Meet The Recording Academy D.C. Chapter's First Black Female President, Elise Perry
Elise Perry, the newly elected president of the Recording Academy's Washington D.C. Chapter, won't just be empowering and supporting artists, producers and other music professionals in the nation's capital, Maryland and Virginia—she'll be showing young Black women they can break boundaries as the chapter's first Black woman to hold the role. "If a young Black woman or any person even is motivated by me just doing what I do, I will have accomplished a lot," Perry says.
The producer and engineer, who also creates programming on platforms like YouTube and Facebook Live and has been a broadcast specialist for NBC, BET, National Geographic, PBS, and more, says the fact that she is the first is "daunting but I’m ready to do my best and make people, especially Black people proud."
Passionate about her hometown's music community and culture, she's ready to continue supporting and celebrating the music creators in the city that has shaped her in and out of her professional career after years of being active in the D.C. Chapter. Highlighting her community is a mission that she has felt strongly about since she was young. "I always felt D.C. deserved the focus and the shine," she says.
The Recording Academy interviewed Perry about her journey to her new role, what she hopes to accomplish as new D.C. chapter president, the work she's been doing in the chapter to highlight women, the projects she's working on as a music and TV/Film creator, her state of mind during the pandemic as well as our current racial climate, and much more.
Tell us about your road to the Recording Academy. Where did you grow up and what inspired you to work in the music industry?
A young producer heard I wrote some good music and suggested I join the "D.C. GRAMMY Chapter." Like many, I thought, at the time, I wasn’t accomplished enough to consider that. After some time, I was approached again. I received a proper nudge, which I needed, but at least now I quietly felt like "If I’m in the Recording Academy I could be a part of the changes I wanted to see." Eventually, there was a lot of [time in] committee membership, Board of Governors service, and [there were] years of co-chairing different committees. After a few tries at Vice Presidency, I have landed here as the President. It’s a tad surreal.
I grew up in Washington D.C. I’m the third child of two musician parents. They were both educators and singers in public chorales and church choirs. On any given day in my home, especially a Saturday, I heard everything from orchestral and choral classics to The Modern Jazz Quartet and Ramsey Lewis, Roberta Flack to The Delfonics, Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, etc... it was vast over the years. Those were my early musical influences before I played an actual instrument at 7 years old.
I wanted to play music until I found out I wanted to write music. My instrument of choice leading to college however, wasn’t what I wanted to build my career on. I became a Mass Media Major, did well and set out to be in broadcast media. I played the bassoon in concert band and marched with tenor sax and planned to be done with playing after college at Hampton University. But a last-minute audio recording elective and meeting a guy with a sequencer after I got back home changed things. I then wanted to write music and run a record label in D.C. I always felt D.C. deserved the focus and the shine. So, one down with one to go.
What does it mean to you to be the first Black female president of the D.C. Chapter? What do you hope to accomplish in your role at the Recording Academy?
It was really something I never thought about until it was brought to my attention… pretty much after I won. It’s truly an honor. I’m humbled. I have often been the only [Black woman]… but never the first. It’s daunting but I’m ready to do my best and make people, especially Black people proud and then, perhaps, excited to be in this Chapter. I do understand I'm an image that needs to be seen. We have a lot to be proud of. If a young Black woman or any person even is motivated by me just doing what I do, I will have accomplished a lot. It’s scary but as the saying goes, "To whom much is given, much is required." So here I go.
What do I hope to accomplish? Well, from us as a chapter, expect more! Expect more engagement between members and the musical community in general. Expect that every area that the Academy celebrates will be unearthed and uplifted with fresh dynamic programming virtual or otherwise hopefully. Beyond that, we will continue our active consistent federal and local advocacy and support of music creators' rights and strengthening of music education.
Rare Essence brings go-go music to NPR
What is one thing about the D.C. or the DMV music community you love?
