Grove Studios and Leon Speakers partner on new fellowship for Washtenaw County's Black musicians

A partnership between Ypsilanti's Grove Studios and Ann Arbor's Leon Speakers aims to support Washtenaw County-based African-American musicians through the new Amplify Fellowship.


Through the new program, a panel of local musicians and staff from Grove Studios and Leon Speakers will choose three fellows to receive 40 hours of studio time at Grove Studios, as well as engineering and production for a creative project.


Funding from Leon Speakers will also enable Grove Studios to offer free educational workshops both to the three fellows and to community members. The workshops will educate participants about the music industry, including topics like music management and marketing.


A private monthly meeting will introduce the three fellows to professionals in the music industry. The first will be composer, songwriter, and music licensing expert Nelson Johnson, who will teach the fellows how to get their music added to libraries used for TV and movies.


"We'll bring in people who have an interest in developing the skill sets of producers, managers, things of that nature locally," says Rod Wallace, educational programs coordinator for Grove Studios. "So we'll not only be supporting the three fellows but the community at large, and local experts, by giving them an opportunity to share their expertise."


Each fellow will also commit to volunteer projects in Washtenaw County, and each will contribute music to an annual compilation album featuring other musical artists who frequent Grove Studios.


Wallace says the partnership developed shortly after anti-police-brutality protests sprang up across the nation in the wake of George Floyd's death. Leon Speakers developed an interest in amplifying African-American voices in Washtenaw County and shared that vision with Grove staff. Wallace got input from Grove staff and created a proposal for what he calls a "multi-faceted initiative."


Wallace says the application and interview process will look not at how big a following the applicants have but how they view themselves and their art, along with how strong their commitment to the community is.


The long-term plan is to make the fellowship an annual program, lasting from Nov. 1 of each year through June of the following year.


"The hope is that the projects they create during the fellowship will give them material to perform during the summer performance season, allowing them to participate in summer festivals, First Fridays, and things of that nature," Wallace says. "We also hope to build an alumni group from year to year, creating a cohort of fantastically creative musicians that will be operating on a larger scale than even just here in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. We want them to give back to more novice musicians here in Washtenaw County."


Wallace says the fellows will also be supported by "a bold social media campaign," including an opportunity for all three fellows to participate in a Grove Sessions podcast.


Leon Speakers' and Grove Studios' partnership will support other initiatives that are still in the works, Wallace says.


"The [partnership] is meant to assist Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor in solidifying this area as a hub of musical activity, even in the face of COVID," Wallace says.


The fellowship application deadline is Oct. 19. More information and a link to the application form is available here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photo by Kyla Rose.

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