Positive Black Male News: The First African-American Piano Manufacturer

Positive Black Male News: The First African-American Piano Manufacturer

His Story

shaddwithpiano_custom-1b161c9f47db6af8e7caa4a6c4763937f11a873a-s400-c85By: WILLARD JENKINS

At the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in February, one couldn’t help but notice the striking new grand piano on the main stage, emblazoned with the name SHADD. When the many accomplished pianists that wee­­kend sat down to strike those keys, it was equally easy to spot their delight in the instrument.

That piano was the product of a trailblazer in his field. The Shadd in question is jazz drummer Warren Shadd, the first African-American piano manufacturer. That makes him the first large-scale commercial African-American 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.

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.

Willard Jenkins: 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.

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.

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

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Positive Black Male News: Trouble with math? New school course uses piano music to help students

Positive Black Male News: Trouble with math? New school course uses piano music to help students

Positive Black Male News

25196887_BG1By By Will Frampton


An Atlanta musician believes he’s found a way to help teenagers overcome trouble with math and algebra.

Marcus Blackwell, a classically-trained jazz and gospel pianist, teaches middle school and high school students math by way of teaching them new songs on the piano, even if they’ve never played a note in their lives.

“I take everything musical, and give it a math definition,” said Blackwell. “You can do things like add and subtract, use fractions, all the way up to algebra.”

Blackwell uses simple tunes that teens know from the radio, basing lesson plans around the songs, assigning numbers to each note and chord change. Though most students in his classes aren’t musicians and don’t know piano, the class is typically able to complete one song by the end of each period.

“It tells the kid, I need to count these movements (in the notes) to get to the next musical note to find my answer. And when you have all your answers and play them together, it plays the featured song,” said Blackwell.

Blackwell started with five schools last fall and now works with 15.

Check out Make Music Count Now

Source: CBS Atlanta

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Positive Black Male News: Jahmir Wallace: What we can learn from 10-year-old, born without arms, who plays trumpet with his feet

Positive Black Male News: Jahmir Wallace: What we can learn from 10-year-old, born without arms, who plays trumpet with his feet

Positive Black Male News

jahmir-wallaceSome might think it’s amazing that 10-year-old Jahmir Wallace can already play two musical instruments at his age. What is even more exceptional is that the Green Street Elementary School student has accomplished these feats despite being born with no arms.

The young man, who also plays the guitar, decided to take on the trumpet just four months ago. He is already playing in his Phillipsburg, NJ school band.

Jahmir’s story is so inspirational, it has been picked up from outlets ranging from The Huffington Post to the Daily Mail.

Through his uncle Ryan Wallace, Jahmir told theGrio he is happy that his story is so inspirational to others, and is grateful and humbled by the attention. Jahmir was too busy doing his schoolwork to chat with theGrio on the phone during business hours, but wants people to know that he is happy that his experiences can help others muster the strength to undertake difficult tasks, no matter what their challenges may be.

A boy supported by teachers to grow

Jahmir Wallace was encouraged to learn the trumpet by his music teacher Desiree Kratzer. School administrators also worked with a local music store to create a stand empowering the youth to play the trumpet with his toes. That was all he needed.

“I kind of felt excited,” Wallace told WFMZ-TV. “I kind of felt like, oh man this is kind of comfortable, and it kind of felt like this might be the one for me.”

The young man shared words of encouragement for anyone who may be thinking about exploring an instrument.

“Anybody out there that would like to try an instrument, go ahead and try it,” Wallace said. “You never know, if you like it, you like it, if you don’t, you don’t. Keep on trying.”

What we can learn from Jahmir’s example

Jahmir Wallace’s story is a wonderful example of what can happen when families, school leadership, and teachers are able to work together harmoniously to encourage a student’s innate personality.

“Children are strongly influenced by the multiple environments in which they are placed: in the home, at school, in peer relationships,” Asha Tarry, licensed mental health specialist, told theGrio. “Therefore, it’s critical to support and nurture the emotional and social development of children in a variety of ways.”

Tarry praised the ways his parents and teachers encouraged Wallace to reach for new goals, and helped him expand his capabilities in a way that will likely build self esteem.

