BECOMING THE FIRST ARTIST TO CONDUCT AN INTERACTIVE SONGWRITING WORKSHOP AND LIVE CONCERT IN THE MICROSOFT STORE
[AN OPEN LETTER]
ABOVE: Photo, Styling & Beauty by RIOT MUSE
As I sat in the Microsoft holding room surrounded by computers and keyboards, my heart pounded and my palms began to sweat. For the most part I sat quietly as RIOT MUSE gently applied my makeup. Sometimes I hummed the melody of the songs I anticipated singing to keep my voice warm. I smiled an easy smile at Valerie Madison, the Community Development Specialist at the Houston Galleria, when she entered the room. But the truth was, I was excited, yet very nervous to conduct the first ever Interactive Songwriting Workshop and Live Concert in Microsoft. Over 150 guests RSVP’d a week prior to the event. Yet I still wondered what the turnout would actually be and hoped that those in attendance would have a positive and revelatory experience that they would remember forever.
The opportunity was presented to me just a few weeks before the event. Jarren Small, Co-Founder of nonprofit organization, Legends Do Live, approached me about a conversation that he’d had with Valerie Madison. Valerie wanted to organize a creative Black History Month event at Microsoft that utilized Microsoft OneNote on the Surface Pro and since she’d worked with Jarren in the past with their Reading With A Rapper literacy program, she knew he would be just the one to call. Jarren proposed Microsoft partner with a singer-songwriter, rather than a rapper and the rest was history. Well, not necessarily. Microsoft was impressed with my music but they still weren’t completely sold on why their first-ever Black History Month creative venture should be with LENORA, rather than the hundreds, maybe thousands of other talented singer-songwriters in Houston. Jarren quickly quipped, “Not only is she a singer-songwriter, but she is also the Business Manager and Entertainment Editor of one of the most historic Black publications in the country… The Forward Times, which her family also founded and owns.” From there, I visited the Microsoft store to get acquainted with the Surface Pro and began working on my presentation.
After we confirmed the date at Microsoft, my manager, Joshua Dada asked if it would be possible for my band and I to set up and treat the attendees to a Live Concert after the workshop, NPR Tiny Desk-style. Although it had never been done, we got the “okay.”
Fast-forward to Wednesday, February 19th, just minutes before I was to greet the attendees and conduct the workshop. Once my makeup was done and it was time for RIOT MUSE to style me, we quickly shuffled into the restroom in Microsoft to use the mirror. The only problem was that there are only two restrooms in the store, both of which are in plain sight of the attendees and the goal was for me to remain hidden until the time of the workshop. With the help of three people, we made it to the restroom undetected and I caught a glimpse of the crowd. The store was jam-packed with attendees. Some that I knew and most that I didn’t know. I got a rush of excitement and quickly got dressed, as RIOT MUSE layered belt after belt to create a comfortable yet iconic look.
When it was time to come out, I could hear the attendees screaming so loudly you would think that the Microsoft store was a stadium. I walked out and began the workshop, which actually ended up being a songwriting masterclass.
I had 30 minutes to conduct the workshop and I couldn’t have asked for a better group and outcome. There was a room full of eager attendees; some standing, some sitting on wooden stools, and some sitting comfortably on pillows that we provided on the floor. I started with an Introduction of myself and my work as both a songwriter and journalist and joked with the audience as I scribbled my name and key points on the Surface Pro with awful handwriting. I addressed three key points in songwriting: Subject Matter, Lyrics and Melody; then broke down the creative process for my single “Relax.” Then, the best part of the workshop was an impromptu collaborative writing session, in which I began an up-tempo song idea on the spot and had the attendees contribute lyrics and melodies to finish out the verse. By the end of the workshop, we finished a funky feel-good song called, “I Do What I Want.”
There was a ten-minute intermission before the Live Concert portion. I hurried to the holding room once again to sip some tea and warm up my voice. When I emerged from the back of the store, I could hear the band kicking off a funky groove. I grabbed the mic and began singing some ad-libs and then motioned for them to stop playing. I explained that we would play the song that we wrote with the audience on the other side of the wall. I sang a bass line to Jesse Gomez to start it off and he slipped right into the groove. I sang a guitar lick for Halston Luna to enter and he executed it, undoubtedly making the tune even funkier. Talented keyboardist John MBK and drummer, Hollywood DMac contributed to the groove and we improvised and performed “I Do What I Want” for the proud attendees and collaborators.
Since everyone in attendance was in an experimental mood, we premiered “Crush On You,” a song from my debut album which will be released soon and is produced by super-producer Polyester The Saint. We, then, performed my disco-infused anthem “Take A Chance” to remind everyone to walk into their purpose and rid themselves of self-doubt. And we closed with my single, “Relax” with a surprise feature performance from legendary Houston, Texas rapper and icon, Slim Thug, affectionately known as “Thugga.” Thugga began rapping his verse offstage and as attendees heard his booming voice, excitement filled the room and phones soared into the air.
In partnership with Microsoft and Legends Do Live, I made HERSTORY on February 19, 2020 as the first artist to ever conduct an Interactive Songwriting Workshop and Live Concert inside of the Microsoft store. As an unsigned artist and writer, it is my hope that this will be observed in Microsoft stores every Black History Month nationwide to highlight local talent and to creatively inspire our communities. I will forever cherish this memory and opportunity.