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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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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



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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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


7 Black Opera Singers You Should Know

We can all name several RnB or Gospel singers, but what about the Black opera singers!? They deserve some recognition too, right? Right. That’s why we’ve decided to highlight some of the black opera singers doing their thing in the biggest theaters around the world.

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.


-Tony O. Lawson


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


12 Nipsey Hussle Quotes About Business and Success

Last night I clicked on an old video interview Nipsey Hussle did discussing his business ventures. That video led me to another and then another. I’ve always been impressed by his drive and focus.

nipsey hussle
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Warner Music

Now, he’s gone. My way of paying tribute and my respects to someone who I was inspired by, is to provide some insight into the business acumen and intelligence of a man with so much potential, gone too soon.

Favorite Nipsey Hussle Quotes

“It sounds simple telling people to work hard and never quit, but to really execute and demonstrate those principles takes discipline and faith. Those are the two factors that I believe separate the good from the great; the successes from the failures.” 

nipsey hussle
Credit: GQ

“Be truthful with yourself and other people, and try your best to make decisions outside of your ego.”

“You aren’t a true leader without the ability to be honest and take responsibility for your actions.”

credit: the source

“It isn’t cool to be in the club spending all of this money, or having cars and jewelry — but you don’t own any real estate? You don’t own a fourplex? If the answer is no, you’re not a real hustler.”

“At on point I wasn’t proud of my lifestyle..Now I wake up knowing that I’m doing what I’m here to do.”

“I’m more focused on giving solutions and inspiration more than anything.” 

nipsey hussle
Credit: complex

“When you start seeing the most successful people and the most respected people, the next step is figuring out how they became that…As far as respect goes, we have to stop respecting dumb shit. We have to return to old school principles.”

We don’t want advances, we want equity. We don’t want one-off endorsements, we want ownership.”

“We’re creating an ecosystem, from production to consumption. Not only do we own the supply chain, but we can curate the experience. From the ownership of the actual master, to the retail experience and marketing the product, to consuming it. That’s the same model as Apple.”

Credit billboard

“The vision is to launch franchises. There’s such a narrative to this parking lot—that’s a part of my story as an artist.”

“Have a plan. Have a step by step list of things to do to get to your goal. If you don’t have that, its hard to have faith in what you’re doing.”

credit: facebook

“I’m focusing on the music, but I still got a cold library of books that I’ve either read or I plan on getting to.”




-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG@thebusyafrican)





The Lyrical Hoofer: Joseph Webb on Life As A Rhyming Tap Dancer

The New York Times hit the nail on the head when dance and cultural critic Roslyn Sulcas deemed tap dancer Joseph Webb “no doubt, a natural star,” albeit “too hard to categorize.” This is because he, like other prolific triple threats, has managed to trip the light fantastic as a seasoned professional dancer, Broadway actor, and emcee. And that’s when he’s not pouring into younger artists as an educator, or choreographing staged productions for his company, Dancing Buddhas.

There’s something quite electric about coming into the presence of the eclectic Mr. Webb, who not only found critical acclaim in the award-winning musical “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk”, but has become an international sensation in his own right. A working artist and entrepreneur, Joseph Webb has honed his strategies and sensibilities as an independent artist navigating the world of entertainment for over twenty years.

In this interview, Shoppe Black delves into Webb’s wisdom and experiences over the last decade, particularly with the release of his debut and sophomore recording projects, Beautiful Fire in 2008, and For Starters in 2018.

Joseph Webb

SB: Like so many artists, there are many iterations of yourself. Tell me about the entrepreneurial intersectionality of Joseph Webb.

JW: I’ve been blessed with a variety of gifts and talents, and I do my best to cultivate these gifts. The most common themes that have always been present in my work are music and dance. In particular, hip-hop/jazz and tap dance. I started studying movement at the age of six years old and while I took classes in varied styles, I gravitated towards tap dance.

As I began researching this rich artform while studying the physical discipline, I immediately began to notice the correlation between movement and live music. For instance, take a look at the legendary Nicholas Brothers’ scene in the 1943 musical classic Stormy Weather (and many other films of this era). In that famous footage you see the synergy of tap dancers and musicians interacting with each other, rhythmically and melodically.

