Executive Director for Nonprofit Female Drumming Competition Resigns Following Sexual Harassment Claims

The future of an international drumming competition designed to highlight and encourage young female drummers is in question after the program’s co-founder/executive director resigned earlier this month following accusations he made inappropriate comments to one of the contestants.

David Levine was asked to step down from the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Hit Like a Girl on Mar. 10 after Irish singer-drummer Ria Rua posted a video to Instagram claiming he asked her for “inappropriate pictures” in 2019 and told the then-20-year-old he “enjoyed” blurring out the outline of her breast in one of her photographs so he could use it in promotional assets for the contest. Levine says his comments were meant to be supportive and sarcastic, not offensive.

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“Women shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff,” Rua said in the Instagram video. She then shared a screenshot of Levine’s email, which included the line, “Please send me more of those photos, even the ones your Mum may not like.” For “context,” she then showed the profile picture from her contest entry page that prompted his request. In it, she was not wearing a top under her jacket. “He edited out my boob and he said he enjoyed it,” she said.

Rua tells Billboard that, in addition to the email, Levine made some of these comments over two phone calls. She said he asked if her mom liked the photo, and she replied, “I don’t know. I’m sure she doesn’t love it.” The second call was about a possible cymbal endorsement deal, in which she says she brought up the altered photo and he said “he had enjoyed photoshopping my boob.”

In a statement announcing his resignation, posted to Instagram, Levine said, “I wish to sincerely apologize for the inappropriate and offensive comments I made to [Ria Rua] as well as the harm my behavior has caused to others in the female drumming community. There is no excuse for my bad judgment, abusing my authority and undermining Hit Like A Girl’s good works. The Hit Like A Girl Board has requested my resignation as Executive Director and I am fully complying with that request, effective today, March 10, 2024 at 12:00 PM PT. Furthermore, I will be entering sexual harassment sensitivity counseling in the days ahead.”

He concluded: “Until new Directors can be installed the Hit Like A Girl and Drum Summit websites, social media and YouTube along with all current projects will be suspended,” adding, “I would ask that everyone in the drumming community continue to support the growth of female drummers through other channels.”

When reached for comment, Levine — who also owns TRX Cymbals and developed Drum Summit: Empowering Women Through Drumming — told Billboard in an email, “The board members asked for my resignation immediately after Ria Rua’s messages were posted and I complied. I sincerely hope the organization’s mission and work will continue however I am not involved in that process.” He also said his comments to Rua were “my attempt at sarcasm.”

Sexual harassment is by far the most widely-cited problem facing female creators in the music industry, according to a 2021 study by MIDiA Research, in conjunction with Tunecore and its parent company, Believe. The study found that “almost two-thirds of female creators identified sexual harassment or objectification as a key challenge.” The #MeToo movement empowered women to come forward with personal stories, ranging from drugging and rape to sexist behavior and misogyny. The industry, as a whole, still seems reluctant to speak out, instead feeling more comfortable addressing parity and advancement for women, including with initiatives like the Hit Like a Girl contest.

Rua started playing music in primary school, initially with the tin whistle and then guitar. At 12, she picked up drums and accompanied an accordion marching band, then joined The National Youth Orchestra of Ireland. In 2017, she entered a Hit Like a Girl competition, which she says seemed “massive,” sponsored by “all the big companies” and judged by “the best drummers and percussionists in the world.” In 2018 she won the organization’s Joe Hibbs Award.

Rua decided to share her story now, she tells Billboard, because she writes songs about women’s issues and had just released a new song about this specific experience and wanted to “practice what I preach.” In the Instagram video, she also noted she’d been inspired to speak out by recent allegations of sexual misconduct, “especially all the stuff about P. Diddy.”

“[Levine] is still the head of [Hit Like A Girl] and it’s still running to this day,” she said in her video. ”If it happened to me, I’m sure it happened to other women out there.”

Less than a year after Rua’s incidents with Levine, she says she told a then-Hit Like a Girl board member. She asked the board member to discuss it with the board, but not to tell Levine. The board member, who left the organization in 2021 because of what Rua told her about Levine — and does not wish to be named because of an unrelated personal issue — confirmed that account to Billboard. “I had no evidence of anything. I couldn’t really do anything formally.”

“At that time, I was still pretty afraid,” Rua says. “This guy is massive. He runs Hit Like a Girl. He owns the TRX Cymbal company. He owns another management company that manages a lot of the top brands.”

Rua posted a second video in which she sobbed and thanked everyone for supporting her, and then a third video explaining she came forward because she had written her song “Asking For It” “about my story with David” and now, when she sings it, “I’m going to remember the support that I had.”

Hit Like A Girl began in 2012 “as a drum contest/market development project,” as Levine puts it, which he co-founded with DRUM! magazine publisher Phil Hood and Mindy Abovitz, founder of female-focused Tom Tom magazine — both of whom left the organization years ago.

Levine told Billboard in an email that Rua entered the contest in 2017 and 2018 under her birth name — which Billboard has decided not to run at her request — and that during this time they “had multiple conversations by phone, email, text, etc.” He continued, “She was a talented musician and an interesting person.” He also attached the 2017 photo she submitted. Rua says they exchanged only one email and one Instagram message and had two phone calls. She provided the email and Instagram message to Billboard.

“At some point in 2018 [name redacted] introduced her new persona, Ria Rua, with a completely new look,” Levine tells Billboard in an email. “During a phone call I asked her if I could use one of the photos for a social media post to promote her and the contest. She told me that her mother didn’t approve of them. I responded in an email that she should send me the photos, ‘even the one’s her mum may not like.’ As with the rest of the email, I was trying to show support but, unfortunately, my attempt at sarcasm was not appreciated.

“I felt that the image she sent me was a bit too provocative for the Hit Like A Girl audience so I retouched it and sent it back to her for approval, which she provided. My recollection of our conversation is that I said something to the effect that I was happy to be able to photoshop the image so that it would be appropriate for us to share.”

Rua says she distinctly remembers him using the word “enjoyed” when talking about editing the photo. After that, she never entered the contest again.

Hit Like A Girl was incorporated and received 501(c)(3) charitable status in 2021, and Levine became executive director, he told Billboard, “with a board of directors that included six women.” He added, “We also established chapters in nearly 60 countries around the world that were managed exclusively by women. I often relied on these women for advice and approval.”

Since Rua’s post, she says other women have shared similar correspondence they received from Levine or conversations they had with him after entering the contest.

One California-based drummer — who does not wish to be named — shared screenshots with Billboard of “some weird stuff he said to me on text.”

In the thread, Levine provides suggestions on drum technique and then writes, “Second, try to move your head and body more when you play to show you’re feeling the best and having fun. It will drive the boys crazy.” In another, he writes, “Let me know if you come back up to LA. Maybe I’ll break quarantine for you,” followed by a wink emoji. In regard to some photos she had submitted during the pandemic, he also remarked, “I’ll have to get you a sexier mask, though. You Look like a nurse at a retirement home.”

Asked about these comments, Levine told Billboard in an email, “I don’t recall the other exchange you reference but I did offer advice on how contestants might improve their entries from time to time, when asked. I see now that my comments were inappropriate.”

He concludes by writing that Hit Like A Girl accomplished “many amazing and unprecedented things for girls and women in the past 12 years, not least the fact that drums are no longer considered a ‘gendered’ instrument.”

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