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A group of Black college students who emerged Tuesday morning from a 90-minute conversation about songwriting with emerging star Joy Oladokun at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum could represent the future of Nashville's music industry.
After an unprecedented, immersive, three-week course of study, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) students, may be uniquely poised for immediate, game-changing success in the music business.
Historically, predominantly white-populated Music City-area universities, including Belmont and Middle Tennessee State, have developed many vaunted industry professionals via their Music Industry programs. However, in the wake of social justice and institutional change invigorated by the Black Lives Matter movement, depth and scope -- via reparational equity -- have been added to the conversation.
In 2021, Lindsay LaBennett, the Senior Director for Inclusion, Equity and Diversity at Wasserman and Nashville Business Journal Top 40 Under 40 class member Brian Sexton, the Special Projects Manager for Community Development at Nashville's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (both HBCU graduates) emailed Dr. Mark Crawford, the director of HBCU Tennessee State University's quarter-century-old Commerical Music department with an intriguing proposition. It evolved into the inaugural Music Accelerator Program -- which visited the country music's hallowed halls on Tuesday.
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The duo wanted to pair sports, marketing and talent agency Wasserman's existing work with Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, YouTube, the Recording Industry Association of America, Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC), local collaborative effort Nashville Music Equality and numerous other industry partners with the ability to facilitate access for 20 of Dr. Crawford's students to unprecedented opportunities to establish themselves in the modern era's evolving music industry.
From music marketing to team-building, songwriting, production, public relations and more, ten courses (described as "deep dives with subject experts across industry disciplines") were offered.
At the Hall of Fame and Museum -- which 99% of the students had never visited -- the students had questions after discovering contextual similarities to America's Black cultural guideposts in the genre's fashions and traditions during a tour.
The group met with Oladokun, her production collaborator and Grammy-winning Dr. Dre protege Mike Elizondo, plus her songwriting and management cohort at Nashville's outpost of Los Angeles' Prescription Songs in the museum's theater. TSU's music industry hopefuls were inspired Oladokun's blend of sensitive singer-songwriter handiwork, plus the loving, but honest music business wisdom offered by the emerging Nigerian-American performer and her team.
Connecting Tennessee State University students to musical stars like Breland, Oladokun and Post Malone, digital and streaming brands including YouTube and Spotify, Coachella and Stagecoach festival organizer Goldenvoice, plus music groups like BMI and BMG prepares soon-to-be college graduates for what Dr. Crawford calls "life beyond the collegiate bubble."
"We're delighted that this prestigious and accomplished group of speakers have chosen to be part of our effort to train the next generation of music industry leaders," says Denise Melanson, Director of Social Impact at Wasserman. "We're proud to work with all of them, along with our partners, to make this an outstanding program for these students."
“My father is a professor at an HBCU, so this is a real full-circle moment for me," said Tuma Basa, Director of Black Music & Culture at YouTube. "It’s a pleasure to walk in his footsteps sharing knowledge with the students of Tennessee State University.”
LaBennett said she hopes the plan will spawn a "music industry legacy" for Nashville that expands beyond this moment into generations of young HBCU graduates -- like she once was -- reinvigorating a pipeline of Black music industry professionals teeming with undeniable executive or otherwise top-tier talents.
"Legacy is about constant inspiration, over time. This inaugural class will inspire their fellow classmates, plus spaces like Universal Music Group and YouTube Music, to further engage with Black professionals desiring leadership opportunities."
Brian Sexton is a Chicago native who has lived in Nashville for two decades. Unfortunately, though, he's found that racist attitudes that permeated the city's music industry limited his ability to appreciate its ubiquitous impact on Nashville's culture fully. In the wake of the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, his daily desire to serve as "a broker of connecting people to access, opportunities and resources" met with his desire to create a legacy of change in his chosen home.
Thus, for him, the Music Accelerator Program allows "motivated black and brown folks" more direct opportunities to achieve success amid a music industry squarely focused on addressing equity between the industry and its significant globalized, multicultural and multiethnic fanbase.
"Selfishly, I'd love the Music Accelerator Program to stay [at TSU] and be a 'destination course' for students across the country," says Dr. Crawford. "This is a crucial, once in a lifetime opportunity," Sexton adds. "we're setting the bar for success with this program."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Black TSU students offered unprecedented music industry leadership access