Die Jim Crow
March 20, 2021
Join the team behind Die Jim Crow Records for an evening of musical performances from BL Shirelle and Naomi Blount Wilson, a virtual performance from currently incarcerated Americana band Territorial, and discussions about the difficulties and joys of making music while in prison.
Support the artists and the label on their website.
Die Jim Crow is the first record label in the United States dedicated to releasing the music of formerly and currently incarcerated musicians. In 2013, inspired by Michelle Alexander’s landmark book The New Jim Crow and Pink Floyd’s rock opera The Wall, artist and activist Fury Young embarked on a journey to make a double album about racial injustice in the US prison system. Though Young had never been incarcerated and did not have experience in music production, his personal relationships with friends who had spent time in prison led him to pioneer the project with ceaseless conviction. In 2015, Fury and co-producer/engineer dr. Israel recorded in Ohio’s Warren Correctional Institution, and it was from these sessions that the first album, the DIE JIM CROW EP, was born. Between 2017 and 2018, Fury gained access to three additional prison systems in Colorado, South Carolina, and Mississippi, and after completing these recordings it became clear that Die Jim Crow was transforming from a single concept album into a full-fledged record label.
In 2020 Die Jim Crow Records officially launched as the nation’s first non-profit record label for formerly and currently incarcerated musicians, with Young as Executive Director and label artist BL Shirelle as Deputy Director. While Shirelle’s debut LP, Assata Troi, was released to critical acclaim and media attention in June 2020, the team also helped send over 30,000 masks to prisons across the country with their PPE Into Prisons campaign between April and October. With four projects in the works for 2021, and a monthly concert series showcasing justice-involved musicians alongside iconic performers, Die Jim Crow Records is both a music platform and catalyst for social change. This talk will be streamed live here on March 20 at 6 p.m. EST. The video will be archived and available to view afterward.
Naomi Blount learned to play piano and sing when she was eight, influenced by her mother’s gospel roots, and cut her first hit record as a teenager. However, her path to becoming a professional musician took a detour in 1982, when she was sentenced to life in prison. While incarcerated, music accompanied her and she led every choir she was a part of, including Lady Lifers, a choir of women serving life sentences at Muncy State Prison in Pennsylvania. As their composer, Blount wrote the music for This Is Not My Home, which received over 130,000 views as part of a TedX conference, during which she also performed solo compositions. In 2019, her sentence was commuted. Since leaving prison, she has continued to compose and record music. At seventy, Blount has begun a new chapter towards her path as a professional musician, and she feels as ready as ever.
Tameca Cole is a visual artist and writer from Birmingham, Alabama. She is currently featured in Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at MoMA PS1, as well as serving as the inaugural participant in PS1's (Non) Residency for Artists Impacted by the Justice System. Cole began sending artwork and song lyrics to Die Jim Crow in 2014 while still incarcerated. Her art has been featured in Art in America, Artforum, ArtNews, Momus, The Nation, and The New York Times. While incarcerated, she re-discovered her abilities as an artist. Using the spare supplies available, she created collages that were both political and personal.
BL Shirelle started writing raps in the third grade. She developed a passion for hip hop during an era of hard-hitting lyrics and anthemic production. Though she was passionate about pursuing a career in music, BL spent most of her twenties in the Pennsylvania prison system. During her second and final stint, her last few years in incarceration, she decided it was time to get serious about practicing guitar and writing lyrics, eventually participating in a TedX event in which she helmed a prison band. It was this TedX video which caught the attention of Fury Young, and the two began a correspondence during BL’s final months in prison. BL was released in December 2015, and within a few years she released two mixtapes, contributed vocals and lyrics for the Die Jim Crow EP, and had been featured in Rolling Stone. As Die Jim Crow grew into a non-profit and eventually a record label, BL’s leadership role became clear within the organization. Now, as Deputy Director, BL oversees the direction the label takes in terms of releases, marketing, and community outreach. She is also an executive producer for artists currently inside prison, including B. Alexis and The Masses. Her debut album Assata Troi was released in June 2020 and has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, Interview, BBC, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Territorial is a group of incarcerated musicians who were recorded at Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City, Colorado: Michael Tennenson, Kevin Woodley, Dane "Zealot" Netwon, Jose "8Bizz" Talamantes, Frankie Domenico, Phillip "Archi" Archuleta, and Gilbert "Lefty" Pacheco. Ranging from country blues to hip hop to Native chant, their music is a powerful melding of diverse life experiences. The band includes Native American, Black, queer, and Jewish musicians, several serving life sentences and one who has been convicted for five counts of murder; they all share their path from remorse to redemption through music and shared experience in prison. It becomes clear through this journey, that there is much more to each of these musicians than a conviction and a prison ID number. Territorial Correctional Facility was the first prison in Colorado, opening in 1871 as United States colonial forces expanded West, usurping indigenous lands. Territorial’s upcoming debut album, TLAXIHUIQUI, is the first recorded music to make it outside of the forbidding stone walls of the prison since its construction. TLAXIHUIQUI (pronounced Tla-She-Wiki), translates to “the calling of the spirits,” in the ancient Aztec language of Nahuatl, which is interwoven throughout the record in the form of chant. With additional instrumentation from veteran session musicians in Nashville, TLAXIHUIQUI is a dark yet hopeful Americana album that shines a brilliant light on the enduring human spirit in a divided country. Combining strong and striking storytelling with brilliant musicianship and raw talent, this group of artists from drastically different backgrounds came together to create this singular profound, unprecedented sonic experience.
Fury Young is a multi-disciplinary artist from Lower East Side NYC and the founder of Die Jim Crow. In 2013, Fury conceived the idea of making a double album about racial injustice in the U.S. prison system, and by March 2019, Fury had officially decided to expand Die Jim Crow into a non-profit record label. Steadily balancing the administrative and the creative, Fury oversees day to day operations, executive produces albums, and communicates with artists in prison across the country whose projects he is involved with. Young’s solo work as an artist includes music, film, poetry, and collage. His debut book of poetry, Meat & Milk, was published in 2016 by Lit Riot Press. The Last Poet’s Abiodun Oyewole called it, “An exciting odyssey through time and space.” Young has performed and shown work at Anthology Film Archives, UnionDocs, and The New School, and been featured in Interview Magazine, The Observer, The LA Times, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone.