When I kicked off 2020, I had no idea that I would be pivoting my career from a touring artist, with a schedule booked into early winter, into a founder of an initiative aiming to create more accessible pathways to equitable opportunities and mentoring in the concert touring industry. This year, my experiences have been full of highs and many lows. Yet, the highest high of them all has been witnessing what was once just a series of realizations turned call-to-action into a newly established entity known as, Diversify The Stage.
Upon first meeting the young women participating in the Diversify The Stage x Music Forward Foundation series, I’ll admit that I became a bit emotional. Mostly because up until that moment, the entire concept of DTS had been words on a page–an idea that I wasn’t sure how to realize effectively. I have never done anything like this before, and I have relied heavily upon the knowledge, counsel, and experience of others to help me get through the steps it has taken to give these young women the opportunity I ironically am participating in myself at this very moment: being introduced to a different career path, receiving support and mentoring through my partners and advisors; and finding my way as a leader through this real-time internship. Though I technically am responsible for hiring the team, I have found an equitable position in being a part of this bigger picture dedicated to bringing meaningful change to an industry that has already given me so much as an artist.
When I first began working on this idea, it was really to help foster meaningful conversations about experiences I had on the road and recognizing that being the lone Black woman at many of my concerts was something that shouldn’t have been so common. I wasn’t at all prepared to take things as far as they have come because, in all honesty, I had no idea what direction I needed to go to get anything helpful accomplished. I honestly wasn’t sure if anyone was interested in listening either. I just trusted my gut, and with that, found a beautiful cast of individuals who shared the same realizations and were called towards the same purpose to help change them. The conversations amplified from a call to action into what is now a noticeable movement.
The journey of discovery I have been on these past two months with the 25 brilliant young women in the program as they explore careers in the industry has been so much fun!! They remind me each week what it is to be a student again, a person with a dream, who excitedly listens and absorbs. Our Masterclass speakers: Tadia Taylor, Nicole Erin Massey, Salim Akram, Ina Jacobs, Krysten Dean, Marguerite Nguyen, Henry Bordeaux, Pam Matthews, Nancy Matalon, Nikisha Bailey, DJ Rashida, Jasmine Solano, Val Fleury, Sasha Yabraian, Claire Murphy, Carolyn Williams, Sooner Routhier, Thembisa Mshaka, Kasey Thurman, Madonna Wade-Reed, Nada Taha, Anastasia Wright, and Nova Han have all been prime examples of people who have attained their success in life by being unafraid to venture through various paths, asking questions, and passing their knowledge on to the next generation via mentoring. A giant thank you goes to our incredible partners Women In Music, Soundgirls, and She Is the Music for their help in securing volunteers and ongoing support.
The movement continues in 2021. Our cohort of young womxn of color will move into mentorships and internships with our dedicated volunteers and partners as we continue our work towards a more inclusive music industry.
Madonna Wade-Reed dropped many gems during her Masterclass discussion, and my significant take-away was this: “You have to work hard at being okay with being the only person like you in a room, and knowing that you deserve to be there.” Madonna’s mantra is something I hope all of our students carry with them as a tool when they find themselves in that position because they too deserve to be in that room, and they have an opportunity to make sure they aren’t the only ones like them in the future.
Our goal is to give these young women the resources they need to do just that, Diversify The Stage.
Elektra recording artist Noelle Scaggs is known for her larger-than-life vocals and magnetic stage presence as co-frontperson for multi-platinum group, Fitz and the Tantrums. Her songwriter credits include co-writing her band’s singles “Out Of My League” and “The Walker.” In 2018, Scaggs was included in Billboard’s list of Top 30 Female Artists in the Alternative Songs Chart’s History. In 2020, she founded Diversify the Stage, calling on industry leaders to collectively work towards activating inclusive hiring practices and greater access to equitable opportunities in live music, events, and touring industries for BIPOC, LGBTQ, female-identifying and gender-nonconforming individuals.
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