I began writing poems, short stories and rhymes in my teens, around the age of 15 or 16. It was an organic process that seemed to just spout over time and, of course, I was inspired by hip hop culture, but also by jazz vocalists like Eddie Jefferson, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. After joining the Broadway show “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk”, I hooked up with the assistant conductor of the show, Lafayette Harris Jr., and created my first musical recording. It incorporated live music, poetry, emceeing and tap dance in 1996 and 1997.

There are things I can say vocally that I prefer to say with my feet, and vice versa. This combination of tapping while delivering original lyrics would eventually become a part of my signature style… I wasn’t thinking of it in that way as I was coming into my own as a developing artist. I was just doing what was on my heart and it ended up happening this way. Folks would say “Oh, that’s the lyrical hoofer!”

SB: It’s been ten years since your last studio recording, Beautiful Fire, but you’ve been really busy working an an artist entrepreneur. What are some of the business ventures you’ve cultivated outside of recording? What fulfillment is found in working on these ventures, regardless of how long they last?

JW: We don’t have that much time here on earth. Inshallah, I’ll live to see another 60 years. With this being said, if there is an idea on my heart that needs to be explored and cultivated then I usually do so. Over the years I’ve been a manager of a raw vegan juice bar in Harlem, an artistic director of a dance studio in Washington D.C., a tap dance instructor, and a choreographer. The latter two I’m still very much involved in.

Life is based on experiences along with our relationships (emotionally, mentally and physically) within these experiences. I don’t know if it’s about fulfillment as much as opening the proverbial door, walking in and seeing what’s on the other side of our ideas. It’s really important to go and explore what’s on our hearts. Sometimes we’re fulfilled, and other times it’s more of a learning lesson.

SB: Tell me about working with your Grammy-nominated collaborator, Nate Jones On Bass, the new EP, For Starters, and particularly how it came about so long after your last studio album?

JW: I would be remiss if I didn’t say that… while I feel my first digital platform release, 2008’s Beautiful Fire, was a brilliant album I had big hopes for that project and what it could do for my musical career. So, while things didn’t pan out as I had hoped (which is another story altogether), I wasn’t that eager to put out another musical project so quickly. I have an arsenal of unreleased music that was recorded during this hiatus… I may release a few from this batch in the new year. When our schedules align, Nate Jones, my producer for Beautiful Fire and For Starters, and I are always working together in the studio and coming up with inspired work that I feel is unique in its own right. Over the last two years I’ve had many fans send me emails and messages asking for more material. This, coupled with some challenges that I’ve had over the last two and a half years, motivated me to release For Starters, and I’m grateful for the feedback thus far.

Nate Jones On Bass is a busy man, though, as you can imagine. Between his touring with artists like Trey Songz or in the studio with J. Cole, we have to jump on opportunities to sit in the same room and vibe on a track. So, whenever I can get him in the studio I take the chance. This can be a series of consistent  back-to-back sessions or spread out over 2-6 months, depending on our schedules.

At this point, we have created an arsenal of material. I would call them different batches with varying vibes. The two singles on For Starters are part of one of those batches. Fans can expect a live band vibe like the Beautiful Fire album, but I feel lyrically I’m sitting more in the groove and spirit of the music. This was made for the fans, but equally as much for both of us. I don’t listen to my music that often, but I’ve been listening to this project.

joseph webb
SB: How has your solo career influenced you to start Long Arms with your love and life partner, Baredu Ahmed?

JW: I’m an individual. I like to be alone. I can do a retreat for two weeks to a month and not see another human being, yet be totally okay. I also like to work alone. However, I’ve always known the power of working in a group and/or a partnership. I’ve explored other partnerships in the past, and this one with my significant other Baredu Ahmed, who is a brilliant composer and flutist, feels balanced and right.

We’ve collaborated musically before on a show with my company, Dancing Buddhas, where she was the composer, and the work was well received. We naturally decided to form a group, Long Arms (LA), that allows both of us to create in a way that’s uplifting for our individual selves while challenging each other in a positive and constructive light.

SB: What comparisons can you make to other duos, particularly romantic duos, who are creating music and art together? What is the brand, style, message of Long Arms (LA)?

JW: I don’t know if we could or should compare to other romantic duos. Because the ones that come to mind are just so different and have their own flavor (Sonny and Cher, Prince and Sheila E, Kindred the Family Soul). And I’m hesitant to brand LA because what we are giving is a feeling. Both of us go with the flow and go where the music that we’re making takes us. And we can really flow in and out of a genre without leaning too much in one direction. But we are most definitely dedicated to, and were born out of, the love for jazz, hip hop, soul, and funk. That is probably the clearest influences in our style and music.

SB: Can you talk about the roles of discipline and motivation as a working artist/entrepreneur, and the drive or hunger for success?

JW: Discipline and motivation are major keys (in my Khaled voice). These two elements have shifted for me over the years, as well as my drive for success. Success for me at an earlier age was rooted in folks across the globe knowing my name and the art that I produce, and my discipline and motivation was geared towards this end. So, while I still dig this notion, my concept of success has changed with age.

My personal well-being is very much connected with my art and the notion of success now. For me success is making sure you’re creative artistry is being nurtured and groomed while simultaneously nurturing and grooming your personal and family relationships. These two may not always be balanced but they do complement each other for me. I can’t be a successful entrepreneur if my concept of home isn’t being groomed, as well.

What has twenty plus years in the game as a working entertainer taught you that is relevant to the next artist who is grinding toward their big break?

JW: Being true to your vision is vital. Support and collaborate with other artist but don’t compare yourself to anyone. This is a sure way to be frustrated, and even set oneself up for failure. Being uncomfortable often leads to growth. And at the end of the day make sure you can sleep at night. No sense in obtaining your big break if you’re not pleased with how you got there. Oh, and love on yourself so you can love on others.

SB: What’s next?
JW: I will be releasing a project produced by my good friend Ra-Re Valverde that I’m very excited about in the upcoming year. Long Arms will also be presenting a project at Harlem Stage in May entitled Messages From Umi, and we’ll also look forward to releasing our debut EP in 2019.


– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world, with several blogs under her belt including and She is a contributing writer for the music publication, and has written for 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.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter


Folami Opens Up About Her Path from Entertainer To Artist Entrepreneur

If you haven’t been following Folami, one of the dazzling lead vocalists of disco’s greatest band, CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers, then you’re absolutely missing out! In this in-depth interview, Folami opens up about her path as a working entertainer and artist entrepreneur.

We cover everything from how essential her family and Afrocentric upbringing were in leading to her theater arts education at Howard University, to her legacy in establishing Folluminati LLC along with the music duo Lester & Folami and their nonprofit, Empower The Creator.  

Take me back to 10 years ago, just before getting the call to join CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers in 2008. What was life like for you then?

There were times when I wasn’t sure that I was still following my greatness… because coming out of Howard was a whole lot, you know what I mean? Graduating and studying at an institution like that was really a lot for me, a really big accomplishment. And then coming to Atlanta, and refinding, restarting and recharging, setting my life up for whatever I was setting out to do, I had a lot of failures.

I had a lot of different moments when I wasn’t sure if I was still doing the right thing, and if I was doing my purpose work. But one thing I did do, and was very consistent with, was making sure that I did not have a 9-to-5. Because I knew in my mind that if I had a 9-to-5 then that would cancel me out for opportunities to come. So I worked effortlessly on all types of side jobs. At one point I had five different jobs, but they were all part-time jobs. And I was in the studios, you know, studio hopping, meeting people.

I was around the Janelle Monae camp, Wondaland Society, early on before the big boom, and I was just trying to absorb and fill the void of what I’d felt at Howard. I felt so much love and camaraderie, and so many people of like-minded energy, and I was just in Atlanta trying to feel my way through. One day I went through the newspaper and wrote down every single open mic they had, and I went to every single one. I would sing and just try to meet as many people as I could and just feel it out.

But like I said, there were moments when I was not sure what I wanted to do. And every single time I felt like, “Let me do something else,” or thought, “Let me just stop,” I would get a phone call the very next day. I would get an email… I would get a confirmation that “You’re going in the right direction, just stay the course. Stay the course.” And I’m telling you, there was blood, sweat and tears… So, I knew that Howard had given me a foundation that I trusted and had to build upon.

