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1 min read

Tambor Party: Building a Community Through Music

Tambor Party is a dance movement and event inspired by ancient drum ceremonies and centered around Afro House music. It was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009 by DJ Stan Zeff, a pioneer in London’s Afro House music scene.

Tambor Party has since flourished, capturing the attention of enthusiasts worldwide.

In this interview, Stan and Jackie discuss the unifying power of music and share their insights on empowering Black creatives in the industry.

tambor party

The founders also provide a glimpse into their upcoming event in Egypt, promising a captivating celebration of music and culture against the backdrop of Egypt’s rich heritage.

by Tony O. Lawson

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8 mins read

Fake Drake: Exploring the Legal Risks of Using AI to Create Music

Every day, we are discovering the mind-blowing power of creating content using artificial intelligence (AI). Though exciting to many, there are risks associated with what we create and how we go about doing so using this groundbreaking technology. It is well-known that the law has often lagged behind the development of technology.

In many instances, we have to look to laws drafted decades before much of the technology we use today was created. Thus, the use of AI has spawned many unprecedented legal questions that we just don’t have clear answers to right now.

For example, last week, a creator by the name of Ghostwriter977 (Ghostwriter), set the internet ablaze when they released an allegedly AI-generated song entitled, “Heart on my Sleeve.” The song features vocals that sounded extremely similar to that of Toronto-born superstars, Drake and The Weeknd.

The song was released on many major streaming platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, SoundCloud, Tidal, and TikTok. The song reached over 15 million plays before it was taken down in response to complaints from the artists’ publishing company, Universal Music Group (UMG). 


UMG argued the song was in violation of copyright law, however, it is unclear if this is actually true. Copyright ownership allows you the exclusive right to use and profit from creative works such as art, books, and music.

The United States Copyright Office only allows a copyright to attach to a creative work if there is human authorship. In this case, there is an argument that the content was generated by artificial intelligence, not by a human.

However, the question remains whether a compilation of the artists’ music was used to generate the sound-alike voices in the song, which may allow copyright ownership to attach.

Additionally, though the end product, the song recording itself, may have been generated by artificial intelligence, it was still prompted and potentially written by a human. And in that case, the lyrics of the song themselves, if originally developed by Ghostwriter, may actually belong to them.

There are some defenses to copyright infringement, such as fair use, which permits the unauthorized use of copyrighted material for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, education, scholarship, or research. Ultimately, copyright issues of this novel nature are very subjective and would be determined in court. 

Name, Image, and Likeness 

The argument could be made that Ghostwriter violated the right of publicity of Drake and The Weeknd by creating a song featuring voices that sound like theirs without their permission. The right of publicity grants you a right to profit from your name, image, and likeness, including your voice.

However, there is a clear distinction between using a person’s actual voice versus a voice that only sounds like the person’s voice. The First Amendment allows one to imitate the sound of another even when they specifically intend to do so – think cover artists.

However, there may be an exception to this rule when the imitation is connected with the intent to sell a product. See Midler v. Ford, 849 F.2d 460, 463 (9th Cir. 1988).

If so, there may be a showing of a violation of a right of that person’s publicity. In Midler, the Ford Motor Company used a Bette Midler sound-alike to sing one of her songs to sell cars. In the case of “Heart on my Sleeve,” it is not clear if anything was actually sold in connection with the song.

We’d also have to know how much the Ghostwriter tried to connect the song to Drake and The Weeknd and whether Ghostwriter received or attempted to receive any compensation in exchange for the song via the streaming platforms. Without more information, it is difficult to say there is a publicity right violation in this instance. 

Consumer Protection 

Although a less sexy topic, “Heart on my Sleeve” may also violate consumer protection laws. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state governments enforce laws that protect the public from deceptive or unfair business practices.

One may argue that the Ghostwriter used deceptive or unfair business practices to stream and popularize a song that misled consumers by using vocals that mimic Drake and The Weeknd.

We would likely have to determine the lengths the Ghostwriter took to connect the song to the artists; like if the artists were listed in the credits and if their imagery was used in the cover art on streaming platforms. The developer of the underlying AI technology that facilitated the creation of the song could also be liable under consumer protection laws.

The FTC may come after you if you make, sell, or use a tool that is effectively designed to deceive – even if that’s not its intended or sole purpose. The FTC warns developers of AI technology to consider how their products could be used to deceive consumers and mitigate the risks where possible.

However, this may be a stretch since it does not appear that consumers were actually led to consume anything other than listening and sharing the song.