I love my city. It’s a creative diversity haven. My home was filled with all genres of music. I went to D.C. public schools when music programs were still rich. Even the (D.C. Metropolitan) Police Band played assemblies and they were hot! They still are! I learned music history and played clarinet and bassoon in the D.C. Youth Orchestra Program from 6-12th grade. With them, I traveled abroad. I, as well as many other kids who played in marching and concert bands in high school, competed at a high level for scholarships. Every neighborhood in D.C. cranked go-go or had a go-go band. When I decided to become a writer/producer/composer, I folded all of these flavors and more into whatever I did while having similar experiences with my peers that had similar as well as different musical backgrounds, be it church, youth chorales, dance crews, rap groups, performance groups, neighborhood go-go bands, sidewalk, singers, drummers, and brass ensembles. EVERYONE had unparalleled talent. That’s not even mentioning those that have settled in D.C. from other parts of the country or the world. All of this talent is active in one city. Every nook and cranny has a soundtrack! There is brilliant musicianship in D.C. on the corner and in the concert hall.
We are living unprecedented times as a pandemic and protests around justice and racism have simultaneously taken place. What is the role of the music industry now? What does support look like to you?
Music is a healing balm. When there is no hand to hold, there is the warmth of the word and the comfort of the chords. When the truth of our hearts is revealed in song, that’s the kind of love that we hope touches someone where they need the connection.
The music business must shift and pivot to serving the creators so they may continue to create and be paid. We need spaces and perhaps now a new business model that considers all involved. I don’t have all of the answers to business but you go down the right path when you consider the needs of those that consume your products…our art. People want to pray, cry, dance, shout, scream, preach through music, it’s their truth. The industry has to see itself as a service provider like essential personnel and work it out. It’s happening. We are all shifting.
Have you seen the landscape around women working in music production change? If so, how? What work is left to be done?
It’s changing. What's interesting to me is that women have always been actively working in music production. What I always noticed is that some women that are in production are just doing what they do. When we are done, they go on about their lives. We take the good with the bad and make it happen because this is who we are. …And we are exceptional because you can’t be one stitch less. It's not necessarily celebrated and many don't need the celebration. But there came a time where respect needed to be more outwardly present. Respect was needed for talent and skills, credits and fair compensation. That's what’s needed always. We should be seen, heard and properly acknowledged in those spaces. Women have a special approach to creativity. We just have to do our thing and turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to anything that stops the forward motion. We have poignant stories and soundtracks to create. Our chapter has put the spotlight on women creators for a long while, especially producers and engineers. We continue to do that. Before the pandemic, we were in the midst of a series spotlighting women creators. Women Crushing Washington (WCW) We were to showcase women in the forefront of the Music industry every Wednesday in March, Womens History Month. We had to shut it down after week two.
I’m fine. I’m quiet. I’m more intentional. I have faith. I'm eating clean. I keep my body moving and strong. I talk to my family and friends. I garden. I cook, I listen to music. I study new technology. Monitoring my mental health is important in times like these. I have a lot of hope but there are days where creating or just doing anything is the last thing on my mind. Those are days to just listen to other people's music or just chill all the way out and let nature be your music. Self care works.
When the pandemic began, I worked on a meditation project. I'm so glad I was part of it because the way I prepared to compose the pieces was downright spiritual. I made space to create something pure. It gave me an emotional blueprint for staying peaceful during this pandemic and then the civil unrest that followed. There is a lot that one can/could have gathered from the pause that the pandemic has given us. I have more focus. Moreover, I hope that the cries of Black Lives Matter and the exhaustion and anger and demands for justice don’t time out or fall on deaf ears.
What are some current projects you're working on?
I have two careers. I am obviously a music producer/engineer. I also am a TV/Film Director/ Content Creator. I am producing music projects for a few artists. I hope to release an Elise Perry project later this year. I am directing a few web-based performance shows currently. I’m developing music-based visual content for various platforms while developing my own. Wish me luck and good fortune!