I understand that a former music teacher at Howard was responsible for you being asked to join CHIC?

Yes, when I got the phone call for CHIC, they hit me up and were like, “Can you be here tomorrow?” And I absolutely said, “Yes.” That was the lightbulb like, “Yes!” There are things I slacked off on, but what I did stay firm in was making sure I was available. So got myself a ticket and I went to the audition.

The audition was in D.C. because Daryl Hunt was a student teacher at Howard, and I’d taken one of his courses, so he reached out to me. His future wife, Sylver Logan Sharp was the lead singer of CHIC and was in the process of trying to find a sub. All the singers they came across were not cutting it. They had requirements. Height requirement, vocal requirements, and they needed to fit at least a few checks, not just one check. Everybody else they auditioned just fit one check-off box.

So, Daryl was like, “Folami!” …Folami was the first name they thought of that checked all of the boxes. So, Sylver called me and said, “Can you get here?” and I said, “Yes.” She said, “Make sure that you look just like the person you’re subbing for, I want you to study… I want you to nail these Diana Ross songs because that’s mostly what you’re going to be singing. So I need you to come with that embodiment.” And as I had studied acting and theater, that was a no-brainer for me. Let’s get it!

So, I went to the audition and I actually never left DC to go back to Atlanta. I went straight up to New York from D.C. because I got hired on the spot since they actually had an upcoming performance. I didn’t even have enough clothes! I only had one day’s worth of clothes because I was supposed to go right back. They changed my ticket. I studied the entire show with Sylver for about two weeks. And my first show was April 28, 2008. And I was on stage with the We Are Family Foundation Gala.

CHIC and Nile Rodgers, Eric Benet, Micky Dolenz from the Monkees, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, and Patti LaBelle were the special guests and honorees for the Foundation. And that was my first performance with CHIC, with all of those great people. And such an array of people. It wasn’t just R&B. You’re talking about pop music, rock music, R&B greats, gospel greats, all on stage. This was my first experience. So, you know, from there, it was just a kaboom! It just took off.  

Another thing about studying at Howard University was just… You know, as I look back at the people… just to sit there and watch Chadwick Boseman do the commencement speech at Howard, and me being able to say, “I had the SAME experiences that he had!” The same teachers, the same fight.

The same everything. I studied in that same department. That, right there, is definitely one of those moments, newly, for me. I watched that commencement speech balling my eyes out with happiness and it being such a proud moment for everyone that came out of that department. Because it definitely was a struggle.

Tell me about your mother laying the groundwork in your decision to become a working artist through her Afrocentric primary school in East Palo Alto, CA?

My mother comes from the Black Nationalist Movement. So let’s just start there. She was a part of the Black Panthers/Black Nationalist Movement, and she was dedicated to making sure that the children had what they needed to succeed. African American children need to know where they come from, first. If you don’t know where you come from, for anybody, then you can’t know where you are going: Sankofa.

You know what I mean. So, the school that I studied in basically gave us everything we needed to know, all the keys of life. And we were very consistent. We studied history. We studied culture. We traveled. We understood that performing arts was more than just trying to be a star. It was building things that you need to have just as a human being. I was discussing this with my mom just the other day, like, what she did for me helps me in performing arts and helps other people across the board.

Just being able to speak in front of people, because everyone has to do a presentation at some point if you’re going to excel. Everyone has to speak. Everybody has to be eloquent. Everybody has to project. Everyone has to appease to the audiences. You have to understand personality types, and all of these things.  And that’s what performing arts does for you. It gives you confidence.


It gives you the ability to ebb and flow, and be able to mood swing with people because that’s what life is. It’s a bunch of people trying to cohabitate, and get things done. So, this school gave us so many different things. I studied Tai-Chi. I studied gardening. French, Swahili. Tumbling and gymnastics. We traveled all up and down the peninsula of the Bay area performing. We did many, many things that were Afrocentric and very much outside the box.