As you can see, the law is not very clear when it comes to the issue of using AI-generated content that mimics a real person. These types of analyses are extremely fact-specific and require a full investigation to determine what laws are implicated, what types of damages should be attached, and ultimately who should be held liable.

There have been many lawsuits filed to address some of these unclear issues and we will be sure to update you when we have more answers. 

— Contributed by Ashley Cloud

Ashley Cloud is the founder of The Cloud Law Firm, servicing creative entrepreneurs in all 50 states. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok for more information.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.  Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  This website contains links to other third-party websites.  Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser; Ashley N. Cloud and The Cloud Law Firm PLLC do not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.
1 min read

Black Owned Record Stores You Should Know

In the ’60s and ’70s, there were as many as a thousand Black owned record stores. Today, only a fraction of the US’s 2,500 record stores are Black owned.

Black Owned Record Stores

That’s why today, on Record Store Day 2022, we want to celebrate the culture of the independently owned records store by highlighting some stores located around the world.

Black Owned Record Stores

Brittany’s Record Shop (Cleveland, OH)

Freshtopia (Norfolk, VA)

Halsey & Lewis (Brooklyn, NY)

HR Records (Washington, D.C.)

Black Owned Record Stores

Jampac Records (Monroe, NC)

JB’s Record Lounge (Atlanta, GA)

Moodies Records (Bronx, NY)

Maestro Records (Peckham, London)

OffBeat (Jackson, MS)

Black Owned Record Stores

Re-Runz Records (Orlando, FL)

Serious Sounds (Houston, TX)

Stokely’s Records (Valdosta, GA)

Supertone Records (Brixton, London)

The Jazzhole (Lagos, Nigeria)


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2 mins read

Gil Scott-Heron Inducted into Rock Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2021 inductees, and among them is the pioneering singer/songwriter and poet Gil Scott-Heron who made socially and politically potent music in the 1970s that fused jazz with R&B and who—although he preferred to refer to himself as a “bluesologist”—is widely regarded as one of the earliest rappers.

Gil Scott-Heron

Recognizing Scott-Heron’s seminal role in the development of hip-hop, the Rock Hall honored him with an Early Influencer Award.

Scott-Heron is one of only a small number of Rock Hall inductees (so far) to have strong jazz connections. Over the 35 years of its existence, the Hall has also inducted Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Nat “King” Cole, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Dr. John, Quincy Jones, Nina Simone, and Dinah Washington. Only Charles, Davis, Dr. John, and Simone were inducted as performers; the others received either the same Early Influencer honor as Scott-Heron or (in Jones’ case) the Ahmet Ertegun Award for music-industry professionals.

In collaboration with keyboardist/songwriter Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron wrote and recorded 10 albums between 1971 and 1980 that featured a string of hugely influential songs, including “Pieces of a Man,” “Lady Day and John Coltrane,” “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” “The Bottle,” “Johannesburg,” “Angel Dust,” “We Almost Lost Detroit,” and—the track he remains best known for—”The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

Gil Scott-Heron

Scott-Heron remained active until his death, and in 2010 released his first new album in 16 years, entitled I’m New Here. A memoir he had been working on for years up to the time of his death, The Last Holiday, was published posthumously in January 2012. Scott-Heron received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He also is included in the exhibits at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) that officially opened on September 24, 2016, on the National Mall, and in an NMAAHC publication, Dream a World Anew.

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2 mins read

Verzuz Acquired By Triller, Equity To Be Shared With Performers

Verzuz, the popular livestream music platform created by producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, has been acquired by Triller Network, the parent company of the Triller app.

Triller boasts more than 300 million users and premium content like the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. fight, with a number of tech innovations related to advertising.

Financial details of the deal are undisclosed but it was announced that Timbaland and Swizz Beatz are now “larger shareholders” in the Triller Network, and that they have allocated “a portion of their equity in the Triller VERZUZ combined company to all 43 creatives who have performed on VERZUZ to date.”

Verzuz was launched in March 2020 as an Instagram Live series. Since then, the platform established integrations with Apple Music and Twitter and has boosted sales and streams for its featured artists.

Some of the artists becoming shareholders in Triller Network, including John Legend, DMX, Alicia Keys, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, Too $hort, Patti LaBelle, Gucci Mane, Jeezy, E-40, Bounty Killer, D’Angelo, Ludacris, RZA, Nelly, Gladys Knight, T-Pain, Lil Jon, Jill Scott, 112, Kirk Franklin and many others.

In a joint statement, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz said, “By putting Verzuz in the Triller Network ecosystem and expanding the Verzuz brand to be side by side with the powerful Triller app, we will be able to continue to grow and evolve the music business as a whole, as we have been doing.”