“In this story, this young man was born with a physical disability that left him impaired,” the owner ofBehavioral Health Consulting Services, LMSW, PLLC, elaborated. “However, his parents obviously have not allowed the impairment to narrow the focus of how he views himself in the world. The role of the adults is to foster realistic and reasonable pathways to allowing children to flourish, which this young man is doing. The way children feel about themselves begins with the way adults treat them, foremost.”

A school’s success is a model for all

By encouraging Wallace to be as independent as possible, while assisting him where needed, Green Street Elementary School properly matched Wallace’s level of growth by refusing to simplify, or eliminate, an activity that might have seemed impossible to him.

“The role of the school is to expand and compliment the parents’ earlier training of him as being an able-bodied person,” Tarry said. “Building self-esteem is continuous, and is important, in the ongoing development of the mind for all kids throughout childhood.”

At a time when public schools are often in the news for failing students — particularly young black men, who often face an achievement gap that begins early in their education — it is refreshing to see evidence of a place where all students are encouraged to thrive.

Jahmir Wallace’s confident exploration of his interests in such an environment will hopefully encourage more schools, parent and individuals to overcome their apparent limitations.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb

Source: The Grio

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The Village: Make Music Count

The Village: Make Music Count

The Village


Make Music Count is the new creative Mathematics curriculum that teaches each lesson through learning how to play a song on the piano. Each musical note that is played is derived by solving an algebraic equation. Here is a new method teachers can use to excite students about learning mathematics. Mathematics will be seen as fun while also strengthening students understanding of solving algebra equations once they Make Music Count!

Visit Make Music Count Now Click Here!

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League of EXTRAordinary Black Men: Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

League of EXTRAordinary Black Men: Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

League Of Extraordinary Black Men


You have a specific goal that you are to reach and obtain that was made just for you to do by the creator. ~Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

You have a specific goal that you are to reach and obtain that was made just for you to do by the creator. ~Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

TheBlackManCan is back in Atlanta, GA to bring you another Black Man who is making remarkable contributions to society. We bring to you a Black Man who has always had a passion for math and music and now has turned that into a way to help youth learn both. We proudly present Marcus Blackwell, Jr. Founder of Make Music Count. Marcus sits with down with TheBlackManCan to discuss Make Music Count, the intersection of Math and Music and advice for young black males.

TheBlackManCan: Marcus, tell about your childhood and how it plays a role into the man you are today.

MB: My childhood upbringing was a combination of educational excellence, a love of music, and a religious foundation. My mother as an educator always pushed me to excel in school, constantly reminding me to “be a leader and not a follower”. As the oldest out of three sons I wanted to set the best example I could for my brothers. So in school growing up nothing less than excellence in the classroom was an option for me. My love of music came from my father who served as a music director playing the piano and organ for many churches in the Connecticut area. He would take me along to his every rehearsal to sit next to him on the piano or to sing in the choir. The largest influence on me growing up was my consistent attendance of church. In my family having a religious foundation is everything and that is where I spent the majority of my time growing up in church and it’s that foundation and spiritual connection that I give credit to the success I have. I operate within these three areas to this very day. Always looking to reach academic excellence has forced me to adopt a phenomenal work ethic that allows me to work harder than others around me. My love for music and religious foundation eventually combined into one passion as I now serve as the Music Director for the Fairburn location of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA.

TheBlackManCan: What did you realize that you had a passion for math and music?

MB: My passion for music began at the Artists Collective in Hartford, CT, which is an arts school that was founded by the late phenomenal jazz musician Jackie McLean. At the Artist Collective I began piano lessons at the age of 5 and the rest is history.  Music instantly became a love and great passion of mine. It didn’t matter what style of music I learned I enjoyed it all. I grew up competing in piano competitions and recitals and was literally immersed into Classical, jazz and gospel. I wouldn’t be the musician that I am today without The Artists Collective.

My passion for math was realized in high school when I attended The Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science. Not only did my work ethic allow me to succeed but also I realized that I was actually good at math and even enjoyed doing it. Math didn’t necessarily come easy to me but I enjoyed the feeling of being challenged by a math problem but then also the relief and confidence gained from solving it. From there math and music would forever be my two passions.