So much so that outside schools in the area were kind of like, “Wow.” And there are schools to this day that are trying to model the institution, Shule Mandela Academy, School of Wisdom and Knowledge, that my mother established. We had meditation classes, literally. We were doing all types of work for the mind, body, and soul. At the time, there were no more than fifty students.

Very, very small and close knit. We had a bit of everything. Nutritional classes. My mother helped us understand why we shouldn’t eat the certain things that make us ill. She taught, was the principal and ran the school. She was a cofounder along with a few of the other parents. They started the school because at the time she wanted to make sure that her five children were educated properly in the best way.

What was your father’s influence in your decision to become an artist?

My father was also a part of the same movement. My mother and him met in the seventies and he was in the school district as a teacher. He also studied musical theater at UC Irvine, which I found out later after he passed away. He basically was a true entertainer at heart.

He was a percussionist, played the drums, he sang, he danced. He played all types of instruments, and made his own instruments. I’m also an artist so he taught me how to carve out of wood and make drums, balafons and shekeres, and different types of things to help him with his own percussion and things that he did. He had all types of classes in our school as well, and would perform around the peninsula with his own drum and dance group. He was very much dedicated in the same type of practices.

So that community and lifestyle in the Nationalist Movement just channeled right on down into him and my mother, and they kept it going through the school and in their own children. I definitely embody him so much because I learned how to be dedicated to my craft and not have anything stop me or get in my way. My dad was the type of person that would just never let anything get in his way. And if it did, he would just shut it off. So I learned how to do that, and stay the course because of what he taught me.

You must have the illest bucket list? I’ve read about your experiences in meeting the Obamas and Nelson Mandela, jamming with Prince, and performing in front of 250,000 concert goers at Glastonbury in the UK. What could possibly be left on your bucket list?

Motherhood, believe it or not. Because of how I’ve grown up, there were so many people who influenced me and I just see these children who need to be more influenced. What a gift it would be to have my own kids and continue my own legacy because those are the people who will be talking about me when I’m gone. So that’s really important to me as a bucket-list item.

But there are so many things that I’ve experienced in working with the great Nile Rodgers and the things that can happen that I wasn’t even thinking about. Like, oh my God! Just doing Coachella recently… bucket list! Performing in Morocco, of all places!

Like, finally, the first time I get back to Africa to perform, because I went to Africa when I was three… my mother took all five of us, and I had my birthday in Ghana when I turned three… the next time I went back, it was in Morocco performing on stage in front of a massive amount of people. Those things that you just can’t replace, nor did I ever think about doing in the first place. Like, things that should be on my bucket list, to be performing in Africa.

Yeah, I wanted to. But to actually be there was so amazing  to me. Meeting Barack Obama! What…?! Who knew I was gonna be performing for his farewell party in the White House? The most epic party on the planet. I could do a whole movie about just that night. Like epic, epic, epic moments!

Things that would have your mouth drop open! Juicy, juicy, juicy (laughing)! But just, the legacy, to be right there at that moment. I feel like the people that I look up to, they say, “I was there when Basquiat was this… I knew Andy Warhol…” and I’m like, “What!?” You know what I mean. So I can say, “I was THERE!” That, right there, is massive to me.  

What is different about FOLAMI the solo artist that we don’t see with Folami, lead vocalist with CHIC?

I bring Folami to CHIC. I don’t change who I am because of CHIC. I bring who I am. So everything that I am as a solo artist, I already embody on that stage because it’s the personality that you bring. I just learned, or rather, relearned this from Lionel Richie.

CHIC just toured with him and I was fortunate enough to sit down with him before the tour started. We had dinner with a bunch of the members in the band and he said that as he’s now working on American Idol and trying to do this whole thing, “The one thing I can say is that if you’re super talented and you sing really well, none of that matters. Your personality and what you bring to the stage, and who you are is what matters.”

So that’s actually what I do in CHIC. And that’s what I get praised for. People love the fact that they can feel or think that they know my personality. They think that I’m the sweetest and most amazing person, which I really am. So, I’m very raw and open, and I bring to the stage everything from what I studied at my mom’s school to Howard University, and it’s just… it IS my stage show when I’m performing. I think that keeps it most true and authentic. So it’s very much one and the same.