Verzuz has also expanded into sports with its recent NFL collaboration, NFL Pro Bowl Verzuz. Future plans include more sport verticals as well as ventures into comedy and live events.

-Tony O. Lawson

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18 mins read

Critically Acclaimed Black Composer Contemplates Touring Post-Pandemic

New York City, seen as the financial capital of the world, came to a screeching halt in mid-March. The announcement of school closures was followed by a 100% economic shutdown of nonessential businesses. This happened as an official State of Emergency was declared in the U.S., and many borders around the world began closing for the foreseeable future. My thoughts turned toward the many artist friends who depend on travel, both domestic and international, in order to make a sustainable living as professional creatives.

The same day that the White House declared a travel ban on Europe, I watched several musicians post across social media that they were still touring on the other side of the world. Immediate logistics were sorted for those returning stateside to quarantine post-tour, or face being stuck (perhaps preferably) in other countries. Every one of those artists faced last-minute changes that included cancellations of all current and future gigs. Lives were unforeseeably impacted, if not forever changed. 

Two months have passed since the ability to earn income as a touring artist has completely fizzled out as an option. In the aftermath, I spoke with critically acclaimed jazz musician and composer George Burton to discuss the implications of what the Coronavirus pandemic has meant for his career.

black composer
George Burton

On February 21, 2020, Burton independently released his sophomore studio album “Reciprocity.” According to the press release: “Reciprocity” is a kaleidoscopic work that flows forward and back in time, a meta dialogue between generations of jazz artists. Opening with a fragment of a conversation with legendary Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen, whose commentary…is interspersed throughout the album, Burton compresses and collapses history in a series of compact configurations to create a narrative that is a meditation on the very nature of jazz.

As we caught up via FaceTime, Burton was in the backyard of his garden level brownstone apartment in Bed-Stuy, grilling jerk chicken for his family. It was a beautiful late spring afternoon, and his daughters were boisterous while building their imaginary fort without a care in the world. This was in stark contrast to the weight of the world on George’s shoulders as he shared his worries and concerns about the inability to work in his chosen field. 

black composer
George Burton

Mai Perkins for Shoppe Black: Since touring has come to a complete halt, how do you earn a living?

George Burton: Right now, I still have teaching. As a musician, you always have teaching, tours, and other things going on that contribute to earning income. I teach online lessons. That’s all I’ve got. I used to book other cats that play, but no one can go out on tour now.

You used to go to Europe, make a chunk, and live off of that money for the next few months. The ability to just bounce whenever you need to work is no longer an option. The borders are closed, so how do we start planning for that. No one knows when they will reopen, or how to plan ahead. 

What are your thoughts, overall, on the economic shutdown?

The economic downturn is serious. As time goes on, though… We as working artists sometimes plan 6 to 8 months in advance, so it can become brutal. Economically, I’m okay right now. But 6, 7, 8 months down the line… I can’t see saying the same thing. I am an entrepreneur to a certain extent. Every musician is an entrepreneur. I am my own business person because I run my own career in terms of bookings, hiring support, and everything towards putting out an album then selling it.

Tell me about the new album, “Reciprocity,” that came out in February. 

The new album got trampled by Coronavirus. It was like, “I’m in The New York Times!” and then it was like, “Nope, Corona is here…” It’s my second album. It did very well for a lot of publications. It has dialogue by Marshall Allen who is the last member of the original Sun Ra Arkestra. He’s been running the band for the last 25 years. It’s an album about reciprocity, exchanging ideas. A lot of people say, “Do you want it to be about the music or about You (the artist)?” I’ve never looked at music as an individual thing.

I’m used to playing behind people. But this album is about people working together. There are always two voices talking to one another. “Reciprocity” has done well in the press. NYT picked up the video, which was done by stop motion artist Sigmund Washington. He’s a brilliant Black artist out of Bed-Stuy who uses paper, watercolor, and markers to create each image. 12 to 24 frames per second.

It takes months to do. NPR Music liked it. JazzIz did a spotlight. But as far as the larger music publications, Jazz Times or Downbeat did not cover it. I think it’s a little different conceptually than any album that’s out today. So, you would think it would’ve done better in the jazz publications. 

Tell me about your life touring. How often would you go out?

