Dedicated to Women Guitarists and Bassists
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Supporting the Vitality of Black Women Musicians, Now and Always

Investing in community programming begins with individuals who are leading with a vision. We spoke with four musicians and educators on the importance of donating locally and consistantly.

July 24, 2020
Written by
Cynthia Schemmer

As of this summer, we’re seeing more donations toward Black-led organizations and businesses than ever before. While abolitionists and activists have been working towards a redistribution of wealth and power for centuries, these concepts have officially entered the mainstream conversation, and it’s about time. 

While those donations are imperative to working towards a more equitable world for all, it’s important to note that many Black individuals will not see the money from large nonprofits and organizations that are vigorously being donated to. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep donating to those places, but we must also consider the importance of donating to smaller, individual fundraisers.

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She Shreds spoke with Black women musicians and music educators working with BIPOC students who are currently raising money: Ahya Simone, Harmony Pike, Jess Garland of Swan Strings, and Julia Piker and Alice Tsui of New Bridges Elementary music program. During our conversations, four main themes emerged in regards to the importance of donating to individual fundraisers: Lack of Funding, Accessibility and Agency, Representation, and Passing the Mic. Behind these individual fundraisers exists not only the need to elevate accessibility and develop a tighter grip on creative agency, but to also support others through community-driven education and representation. This overarching idea of spreading the wealth is a theme we’ve been reading about often these days: using individual advances to help others, thinking less individually and more communally.

So while you’re setting up your monthly recurring payments to your favorite Black organizations working towards an anti-racist future, we hope you’ll consider sharing some of that money with individual Black women musicians—especially those included in this article. (More information about their work and how you can further support can be found at the end.)

Lack of Funding

Arts programming and funds are extremely lacking in marginalized communities, specifically those of BIPOC. We are seeing this now more than ever with conversations surrounding defunding the police and redistributing wealth in order to allocate money towards underserved communities and services. Ahya Simone, a Black trans woman harpist born and raised in Detroit, says, “Outside of abolishing capitalism and patriarchy and how it functions, which all industries are founded upon, we need to interrupt the greed that is being focused at the top with executives by redistributing the wealth to Black women/gender non-conforming people in artistic communities.” Simone, who has been playing the harp for 12 years and is also the creator of Femme Queen Chronicles, an award-winning comedic web-series about the lives of four Black trans women in Detroit, has started a GoFundMe for a new electro-acoustic harp. Aside from a new harp enhancing her sound and performance capabilities, the money raised will also go towards the expenses of traveling to harp showrooms across the east coast to test out instruments so she can finish her debut EP

“It’s no secret that systemic racism is prevalent in the art spaces, oftentimes blocking out those most marginalized from acquiring the tools needed to succeed and create. What we don’t often talk about is how even more difficult it is for those of us who are parents living outside the downtown core.”
– Harmony Pike
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Outside from the often meager or absent funding from local and state governments, many Black women musicians will not receive money donated to larger organizations that support BIPOC in the arts. Harmony Pike, a Toronto-based singer-songwriter, poet, and single mother, is raising funds to build an at-home studio. She believes that a light needs to be shown on the music of Black communities, in terms of both recognition and funds. “Let’s be realistic,” she says. “Do you think Black communities in poverty are actually seeing money from Black Lives Matter? No.” This is not to say that Black Lives Matter isn’t imperative to the movement, but in terms of individuals and communities, many will not see that money. The same goes for those involved in the arts in need of funding: Pike adds that bigger organizations often offer funds to large fundraisers rather than individuals and communities in need.  “It takes nothing to fill the pots down here,” she says.

“Socioeconomic status affects the lack of participation by students in music programs. Even within the same school district, there is a disparity between schools in lower-income neighborhoods and those that are in more affluent neighborhoods. A school whose students can afford to buy their own instruments and benefits from healthy donations from parents does not need as much funding as a school with students and families that cannot afford to do the same. Yet, they receive the same amount of funding.”
– Julia Pike

Julia Piker is a white Brooklyn-born composer, songwriter, and engineer who recently created a GoFundMe to support the New Bridges Elementary School music program in Crown Heights. Taught by musician Alice Tsui, an Asian American/Chinese pianist, activist, and co-founder of New Bridges, the students are in desperate need of new instruments including violins, violas, and cellos. New Bridges is composed of 450 students—68% of whom are Black and 23% of whom are Hispanic—and more than three-quarters come from low-income households. As Piker points out in the GoFundMe, school systems follow a very flawed one-size-fits-all approach: lower-income neighborhoods and wealthy neighborhoods receive the same amount of funding, despite the fact that wealthy neighborhoods benefit from donations from parents. And with recent budget cuts, New Bridges is relying heavily on donations to just scratch the service of their needs.