Give me some insight into ownership as an artist musician and why it was important for you to establish Folluminati LLC?

Folluminati, is my brand, and eventually after I kept bumping my head in the industry of not owning what I have, it just kept me back in many, many ways. It was so important to me to get a handle on my taxes and understand where the money goes, and how I pay myself. That became a real priority after a certain point. You get to a certain age and you’re trying to make investments and buy a home or start to have more stability.

You have to treat your business in entertainment and (please touch on this as advice I’d give to anyone as a startup entertainer or already in the business) you have to own everything. And you have to make your business and your brand very important, just as much as Google and all of these other massive companies.

You have to put that at the forefront. So finally incorporating my business and starting my brand and utilizing it is empowering me to do so many other things that you think you’d be able to do. But it’s just not as easy because you have to have some type of umbrella over being a subcontractor, which is what I am. I’m a subcontractor to CHIC and Nile Rodgers.

They hire me but I can also go and do something else. It’s very important to understand the business side. And that’s what Howard University taught me: Business Show, not Show Business. So, owning everything and having your own is definitely going to have much more longevity than just slaving for somebody else and giving it all away for years and years at a time. You get residual checks. You get so many other benefits from making sure that you make something more of it and not just working for other people. You utilize the platforms that you have to build and make it better for yourself.

One thing that people wouldn’t know is that I’ve always been sort of a geek. I’m not all the way full on, but I definitely dive myself into social media. I take pride in getting before any other “Folami” out there. I had @Folami before any of the others. I knew that it was important to own my name before anybody else. It’s always been important to me. 

I come from the beginnings of having an understanding of how important having a website is. There was a startup company where you could go get a website for free in California at a certain time in East Palo Alto. I didn’t even understand it, and wish I’d gone and did it then and knew what it meant. So now I definitely take pride in that. I’m also in the process of researching STEM based programs that deal with education and music, and things like that so that I can be alongside all of that.

Because STEM is the future. There’s nothing else that’s more important right now. All jobs are centered around that, and schools are switching their curriculum to that as well. So when we think about social media, I think technology, I think about the future. And I’m always trying to stay ahead of that curve. Also, I just saw some of the talk show interviews that Jada Pinkett Smith is doing through Facebook, and I thought it was amazing to use such a simple platform that doesn’t have to be so complex.

I even studied Kim Kardashian’s family because they are rulers of utilizing social media. And in that right, they get so much respect from me. I do follow, and I do watch some of their shows even though people wouldn’t expect it. Because they know how to do this thing.

Growing up in Silicon Valley in a neighborhood that was on the brink of the future was really pivotal to my success. I recently traveled back home, and Facebook, Google, Amazon are all in my town, like literally walking distance from where I grew up. We had the foundations of what Silicon Valley was at the time, and now it’s ruling the world. So being in that space and time, it really gave me a big foundation on what I’m doing now with social media and what we all have to deal with. Every single business, no matter what genre or whatever you’re studying or doing, it emcompasses social media and technology.


Your boyfriend Lester is the producer and songwriter for Lester & Folami. Clearly inspiration for the duo is from the 1973 Motown record, Diana & Marvin. Is it your plan to release a duo album in addition to your own solo project?

I met Lester and as soon I saw him I said to myself, “Oh my gosh, he looks like Marvin Gaye! Like, whoa!” Seriously… and, I saw some older pictures from his modeling days, he’s a model-actor-Grammy nominated singer/songwriter. He’s done bits of everything in entertainment as well. And I just knew that our union was more than us just falling in love with each other.

But a real boon into the possibilities that you have to be creative and to be with somebody, have a partner. So, the Ashford & Simpsons, and the Ossie Davis & Ruby Dees, the Diana & Marvins, just all of these duos and also lovers, even though Diana (Ross) and Marvin (Gaye) were not lovers… but the concept of how powerful a duo is. Even Angela Bassett and her husband, Courtney B. Vance, being so powerful and so steady. So consistent. I see Lester and I being consistent in our music, being a duo that can have a revue.