Most of my tours are in Europe. I’ve been to London, Paris and France more times than I can remember. Western Europe, Central Europe, Serbia, and Croatia. Also, in South Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Morocco. Asia. All up and down the East and West coast, Chicago and Detroit. I’ve been everywhere except South America and Central America. Every year, I’m on the road. Every month between March and November are busy seasons for touring musicians. Basically, right now, I would be gone with Sun Ra or Odean Pope, whoever calls.

So what does it feel like to be grounded?

It feels terrible. Absolutely terrible. Like, “What do you mean I can’t go anywhere??? What do you mean there’s no touring?” Everything is set 8 to 10 months in advance. It’s a lot because so much depends on conditions that are undetermined until we have this situation under control. Fall 2021 is the earliest we’re hearing that touring could resume, once there’s a vaccine or treatment. And that’s not even for everyone.

Prior to this have you considered leaving NYC? Talk to me about this idea of envisioning life outside of New York, permanently.

I’ve been living in Brooklyn for 17 years, and own my piano studio. I’ve worked and put in the time and dedication to become critically acclaimed. I’m just trying to be a real musician in New York. I have absolutely no idea where to go. Corona is everywhere. Plus, I’ve been here so long that I just have no idea. There are different spaces I can consider moving to.

But the reason why I actually moved here is because the jazz scene in the city where I’m from had become small. Growing up in Philly when Black Lily at the Five Spot was going on, there was a jazz scene and a lot more clubs. When I left after 9/11, a lot of the scene in Philly had died.

So I came here to get more out of my career as a jazz artist. But, I get that same feeling about New York right now. I think opportunity has dried up here, to a certain degree. You kind of needed to be in New York in order to be seen and heard back then, but this was pre-YouTube.

So you had thoughts of leaving NYC before all of this?

When the pandemic first started and it seemed like a week or month thing, I tried to think past it like, “What will happen, and how does that affect what I do?” Before the pandemic hit, I had been thinking about relocating for a long time because NYC is no longer affordable for a person who does what I do for a living. The pandemic exposes a lot of things that I was already considering but did not think it would come this fast.

New York hasn’t been the same affordable, creative town for a long time, and that has contributed to my thinking about leaving. The lack of clubs and venues to play. The music business has changed, but not for the better. I don’t really need to be in NY to do what I do, honestly, even though I’ve made a name for myself. So, it’s not just the pandemic that makes my feeling about the decision what it is.

Does this make you feel like you need to go back to the drawing board?

Yes, I do. It’s weird to say, but this doesn’t happen. To hear that an entire industry on all levels has been turned off makes you think that when this does get turned back on, you’re going to lose whoever went by the wayside. Even in teaching… I have to go back to the drawing board about how I approach seeing students in person.

What are the necessary steps to take when it does happen? Nobody knows anything because six months, or a year and a half from now, everything will have changed. I need to start from scratch but I don’t know how to get to scratch because the whole playing field has been altered for everyone. 

What else do you find relevant to this issue for Black artists and musicians?

It’s crazy because you’re literally on pause. There are other industries where jobs will either be there, or not be there. What type of situation will I go back to playing in? There are a lot of layers involved for independent Black artists. We’re always fighting to get anything in the first place! So now that you don’t even know what you’re fighting for…? The short term is causing anxiety from generally not knowing anything.

A year from now, under normal circumstances, I’ll have a potential gig. But now, a year from now in this climate, we don’t know what a year from now will even present. It’s so many layers. You can’t sell a music program at a university if you can’t sell students on the idea that they will have a career moving forward. How do you sell a college program about music when there’s no music? What are you paying for?

How do you convince them that they can make a career in music after spending $100,000 on tuition? You risk losing faculty because you can’t afford to pay them once the program is downsized. New York is about to become a whole other thing, and figuring out that thing is what I need to determine.

That’s an interesting theory you have about university students in music programs, but it makes sense. Any final thoughts?

Also, the schools determine who lives in the city and goes to the jazz clubs, like Smalls and Fat Cat. If NYU students potentially aren’t there in the fall, with the lifestyle habits that support many musicians (i.e. regularly coming to jazz sets), if they’re not here, then what?

Plus, jazz clubs need to be full to operate. You have to pack the joint to pay rent. So, the idea of social distancing in the clubs with 25-50% capacity to remain safe means that you may not be able to see some of the iconic venues reopen and survive. All of this literally can kill off the small number of black full-time artists that are here living in Brooklyn or in the city if things don’t pan out favorably.

But it’s tricky. I mean, how many Black artists do you know in jazz that live in New York City? The numbers are interesting. What comes after the coronavirus is over? Does gentrification continue full steam ahead with more money and less access? Does it finish us off? We hope not. I’m praying not. 

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

black composer
Mai Perkins (Photo by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn)

Mai Perkins is a Cali girl in a Bed-Stuy world who has created several online platforms including African Highaspora, Uberlicious NYC, and She’s also a contributing writer for Black-Owned Brooklyn, as well as the music publication, Relevant and Bust Magazine.

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and an MA in International Affairs from The New School, she reps her beloved alma mater, Howard University, every chance she gets. As a poet and a non-fiction writer, she has just published her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending, available now on Amazon & Kindle.


Also by Mai Perkins: Black Women Directs First Ever Romantic Comedy About Black Muslim Life


2 mins read

8 Little Richard Quotes and Sayings

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Little Richard died Saturday. He was 87 years old. His death was announced on his official Facebook page, as well as by his son, Danny Jones Penniman, who confirmed the news first to Rolling Stone.

The wildly influential singer and pianist established rock ’n’ roll as a genre with just one rule — there are no rules. And his signature recordings, including “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Lucille,” “Tutti Frutti,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” remain embedded in the core DNA of rock ’n’ roll.

Here are some quotes to remember the legendary musician by:

Richard Quotes and Sayings

I never accepted the idea that I had to be guided by some pattern or blueprint.

Little Richard Quotes

And I’d like to give my love to everybody, and let them know that the grass may look greener on the other side, but believe me, it’s just as hard to cut.

Little Richard Quotes

I’m here to sing.

Little Richard Quotes

It was a way out of poverty. It was a way to success. It was a way to education. And it was a way to a brighter day for me.

Little Richard Quotes

I think my legacy should be that when I started in show business, there wasn’t no such thing as rock n’ roll. When I started with ‘Tutti Frutti,’ that’s when rock really started rocking.

Little Richard Quotes

If at first you don’t succeed, you get back up and you try … and you try … and you try it again … except ice skating, I hate this crap, I quit!

A lot of people call me the architect of rock & roll. I don’t call myself that, but I believe it’s true.

I am the innovator. I am the originator. I am the emancipator. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll!

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5 mins read

13 year old violinist heading to New York to play at Carnegie Hall

Lincoln Haggart-Ives is about to do something many musicians have only dreamed of. The thirteen year old violinist, from Vaughan, Ontario., is headed to New York to play at Carnegie Hall.

“I was really excited. I was mind-blown,” Haggart-Ives said of his reaction when he learned his audition tape for the American Protégé Music Competitions had been successful.

Lincoln Haggart-Ives

“I didn’t really expect that to happen but it happened, so I was really happy and excited. I was just shocked.”

American Protégé is designed for young musicians, actors and singers on the path to a successful career; and gives participants an opportunity to showcase their unique talents.

Organizers say the 2018-2019 competitions attracted the largest number of very competitive applicants on record, hailing from every corner of the world including various parts of the U.S. and 58 other countries.

Lincoln’s mom, Maria Haggart, says she found out about the competition from a neighbour and immediately found the “opportunity for the kids to play at Carnegie Hall” very appealing.


“I thought to myself, ‘I’ll just put Lincoln in and see what happens,'” Haggart told CBC News.

“So, I submitted the video and then last Thursday we just got word that he placed and he will be playing in the winners’ recital in June.”

Preparing for the big stage

Haggart-Ives says he’ll be playing Csárdás, which is one of his favorite pieces.

Csárdás — by Italian composer Vittorio Monti — is a rhapsodical concert piece written in 1904, originally composed for violin, mandolin or piano.

“It has different parts to it. For example there’s a fast bit and there’s a slow bit,” he explained.

The teen admits he does get a bit nervous sometimes when he has to play to a large audience, but he has his own way to calm his nerves.

“Sometimes I get a little nervous, but when I start playing I lose it and I just focus on the thing I’m doing and it goes away and then I do fine,” he said.

“I just practice the pieces I’m going to play and I just try to perfect it and make it sound as good as possible.”

Learning new pieces is what Haggart-Ives likes the most about playing the violin.


“I like to branch out and to explore different types of pieces and try to just play as many different pieces as possible, to challenge myself more and more to play different pieces in higher levels,” he said.

‘Very musical’ from he was a baby

Lincoln’s mom said he started music lessons one month before his fourth birthday.

“I thought that the violin was the best instrument to start him on because it’s a sizable instrument. He started on the box violin and he started playing an actual instrument when he was four,” Haggart said.

“He just took off with it… He was very musical from the time he was a little baby.

“We used to play music for him when he was really young, before he could even walk or talk. We would play The Beatles and Coldplay. His favourite actually was Amy Winehouse. He loved Amy Winehouse and he would like to dance around that,” Haggart added.