TheBlackManCan: Share with us your Morehouse experience. Why did you decide on Morehouse? What does being a Morehouse Man mean to you? Why should students consider an HBCU education?

MB: My Morehouse experience was life changing…plain and simple. Before Morehouse I was a decent student that did well but attending Morehouse made me challenge myself to the point of reaching a new level of potential. Morehouse planted a seed of confidence that made me believe that I could achieve literally anything I set my mind to. My interest in Morehouse however began at birth since my father is a Morehouse Man. I was visiting Morehouse College every summer with my father before I even knew what college was since he was an Atlanta native. But that wasn’t enough for me to attend. As I mentioned earlier my mother always told me to “be a leader and not a follower” so I attended the Coca-Cola Pre College Leadership Program at Morehouse to further investigate my interest. These one-week included lessons on what it meant to be an ethical leader and how it was my responsibility to do well not simply for my own benefit but for the benefit of the community I came from. I had never heard a message like this before. An idea that me bettering myself was only important if it benefitted the community was incredible and sold me on Morehouse. This is what it means to be a Morehouse Man. Academic excellence but also having a social conscience so that you can use what you’ve learned to benefit the community. In my opinion every African American student should attend an HBCU. It’s in this environment where you’re able to reach your real potential and where you learn the values in doing well to better the African American community.

 TheBlackManCan: What ignited the spark to start Make Music Count?

MB: The spark to start Make Music Count began with my ability to play music by ear. As a gospel musician about 98% of music learned is through this method. I always meet people who are interested in learning how to play the piano or used to play and want to get back into it. But the issue is that no one wants to learn how to read music. This means that I needed a way to teach people how to play music by ear. In my mind the only way to do this was by incorporating math to explain music. So I created a method where only understanding math steps would produce the sound of music. But this idea sparked the real one. Instead of using my new method to teach music, I believed that I could get students to not only be interested in math but also improve through the same teaching method. So now through this method I began to realize that if music were used as a reward for completing math assignments students would become more open to tackling math questions. So I created a curriculum that was all math based but would derive musical notes to allow students to play songs on the piano.

Young black men need to see this so that they are not persuaded or tricked by the false images that the society would like to brand them with.  ~ Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

Young black men need to see this so that they are not persuaded or tricked by the false images that the society would like to brand them with. ~ Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

TheBlackManCan: What is the mission and vision behind Make Music Count?

MB: There are two missions of Make Music Count. The first is to get students excited about mathematics and to eliminate the intimidation that they have when solving math equations. Removing this intimidation will result in opening up more opportunities for students to consider studying and majoring in mathematics in college. The second mission is to validate the art of playing music by ear. Many great musicians learned how to play their instruments by only listening and practicing and hold leadership positions in the music world. Through the technique of playing by ear these musicians understand as much music as someone who studied music in school. My company will validate that learning how to play music by ear is enough to be considered a professional musician.

TheBlackManCan: How does the Make Music Count program work?

MB: The Make Music Count curriculum is centered around learning how to play hip-hop songs on the piano. But the catch is that solving a math equation derives every musical note that’s needed to play on the piano. My lessons currently range from basic addition and subtraction lessons to solving two-step algebra equations. The best part about my program is that you don’t need to have any musical background to participate. If you can count and solve your math equations you can play the piano. Music is used as a reward for completing the math assignments.

TheBlackManCan: How and why do math and music intersect? Why is this area something that needs to be explored in classrooms?

MB: Math and Music have always intersected. You in fact need math to understand every aspect of music. And this is the lesson that students need to be taught in the classroom. It really doesn’t make any sense for kids to like music and not like math. One cannot exist without the other. And if you enjoy and are good at one area then you by default good in the other.

TheBlackManCan: How and why do students develop mathphobia? How can Make Music Count address this issue?

MB: Students develop a mathphobia from teachers and each other. Math is taught to be feared and taught that it’s a class that is naturally hard. once one student believes this then so do the rest. Additionally there’s no connection to show how math is applicable to the real world. Students always wonder, “Where will I use this???” My program is used to eliminate this thinking. I show that math can be useful and even fun when you know how to apply it. Make Music Count takes math and shows how it can be used to play music on the piano. So if students can see that math can be related to something like music it will open up the thinking and discussion of “well what else can math connect to??” and that’s the goal of Make Music Count.