We can be in Vegas doing a Diana & Marvin show that people can see for years and years. I can retire doing something like that. So, yes, there is definitely more music to come. We are working to put together songs and have already recorded a few. We’re taking it in baby steps as I have a really serious schedule and he has a schedule, and we’re just trying to keep it going. But things are definitely brewing.

Do you think it was necessary to get a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, considering the cost and time it takes to earn a degree, in order to find success in entertainment?

It definitely played a major role in solidifying my foundation and who I became. I will say this, not everybody is equipped to study higher learning but if you are trying to pursue something that is so specific as entertainment, because this is very specific and there are so many aspects to it, it does help to have a foundation like a college education, a bachelor’s degree, or masters.

Because the people that I was connected to from Howard University, the people who taught Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, were my teachers. I gained so much from that, and my ideas and what I do, my tunnel vision comes from those very things that my university professors taught me. It kept me going along with everything else. Just studying performing arts in elementary and high school was important, so for me to keep going was definitely the way to go. But, I just met somebody last night who is a self-taught engineer.

He didn’t study in school and he is the bomb. And I’m like, “You are amazing!” So you just have to know what type of person you are. I think for me, it was better to be under direction, under legacy, under some great people than to just make my way by myself. But there are many people that I look up to who made their way themselves, who are extremely talented, and have all kinds of accolades.


Tell me about Blackness in America as it relates to your legacy.

The great thing about, again, studying in my mother’s institution is that’s when I found out very early on how powerful my Blackness was and how precious it is to me. And so I go now, travelling all over to these places, understanding that all people come from Africa, and that many inventions and ideas came from African people, Black people, and the enslaved.

And when you really understand that then travel the world, you get to see it all first hand. You get to see those people of color still on the walls and in the museums. It’s just sprinkled all over. And there are some places that try to hide it, but it’s definitely real, and we people of color are exactly that. We bring color. We bring life. We bring moods, and we bring things that other cultures don’t necessarily bring all of the time.

We are definitely much more special than recognized. So with that I will say it’s very important to me that we remain strong in who we are, and confident. Because there are wayyy too many people who are bringing us down. I just watched the Grace Jones documentary Bloodlight & Bami, and the greatness that SHE is, she still has to deal with racism, still fighting as a woman in older age. “I’m not hitting the stage until you pay me, what do you think this is??”  Those type of things she’s dealing with… You wouldn’t say that to Celine Dion.

She’s not sitting back waiting for her checks. So, it’s very important that I make sure I have a presence. And people always subtly see it come through with my aesthetic. My Blackness. My Africanity has always been powerful. And it’s always kept me true and grounded. I also want to touch on the fact that I have a nonprofit organization that I’m building with Lester Shaw called Empower The Creator.

And it’s just that, making sure that these children are empowered in knowing who they are and what they can become. So, everything that I’ve learned from my mom, my dad, from Howard, and everybody around me, I want to put into these children and make sure that they are empowered so that they can continue to create and be great.

Visit Folami’s website to learn more.

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter


ABIAH Pays Tribute to Nina Simone on Upcoming Album

The week after Nina Simone, our fierce activist artist born as Eunice Wyman, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I arrived at the charming residence of renowned vocalist Jeremiah Abiah.

It was a dismally rainy Sunday afternoon in the cold of April. Located on a Central Harlem brownstone block, in the same neighborhood as the World Famous Apollo Theater, where he recently performed a sold-out show, the scent of just-prepared jollof rice, and a simmering pot of cinnamon sticks greeted me at the door.


As I removed my shoes to enter, the classically-trained crooner informed me that he’d prepared the Ghanaian staple dish in my honor, and later we would break bread while listening to his forthcoming tribute album, ABIAH Sings Nina. We chuckled about the never-ending debate: Ghanaian jollof versus Nigerian jollof, on which he is Team Ghanaian given his own heritage.

And while putting the finishing touches on his family recipe, reflecting on how much of the consummate chef he truly is, we jumped into our conversation about the new album and what led him to record this tribute to the High Priestess of Soul.

To give a bit of background, ABIAH is a bi-coastal independent singer-songwriter who, like so many talented performers, has devoted his life to the mastery of music and vocal performance. He matured as a vocalist singing opera in Northern Italy after seriously studying classical music, and making his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 21.

