by Alexis Clark
In the first week of the music business accelerator program at Tennessee State University, the class is already exposing students to powerhouse executives, talent agencies, and music artists. Through this firsthand experience, TSU students are gaining valuable insight into the music industry.
Students erupted in applause when High Standardz/Def Jam Recordings artist and actress CoCo Jones walked into the room. Jones gained recognition after her leading role in the 2012 Disney Channel movie Let It Shine. She currently portrays Hilary Banks in Bel-Air, Peacock’s modern take on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She has also released her major label debut album last year, titled What I Didn’t Tell You.
The Lebanon, Tennessee native told students she was excited to share her music journey and to spread knowledge as a young Black artist and actress.
“It’s important to have classes like these because there’s so much opportunity in music that doesn’t stem from just being a rapper or a singer,” Jones said.
“I want to shed some light and share information that’s helpful for the next young Black person trying to make it in this industry.”
Jones shared stories of her upbringing in Lebanon and jump-starting her career in the music industry. She discussed navigating the ever-changing landscape of the business and staying faithful throughout her journey. The students were enthused by Jones’ insights and wisdom and eagerly asked her questions.
“This has been phenomenal,” said Logyn Rylander, a music business major from Philadelphia. “It’s everything I could ever ask for in a class. I’m talking to people who do what I want to do.” Rylander looks forward to going into artist development after graduation this fall. “I had a small taste of my career.”
In addition to meeting with Jones, TSU students participated in interactive class activities with Jones’ manager, Lydia Asrat, Def Jam’s Vice President Naim McNair, Vice President of marketing Charlene Thomas, and Willie ‘Prophet’ Stiggers with the Black Music Action Coalition.
Emmanuel ‘Mille Manny’ Strickland of Memphis said the music business class has been an eye-opener. “The things we are learning are things I am going to need to know in my day-to-day career as an R&B artist.” Strickland is a junior studying business information systems and is pursuing a career as a singer and songwriter.
Strickland’s cohorts are just as impressed with the overall program. They will also spend time with representatives from Tri-Star Entertainment Agency, Live Nation Entertainment, Wasserman Media Group, and Def Jam Recordings. The group is also exposed to different facets of the music and entertainment industry every day during their Maymester class.
Jamea Kollie, a sophomore from Detroit studying mass communications, was a part of the music class’s first cohort in 2022 and said she will cherish the connections she made. “It was amazing last year. I met so many people who so happened to look like me as well and represent the Black community,” Kollie said. “These powerhouses of the industry are being such advocates. That’s very inspirational.”
Dr. Mark Crawford, the coordinator of commercial music for the university, said the goal is to get exposure and more opportunities for students at HBCUs. “As an educator, this means a lot,” Crawford said. “They are meeting professionals, visiting these places, and understanding the business of music. One goal is to try to provide internship opportunities for underrepresented demographics and HBCUs.”
From discussing marketing to record label deals to artists and repertoire, the students are developing a deep appreciation for the art of music and the business behind it. “This is like the answer to an unspoken prayer; this is exactly what we need for the students,” Crawford said.