An idea that me bettering myself was only important if it benefitted the community was incredible and sold me on Morehouse. This is what it means to be a Morehouse Man.  ~ Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

An idea that me bettering myself was only important if it benefitted the community was incredible and sold me on Morehouse. This is what it means to be a Morehouse Man. ~ Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

TheBlackManCan: Why is it important to get all students but in particular Black Males engaged and loving math?

MB: Its important to get all students engaged in math because it’s a great tool to use. Math is apart of everything. If you understand that there are so many opportunities and great jobs that will open up for you. But students hinder themselves by allowing teachers to intimidate them.

TheBlackManCan: Where do you see yourself and Make Music Count in the next five years?

MB: In the next five years Make Music Count will be a nation wide curriculum that will change how mathematics is taught in the classroom. My class will show improvement in the math scores of students all because of connecting math to a fun area that they can relate to. I believe that every school needs a program like Make Music Count, not as a class to take over normal math classes but as an extra help method to show students how what they learn in the classroom can be applied to other areas as well.

TheBlackManCan: Why it important for Black Men and Boys to see positive images of themselves?

Black men need to see positive images of themselves because its our reality. Everything about black men in our history is positive. We’re strong, intelligent men and always have been. Young black men need to see this so that they are not persuaded or tricked by the false images that the society would like to brand them with. Once they understand this there’s literally nothing a black man can’t do.

. It really doesn’t make any sense for kids to like music and not like math. One cannot exist without the other.  ~ Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

. It really doesn’t make any sense for kids to like music and not like math. One cannot exist without the other. ~ Marcus Blackwell, Jr.

TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for young Black Males of today?

MB: My advice for young black men of today is to be yourself. Don’t be fooled or persuaded by what brings someone else success. Everyone has something that makes them unique and makes them special. It’s the reason why your name is different from everyone else’s. But the reason why you have something unique about you is because there’s something specific that you are required to do while you’re here on Earth. You have a specific goal that you are to reach and obtain that was made just for you to do by the creator. And the way that you find out what that is by doing two things.

1. Understanding what you’re good at

2. Connecting that skill to how you can help someone else.

These two points combined with a great work ethic will take you anywhere you need to go.

Visit Make Music Count Now –>

Purchase Books and Merchandise from Make Music Count Now–>

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His Story: Shannon Sanders: “A Man with a Mission”

His Story: Shannon Sanders: “A Man with a Mission”

His Story

Article By: Shellie R. Warren/2013

If you’re fortunate, you can live out some of your years fulfilling your purpose. For the two-time Grammy, Emmy and (one time) Dove awarding winning songwriter/producer Shannon Sanders, that would consist of using his remarkable musical abilities to ignite some of the true talent of our time including India.Arie, John Legend, Robert Randolph and others.

Yet if you’re focused, you will know that the time that you’ve been blessed to have on this earth goes well beyond receiving applause and accolades. You’ll rise up each day with a heightened sense of awareness that it’s important to go beyond living in purpose—but to also be mission-minded.

For Shannon, that mission is clear: “To bring forth an understanding of what it means to live and love from a man’s perspective using the power of words and music.” Sure, that includes penning songs like “Brother’s Keeper”, an ever-growing crowd favorite off of India.Arie’s latest LP SongVersation. But for him, it goes way beyond that. When Shannon is not on the road serving as India.Arie’s musical director or when he’s not in the studio working with breakout artists such as Laura Reed, he is actually thinking of innovative ways to place the spotlight on another passion that he has: mentorship.


be accountable to our seed. When you see something in your seed, you’ve got to be willing to develop that. ~ Shannon Sanders

be accountable to our seed. When you see something in your seed, you’ve got to be willing to develop that. ~ Shannon Sanders

“The topic of manhood is something that is very important to me,” says Shannon. “I believe a big part of it is that I didn’t have my father in the home, although I did grow up with my grandfather. Looking back, I realize that there were a lot of things that I longed for when it came to having a relationship with my dad at that time…there are simply certain things that young men need that they look to their father, first, to provide.”