The proud mom says, “It’s just been a journey for us. There have been challenges and obstacles but it’s been very, very rewarding.”

But for Lincoln, this is only the beginning.

Next on his bucket list is to play in an Orchestra.

“Maybe the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or the National Orchestra,” he said.


Source: CBC

4 mins read

7 Black Opera Singers You Should Know

Opera has a long and rich history, but it has not always been inclusive. For many years, Black opera singers were denied opportunities to perform on the world’s greatest stages.

Today, there are many Black opera singers who are dominating the stage, both nationally and internationally. These singers are breaking down barriers and inspiring a new generation of artists.

In this article, we will highlight seven Black opera singers who you should know. These singers are all incredibly talented and accomplished, and they are making significant contributions to the world of opera.

Black Opera Singers

J’Nai Bridges has been heralded as a rising star, gracing the world’s top stages in repertoire ranging from traditional favorites to world premieres to spirituals and standards.

Russell Thomas is an American operatic tenor. He has performed leading roles at some of the worlds leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, the English National Opera, among others.

South African native, Sunnyboy Dladla made his successful BBC Proms debut in the 2018 festival with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle.


American-born tenor Lawrence Brownlee captivates audiences and critics around the world, and has been hailed as “an international star in the bel canto operatic repertory” and “one of the most in-demand opera singers in the world today”.

Pretty Yende, OIS is a South African operatic soprano. She has performed leading roles at opera houses internationally, including La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera.

John Thomas Holiday, Jr., is an American operatic countertenor who has won several major music competitions and has appeared in supporting and leading roles with several American opera companies.


Pumeza Matshikiza, a Lyric soprano from South Africa graduated Cum Laude, then at the Royal College of Music, London with a full three-year scholarship and in the Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.


Vuvu Mpofu taught herself to sing by mimicking the singers on two opera DVDs and, several years later, her talent was spotted by a voice coach. Now, the soprano has mentors in the world’s foremost opera companies.


Sir Willard Wentworth White, OM, CBE is a Jamaican-born British operatic bass baritone. In 1976, he made his London opera debut with English National Opera. He has since sung at the Met, Covent Garden, Paris Bastille, the opera houses of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the major European cities.

Solomon Howard is a graduate of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He garners high praise from the press for his vivid performances on the great opera and concert stages of the world.

Hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, young tenor Frederick Ballentine is a graduate of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, and the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program.


by Tony O. Lawson

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20 mins read

The First Black Owned Piano Manufacturing Business

Warren Shadd is the founder of Shadd Piano, the first Black owned piano manufacturing business. That makes him the first large-scale commercial Black instrument manufacturer, period.

For Shadd, piano making is part of his birthright. His grandparents were musicians: His grandmother was a ragtime pianist in the South in the ’30s, and his grandfather invented (and performed on) a collapsible drum set. (He never patented it, a lesson his grandson learned.) Shadd’s father was himself a piano technician, restorer, builder and performer — as well as a trombonist. And Shadd’s aunt was the NEA Jazz Master pianist and vocalist Shirley Horn. A child prodigy, young Warren made his own concert debut at age 4.

Black Owned Piano Manufacturing Business
Warren Shadd

Shadd Pianos are now in churches and concert venues across the U.S. — including the set of American Idol, where house keyboardist Wayne Linsey will play it on Wednesday night’s episode. On a recent visit to Warren Shadd’s home in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a home that doubles as the Shadd Piano showroom — he spoke about his life and work.

What sparked your original interest in pianos?

Warren Shadd: My father was the exclusive piano technician for the Howard Theatre, so I would go down there with him four times a week and see James Brown, Count Basie, [Duke] Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Peggy Lee, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers … rehearsing. I’d see this all day long, every day. From the time I woke up, there were band rehearsals. Shirley Horn rehearsing in my basement with Billy Hart and Marshall Hawkins … We had pianos everywhere in my house, from the garage to the basement, sometimes even one of the upright pianos sitting in the kitchen, [Laughs.] And musicians would come over to our house after the gig and play all night: Dude Brown, Bernard Sweetney, Steve Novosel, Roberta Flack …

My father would have me do little repairs on the piano. When he went on these piano [repair] jobs, he would take me with him to see what the whole thing was about … and I would never want to go. I just wanted to stay home and play the drums; just wanted to be Warren Shadd the drummer. Except when he said he was going to the Howard Theatre — I was in the car before he got there! I wanted to see all these cats rehearse, see the show … I met Grady Tate when I was about 6 years old, playing with Jimmy Smith, then went full circle and played with Jimmy Smith myself.