In his early days as a performer ABIAH sang background for legends like George Michael and Yolanda Adams, and even signed a major recording deal that turned out to be the worst mistake of his career, artistically and business wise. But, you live and you learn. And you count your blessings when a kismet phone call from a family member tips the dominoes over in a masterful plan transforming your identity as a performer.

In ABIAH’s case, that phone call came from multi-Grammy Award winning Blue Note artist Robert Glasper who collaborated with him in recording his internationally chart-topping debut album, Life As A Ballad. In the process of working with Glasper, ABIAH also found the confidence to form his own record label and gain distribution for the project, which is no small feat for any indie content creator.

Over the last decade, he’s gone on to release two more albums, Chasing Forever and Bottles, creating his first trilogy. Of the three part series, ABIAH has always stood on his ability to re-imagine songs, or rather re-image a composition that has already been owned by an artist. More than just covering the tune, he relishes in his ability to conceptually flip a previously recorded song on its ear, and approach it from a new perspective.

That’s exactly what we can expect of his latest studio project, ABIAH Sings Nina, which will be released worldwide on May 6th. Wanting to cover Nina Simone for quite some time, he began his journey with her music while studying voice in grad school.

A discussion at the conservatory introduced Jeremiah to Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” In the recording he was able to hear and feel all of the things that he’d been studying in his classes. “I could see visually from the way she sang it. I was very intrigued by her, infatuated with how she was even re-imaging the music from a vocal and harmonic perspective, piano wise.

In graduate school at that point, 21 years old, I really became enraptured by her.” Nina Simone would become one of the biggest influences on his life as a vocalist, in addition to the highly revered alto of Anita Baker. Starting with her first record, he began to listen and study everything Nina. When he performed, he made sure to play in ways that evoked the lyrics of a particular song that exuded something unique while creating a world within the music.

When asked if any of the project encompasses Nina’s fire and passion for political and social justice, ABIAH gives a poignant and thoughtful response:

“I try to think of Nina’s wholeness. I’m focusing on the early part of her career, all of her love songs. I wanted to focus on the ‘love’ part of Nina. People have exhausted her political life. I wanted a more pure look in focusing on the beauty of her love songs.” Pausing to really emphasize his next point, he continued, “We are in a very dark time, period. My job as an artist is to bring some light and love into the world. Where are the love songs?”

The muse did endow him with the album’s sole political ballad. In the vein of Nina Simone, ABIAH penned the lyrics to “I’m Just Like You” in homage to the legacy of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and the countless other young Black men who have been shot down in racially motivated violence. “Nina touched and healed a lot of people with her music,” he’s mindful to point out.

On the album, ABIAH says his best intentions were to stay close to her arrangements so that the songs were identifiable. But, as a visionary artist himself, he took liberties to create the music in ways that are distinct to who he is as an arranger and vocalist. Not to mention that another phone call from Robert Glasper resulted in ABIAH working as one of the vocal producers on the soundtrack to the Oscar-nominated documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?

And how does his Ghanaian/Cuban heritage intersect with this latest creative venture? While ABIAH didn’t grow up with his Cuban connection, his Ghanaian blood, from his father, is very much a part of his identity as a man moving through the world.

He celebrates Ghanaian style by wearing swagalicious Kente on the album’s cover, and chose to add West African rhythmic time signatures to his rendition of Nina’s “See-Line Woman.”

He had a memorable time in Accra two years ago while shooting a video for his last album, Bottles, and later this year is planning to release an AfroSoul House remix of ABIAH Sings Nina.

Click here to Pre-order ‘ABIAH sings NINA’.

– Contributed by Mai Perkins

Mai Perkins, aka FlyMai, is Cali girl in a Bed Stuy world with global bon vivant flair and the passport stamps to prove it. She currently works in Edtech, and is the author of several blogs including and and is a columnist for the music publication

With an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in International Affairs from The New School Milano, she reps her beloved alma mater Howard University every chance she gets. As a poet and a creative non-fiction writer, she looks forward to soon publishing her first manuscript, The Walking Nerve-Ending.

Insta: @flymai16

Twitter: @flymai on Twitter