Although Shannon explains that a lot of his upbringing turned out to be a “hindsight blessing”, he also admits that boys growing up without their fathers is a cycle that needs to be broken. For him, that started with one, forgiving his own dad and two, making the commitment to be extremely present in the lives of his three children: Shannon (20), Simone (17) and Seth (10).

“Children are amazing,” says Shannon. “I learn something new from my kids on a constant basis and one of the main things that they’ve taught me is that what they value most is my availability and accessibility. They need to know that they are a top priority, that they have my full support and that I love them. Not one day goes by when I don’t tell them that I love them.”

We have to want to be responsible for our young men, which means we must be ‘response-able’ when and where they need us.” ~ Shannon Sanders

We have to want to be responsible for our young men, which means we must be ‘response-able’ when and where they need us.” ~ Shannon Sanders

In reflection, Shannon believes that those three simple words are what many people are missing and long to hear. Especially black men. “When it came to me and my dad, I was the first one to tell him ‘I love you’ and I remember that for a while, he really struggled with saying it back. Not because he didn’t feel it but it’s not something that is highly encouraged: vulnerable dialogue and the exchange of emotions between men.”

However, Shannon believes that in order for the family dynamic to become healthier so that our community can thrive, there are certain things that not only men must want to do but they should be willing to teach other boys about.

I learn something new from my kids on a constant basis and one of the main things that they’ve taught me is that what they value most is my availability and accessibility. ~Shannon Sanders

I learn something new from my kids on a constant basis and one of the main things that they’ve taught me is that what they value most is my availability and accessibility. ~Shannon Sanders

“It’s important that we as men have a standard for ourselves,” says Shannon. “Even if our childhoods were not ideal, there is a natural tendency in us to be ‘go getters’ and a big part of that should be about leaving this world better than we’ve found it. That means that if you have children, don’t just be present, but put forth the effort to live your life in such a way where it leaves a legacy for them. Show them what it means to be committed. Say something each day that will inspire them. Do things that will keep them motivated to fulfill their own dreams and aspirations. There is something that’s life-altering about a father who actively takes a part in raising his children. It’s not about his level of education,  the amount of money that he makes or even if he and his children’s mother are still together. It’s about investing who he is into what he helped create. That is empowering to his lineage and also to the community.”

As a man who is a firm believer in the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, Shannon is also very committed to the importance of mentorship—to being willing to “fill in the gaps” when it comes to young men who may not have a father to guide them.  “A father is a foundational element to any boy’s life,” says Shannon. “When that is missing, it breaks a young boy’s spirit and he spends a lot of his life trying to fill that void; sometimes in some very destructive ways. Sure, a mother can do an amazing job trying to compensate for what is missing, but it’s not her responsibility to do that and as a woman, she’s not even fully able to. Those of us who know of boys without a father, and all of us do, we need to be willing to step in and help her. We have to want to be responsible for our young men, which means we must be ‘response-able’ when and where they need us.”

For Shannon, a huge part of this means using his platform to bring more awareness to these issues and to also cultivate initiatives that will help to provide men with that they need to be strong, educated but perhaps more than anything else, capable.

Those of us who know of boys without a father, and all of us do, we need to be willing to step in and help her. ~ Shannon Sanders

Those of us who know of boys without a father, and all of us do, we need to be willing to step in and help her. ~ Shannon Sanders

“Accountability is a big word to me,” says Shannon. “When it comes to divine order, we first need to be accountable to God. Then we need to be accountable for ourselves. And then we need to be accountable to our seed. When you see something in your seed, you’ve got to be willing to develop that. As men, and especially black men, we are wounded in many ways, but we also have the tools to unite in our struggle and rebuild.

Yes, music is a big part of my purpose but definitely ‘manhood’—that is my mission.”

©Shellie R. Warren/2013

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League of EXTRAordinary Black Men: J.T. Solomon

League of EXTRAordinary Black Men: J.T. Solomon

League Of Extraordinary Black Men

Listen to advice, but most importantly, listen to yourself. Finally dream big and strive to be the best. ~ J.T. Solomon

Listen to advice, but most importantly, listen to yourself. Finally dream big and strive to be the best. ~ J.T. Solomon

TheBlackManCan is in New York, NY to interview J.T. Solomon, Editor-In-Chief and Publisher of The FIRM Magazine .  Check out what this EXTRAordinary Black Man had to say about his experience as an entrepreneur.