As I progressed and learned more about piano technology, I never aspired to; I just knew how to do it. I would say, ‘Piano is what I know, drums is who I am.’ As I went out there and toured with different acts, did a bunch of Broadway shows and got a little tired of the road, I learned how to tune, rebuild and restore pianos. I would take these pianos down to the nuts and bolts and build them back up just for fun, just for a hobby. I would take whole grand or upright pianos apart, build them back up with everything refinished — new strings, new soundboard, new keys, new ivories — for fun. And then my father would sell the piano. [Laughs.] I was about 12, 13 when I started doing this.

Black Owned Piano Manufacturing Business

The record player was always going, from Sonny Stitt’s Low Flame album, to Count Basie, to Buddy Rich, to Miles, to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, the James Gang, Iron Butterfly — I had a real potpourri and understanding of all genres of music. While I was doing this piano thing just for the heck of it, I was also performing with a bunch of folks. After I got through high school, I went to Howard University and was in the big band with Wallace Roney, Geri Allen, Gary Thomas, Noble Jolley Sr., Carroll Dashiell and Paul Carr.

When my father passed in 1993, I took over the piano business full tilt, because he had all of these clients for tuning, rebuilding and restoring. He pretty much had Washington, D.C., totally sewn up with all the church pianos. So when I took it over, I already had a client base — it wasn’t like I had to start over fresh. We had all these contracts with churches. Coming in as the second generation of this business was phenomenal for me. Secure from being a musician on tour, it was a built-in job.

As the industry changed a bit, I found that rebuilding pianos was not so much what I really wanted to do financially. I would take these pianos and beautifully restore them … and somebody would say ‘OK, I’ll give you $600 for it…’ [Laughs.] I’m like, ‘Dude, even the new strings I put on this cost four times that much!’ So I kind of migrated out of that restoration business into doing tunings and repair work.

Black Owned Piano Manufacturing Business

I would also exchange parts. I’d take a soundboard out of a Steinway and put it in a Baldwin to see what kind of reaction it would give, understanding the engineering, understanding which side vibrates the most. I’d exchange strings, put on heavier strings, lighter strings, to achieve a certain type of sound. Being a musician, I have an advantage of understanding what musicians want and what they want to hear. If I can compare here — Mr. Steinway doesn’t play piano, Yamaha no, Kawai no, Bosendorfer no, Fazioli a little bit … They are engineers and businessmen; I’m a musician and an engineer and businessman. I have somewhat of a musical advantage. What I’m crafting is a musical instrument and all those different components that go into that, especially the musical parts.

At what point did you decide to actually manufacture pianos?

From churches and especially symphonic tunings, you understood that the piano had a disadvantage in terms of the pianists especially being able to hear themselves play, because in church you’re in total competition with the Hammond B-3 organ or the pipe organ, the drums, the bass, the percussion, the choir and the congregation. They would put microphones in the piano, but they weren’t placed right to give you the most opulent sound of the piano. You would have to totally jack up that sound for the pianist to feel really comfortable. In the symphony, there’d be a floor monitor, but you’re totally surrounded by all these string instruments and you’re still at a disadvantage … and you just play the part.

My first notion was enhancing the volume of the acoustic piano by itself, without any kind of electronics. Even if you add electronics, you’ll have more sound, because the origin of the piano will have more sound, more volume to it without distorting it — which is important, too. There’s a piano on the market that is somewhat loud, but as you play it louder, it has distortion. The soundboard is not made so well that it can take that kind of pounding. My pianos: You can stand on them and you will not get any kind of distortion.

I studied and researched in the library and wrote a dissertation. I went back to some of those old pianos I restored, and I would experiment with the soundboard. I wrote this stuff on sheets of notebook paper and just put it away, didn’t really think that much about it. One day, I was tuning a piano at this old man Mr. Tucker’s house. As I’m tuning his old upright piano, he started whimpering. I said ‘Mr. Tucker, what’s going on?’ He said, ‘It’s all right, Shadd, it’s all right.’ So I go on tuning the piano, then he really starts crying a lot. ‘What’s wrong, Mr. Tucker?’ He said, ‘Shadd, see that piano? See that name on the front of it? That should say Shadd, because you’re the only one!’ I said, ‘OK, Mr. Tucker, I’ve got these ideas, I’m gonna go back and study.’ He pretty much planted the seed.

I went back and blew the dust off of these old ideas that had been sitting in a cabinet, and I started trying to engage some of these parts and put some of these old ideas I had together. And then I said, ‘Why not try to do some of this stuff electronically?’ So I built this prototype piano. It took me two summers and there it is [pointing to a high-tech grand piano in the adjoining room]. I put an audio system in the piano where speakers are right in front of the piano, so the sound would come right to the pianist and the pianist can hear themselves play. And I put speakers under the piano and a subwoofer so you can get the full gamut of the piano and control the volume and graphic equalize each section of the piano — bass, alto, tenor and treble — so you could go to each section of the piano and customize it just like that. I went another step and made it MIDI, so you could play all of your electronic synthesizer sounds on the piano.

For educational purposes, I made this piano interactive. I put a computer under the piano and I built this 24″ touchscreen on the front and a 13″ screen on the left and encompassed video cams throughout the piano. So on the other side, interactively, your piano teacher can see you, you can see your piano teacher, they can see our face, torso, left hand, right hand, pedal movement, and teach intelligently anywhere in the world … distance learning right there at the piano.

From that point, you can also have your band on the other screen, so you can even cut tracks with your band live and in real time. You can teach and you can score on your touchscreen as you’re watching that, so it’s like a total workshop right in front of the piano. Now you can compete in a church environment, in a symphonic environment, because now you have the volume right in your face. But even taking it to another level … I have a [piano] bench that has surround sound; it has a subwoofer in it. So now, you don’t only just hear the music; you feel the music, so that every little nuance that you play on the piano down to the triple pianissimo … you feel everything that you’re playing.

From there, I said, ‘Let me go back to the acoustic piano and see how I can apply some of that stuff to these new pianos.’ So I incorporated a lot of the soundboard technology that I invented — and I have patents on all of this technology, unlike my grandfather with the collapsible drum set. I assembled an A team of piano manufacturers around the world and sort of cherry-picked the best of the best. I said I want you to make this … in accordance to my patents and designs.

My first piano, I sold to the Setai Hotel in New York, now called the Langham Place Hotel, and they play jazz there on this piano — seven days a week. I was trying to get a particular piano company to build my pianos. When I called, they said, ‘We’ll build your pianos if you bring us 1,000 signatures of people who would buy your pianos.’ A friend of mine suggested going to the Gospel Workshop of America, the big convention of all the ministers of music and trustees. It happens annually, and I’m thinking at that time all I had was paperwork: I had a provisional patent, but no prototype piano.

How am I going to go there without a piano? Hammond Organ, Yamaha are going to be there, and they’re going to have instruments. So I’m just going to be there selling a piano without a piano? I had these big posters made to put on easels and put all this stuff into an SUV and traveled up to Detroit. I bought a corner booth because people were going to be coming to you on both sides as opposed to being in the middle of a straight line in the exhibit hall. I had these banners made that said, ‘First African-American piano manufacturer.’ I made a video of all the proposed technology. But I still didn’t have a piano. [Laughs.]

I’ve got a lot of family in Detroit, so I got a couple cousins with clipboards to stand outside of my booth to get these signatures — the name of their church, their minister of music’s name, what kind of piano they had in their church, how many pianos would they replace if they were able, and how many would they replace with the Shadd Piano based on the technology you see [in his booth presentation]? I ended up with 864 signatures in four days. I got the rest of them from DC Public Schools.

I had six people across and three deep the whole time. I had no idea there was going to be this much interest. This little church lady with a pillbox hat points up to the poster and says, “You mean, we’ve got a piano!” When she said that, it was like the whole place stopped — it went silent to me, I did not hear a word. At that moment, I knew that this wasn’t about me; this was much bigger than me. I’m thinking I’m a conduit, being the first African-American piano manufacturer, and some would say the first African-American musical instrument maker — we don’t make trumpets, trombones, tubas…

What’s been the reaction of the players to your piano?

It was kind of tough initially to get cats to come out here and play the piano. One cat — after he came out and played the piano and was overwhelmed — said ‘You know, I’ve got to apologize. I didn’t come out at first because I didn’t want to be disappointed!’

How are you going about connecting with piano players?

One player at a time. I call folks, they come over, they play the piano, and they’re wowed. Barry Harris was here three weeks ago and he’s brought some attention to some other folks about this piano. Church musicians are in here all the time now. I do know there’s a responsibility with this, to make the best piano — not one of the best — the best piano, period, in the world, and that’s what I believe I’ve done. As a people, we can’t be parallel; we’ve got to be three times as good. I’m a perfectionist, so every nuance that goes into this piano has to be the very best.


Source: NPR