men, I would take it upon myself to change that,” said McQueen. “That always got lots of really positive feedback, but it's not exactly what protocol calls for.”

In a statement a day after McQueen’s announcement, MPR president Duchesne Drew and APM president Dave Kansas said the company’s decision was “not sudden and came after several conversations with Garrett.”

“The warnings presented to Garrett were not tied to his choice of music or the reasons for his unauthorized changes to playlists,” they wrote in the statement Friday. “The manner in which he made changes is what caused an issue. We have a process in place for changing playlists, and that process exists to maintain our more than 200 partner stations’ compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and to ensure royalties are properly paid for the music played.”

McQueen joined Classical 24 in June 2018. Classical 24 is co-produced by American Public Media and Public Radio International, and provides round-the-clock classical music that public radio stations across the nation pay to carry. McQueen worked the overnight shift Monday through Thursday. McQueen also hosted Classical MPR’s first-ever Juneteenth special. 

“And let's just face it,” said McQueen, “with [the killing of] George Floyd and all of those things, there was a lot of pressure for me to engage the audience while that's happening. I'm on the air, literally while the 3rd Precinct is being burned down. So, it's my responsibility to make sure that the programming spoke to that and that's what I did.”

McQueen co-created a classical music podcast called “Trilloquy” with Classical MPR host Scott Blankenship. The podcast seeks to explore and uplift classical music of all cultures beyond the Western European canon. 

Blankenship said in addition to being a professional bassoonist, McQueen brings to his work a deep knowledge of the history behind classical music — stories that are sometimes problematic. 

He said McQueen has been a tireless advocate for diversifying classical music. 

“His ideas on programming [are] very forward thinking,” said Blankenship. “I think that over time, you would definitely see the sort of changes that Garrett had in mind — but it's 10 or 15 years in the future. And he was working to facilitate that change now."

The company’s management declined a request for an interview, but MPR’s Drew and APM’s Kansas said in their statement that the company values McQueen’s contributions to its commitment to increase diversity and inclusion in classical music and it’ll “remain steadfast in pursuing that commitment.”

Clarification (Sept. 11, 2020): The above copy clarifies which part of American Public Media Group fired McQueen. Garrett McQueen was an employee of Minnesota Public Radio, a sister organization of American Public Media that co-produces Classical 24.

American Public Media Group is the parent company of both Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. An editorial firewall separates MPR News from the rest of the company. We make our editorial decisions without interference from other departments. We abide by these news ethics guidelines.