TheBlackManCan: JT, What led you to create The FIRM Magazine?

JTS: Well I had the idea for F.I.R.M. since my Sophomore year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. I had been a reader of VIBE, The Source, and Black Enterprise for a long time, but I was felt like something was missing. Vibe and The Source had everything you wanted to know in the entertainment world and Black Enterprise had all of your business needs. But I didn’t see why both of them couldn’t be combined to form one publication. So I drafted a business plan for a magazine that would not only entertain my readers, but would educate them on everything they needed to know to help them mentally, physically, and financially prepare for the future. But I put it on the back-burner to pursue my Masters in Publishing at Pace University in New York. After they visited my Shakespeare class at Morehouse to recruit, I had a better understanding of what I needed to do to get this magazine off the ground.

I worked on it a little more in my “Creating a Magazine” class where my professors, Vaughn Benjamin and Betty Rockmore (who also worked in the publishing industry during the day), gave me excellent advice on how to clean-up the business plan draft I had created in college. I learned the publishers role, editorial work-flow, production and distribution, and online publishing at Pace and was ready to put my plan into action. But again, I put it off because of job opportunities after graduating Pace in 2007. I went on to work for Reed Business Information, American Media, and Conde Nast Publications mainly in Production and Distribution.

It was only after getting laid-off in 2009 that I was able to pick my draft back up and fully devote all of my time to making my dream happen. I was confident about my knowledge of the industry and where it was going and now had the experience to back it up. I realized I would have to choose between being comfortable and achieving my dream. I chose to achieve my dream and have been working on F.I.R.M. since then.

TheBlackManCan: Why did you decided to focus on Fashion, Investments, Recreation and Music?

JTS: I decided to focus on Fashion, Investment, Recreation, and Music by accident. It was a great acronym, but it needed to fit what I wanted to accomplish in the magazine. Then I had an epiphany – The things that make most people happy fall under these four categories. Looking good, living good, having fun, and great lyrics and a beat can a big difference in your life. But I wanted the magazine to be more than just entertaining. So in establishing the entertainment side, I also found an opportunity to educate people while they were being entertained.

Fashion for instance is not only about the clothes and trends of today, but also how to wear them. Appearance unfortunately IS everything. From the moment someone meets you ( and sometimes before an introduction), they are subconsciously or consciously forming an opinion about you based on what they see. You want to make sure you make a great first impression and you don’t have to do it by wearing every designer label known to man. You just have to develop your own style and dress for the occasion. Also, I discovered that this was the perfect time to educate all of those people who had an intrest in fashion but may not be model material. Let’s face it; everyone is not a model. But models need clothes, stylists, make-up, and a lot more in order to be the person we see on magazine covers and runways. I feel that through interviews, columns, and editorial pieces, I could reach someone who may have thought their dream of working in the Fashion industry was over simply because they weren’t model material.

When people think of investments, they automatically think of money, but its so much more. I wanted to educate people on the other things they should be investing in like real-estate, credit, friends, time, politics and even their communities. We tend to put these things off in our pursuit of wealth and find that they are tied-in as well. I also wanted to educate those who might want to go into these areas the same way I did for Fashion.

Recreation is another category that covers an array of things such as  food, travel, film/theatre/art, sports and lifestyles. In order to grow we have to expose ourselves to different things. Most people don’t even own a passport. I admit that I have never traveled outside of the United States (but will be doing so soon). i wanted to expose my readers to different cultures, places and things to broaden their scope of the world. We tend to live inside of a bubble; oblivious to the things going on outside of the familiar. after reading recreation, it is my hope that my reader will be exposed to something they didn’t know about before or at least open up to doing new things.

Finally, music is the biggest category. There’s a song for everyone. Unfotunately because of the radio, most people listen to the same songs. There are so many talented artists out there with great music that we dont hear everyday. I wanted to expose my listeners to different music in hopes of broadening their scope on music. I also wanted to take the time to educate thos that are interested in the music industry, but might not be the artist. Not everyone can perform music and not everyone should.  But just because you can’t perform it doesn’t mean you can’t write, produce, or market it. The industry needs songwriters, producers, instrumentalists, and managers as well. Also there are bills like the Performance Rights Act that every artist should know about because it affects their trade, but don’t because they are so focused on the money aspect. I want my readers to get this information from my magazine.

TheBlackManCan: How did you develop a passion for writing?

JTS: To be honest, I was involved in a shooting incident while I was in undergrad. I was a bystander that got hit by a stray bullet. I was angry and didn’t know how to realease the anger about the situation. It happened on campus and i felt like the administration at that time did nothing to help me. I had worked hard to get into Morehouse, paid money I never had to attend (at that time it was only $25,000 a year compared to the $40,000 it costs now), and earned good grades. I wanted to know how it was allowed to happen to me on campus. I had no one to talk to or relate to and writing it out in a notebook became a release for me. I started to write in it everyday, sometimes at the expense of my school work. Then one day after hearing a poem I had written, one of my classmates asked why I was a computer science major instead of an english major? Money was the only reason I was a computer science major. I heard that they got paid and coming from a single-parent struggling household, that was good enough. but after the incident, it wasn’t enough anymore. So I switched my major and have been on this road ever since then.
TheBlackManCan: How has print and online publishing changed over the past few years?

JTS: Some people have said that print is dead. Don’t believe that. People like the feel of a magazine in their hand especially when their battery has ran out. Magazines, unlike newspapers, were not built on a “news now” structure. They started off as ways people could capture timely events and read up on their favorite hobbies and trades. I believe the fall of print magazines had to do with the cost of production and distribution and the intricacies that go into creating cost-cutting plans that will help to get the product out without breaking the publisher/publishing company. Since magazine postage is determined by weight and advertising, big books like Vogue and Interior Design cost a lot of money to be mailed. I think people see now that it is cheaper to create online magazines than it is to create them in print. Also they are much more accessable to a wider range of people which the internet made possible. Some people say that print is dying or dead. I believe that it has only become secondary to the internet. You just have to figure out what the people want and how to deliver it to them. The new generation doesn’t like paper ( me included). It clutters up everything and is not needed with so much access to the internet.
TheBlackManCan: FIRM magazine is geared toward the 21-35 year old demographic, why did you choose this target audience?

JTS: I wanted to target this audience because it is the decision-making and defining period of our lives. It is where obtaining that credit card can affect our ability to purchase a new home. Where wearing the wrong clothes can keep us from landing the right job. Where eating the wrong foods can cause us a lifetime of stress and problems. Where living in a bubble can evoke feelings of regret later down  the road. This demographic is the tipping point of our lives and I believe F.I.R.M. can make the biggest impact at this stage.
TheBlackManCan: How has the growth of social media been important to the growth of FIRM Magazine?

JTS: It’s funny you should ask this because I was just telling someone else that most of the writers I get I have never met or don’t see on a regular basis. In fact, two of my writers in the music department have been working with each other for several months now and have never met each other until I brought them together for an after-work event recently. I interact with them through text, email, Twitter, and Facebook. It has made starting this business easier. I am able to build my brand using Facebook and Twitter and reach people I might not have reached if this magazine was solely in print form. You can hit so many people at the same time without costly marketing which makes things easier. Not to say marketing is not needed, but now you can do most of the initial footwork yourself.
TheBlackManCan: What are your future plans for FIRM magazine?

JTS: I plan to bring F.I.R.M. out in a print version a couple of times a year and also launch a couple of conferences, events, and community initiatives. I got a couple of other things up my sleeve too, but you’ll have to watch and read to find out. Trust me, F.I.R.M. Magazine is going to do publishing in a way that no other magazines have done it before. We are the new face of publishing.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice would you like to leave for the youth of today?

JTS: Shoot for the stars…and if you miss…get a bigger gun and blast them all out of the sky and take your pick. You have to try a couple of things in order to find the business that works. Don’t be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone. Listen to advice, but most importantly, listen to yourself. Finally dream big and strive to be the best.

You can reach J.T. Solomon at

League of EXTRAordinary is where we at TheBlackManCan highlight Black Men who are making positive and remarkable contributions to society. Nominate a Black Male today on the contact page or

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