“Black people are the core of music,” says Piker. “I owe my career to the Black musicians that came before me. So when I heard that the Department of Education isn’t being creative in the way they distribute money among New York City schools, it made my blood boil.” She adds that the general public needs to educate themselves on the disparity of school funding, and where exactly their tax dollars are going. “So many people look at this equality in distribution as fair, and that every school should be allotted the same amount in funding,” she says. “But not every school exists in a wealthy or middle class neighborhood. [For] most of the kids at New Bridges… school is their only chance to receive music education. If they don’t have instruments to play, there is no hands-on education to be had.”

Accessibility & Agency

In order to gain agency over our creative practices and voices, we need access to instruments, equipment, space, and resources. Jess Garland, music educator, harpist, and guitarist in Dallas, TX, is raising money for Swan Strings, a 501c3 non-profit music program she founded last year with a mission to provide free music education and sound therapy services to North Texas individuals without access. Born and raised in Dallas, and someone who has taught throughout the city for over a decade, Garland recognizes that music is not easily accessible to lower-income communities, and that there is a noticeable gap in music education in elementary and middle schools. “I had access to music [as a child], but since I’ve been teaching I’ve noticed that a lot of schools don’t have music or they say there’s music but it’s just a general music studies class… There’s definitely something missing, there’s definitely a lack, and it’s something that’s needed.”

“For me, music class is almost like a therapy session. A lot of people think it’s just about learning an instrument—but that’s not what this is really about. It’s about learning discipline, processing feelings and emotions, and finding a voice to express yourself.” – Jess Garland, Swan Strings.
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Free community resources like Swan Strings aren’t always available, and it varies from city to city. Harmony Pike ruminates on Toronto’s need for more free studio spaces and art hubs in libraries and community centers. She notes that these resources create better opportunities, especially for children, and enables them to find a community and have their voices heard and supported. “I can create as much as I want in this small space that I have, but it’s important that we get our work out there—our goal is to become bigger and better.”

Alternatively, Ahya Simone says that while she can see how gaining agency of your craft through fundraising is a critical tool, she personally doesn’t use it that way. “I see it as intention setting,” she says. “I ask for my dream, you make it come true. For example, in my fundraiser, you don’t have to know much about me except that I play the harp and I need a new one. Feeling generous? Do you believe in the power of my work? Do you feel rich guilt and looking for a way to assuage it? And that’s not for me to know or answer (at least at this stage) but the wish needs to be granted. “

COVID-19 has created even further obstacles to accessing music education, including resource equity barriers (e.g. lack of technology, access to WiFi, etc.). Such is the case with students at New Bridges, where teacher Alice Tsui has noticed a drop in attendance. 

Such is the case with students at New Bridges, where teacher Alice Tsui has noticed a drop in attendance. As for her students she has been seeing on a more regular basis, Tsui says, “I have been continuing to create space for students to express their needs and be heard in both conversation and discussion, as well as through their music—both in singing and in playing instruments.” She adds that the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others personally resonated with many of her students, and that it’s her responsibility to ensure a safe, trusted space where her students can share their feelings if they want to without retraumatizing. Throughout this pandemic, Tsui’s classes also continue to navigate additional issues of inequity (immigration and ICE deportation, racial stereotypes, anti-Asian racism brought on from COVID-19) while balancing how music can be a space for joy and expression for everyone.

Garland notes that she’s seeing just how important it is in this moment for students to find their voice through music. Some weeks, her Swan Strings students will break down and cry during lessons due to how hard it’s been to work virtually. However, despite the absence of presence, her students overall seem to be more enthusiastic than ever: “Even though the virtual technology is really difficult, they’re determined to get through the glitches and practice. Music education already helps with self-confidence, but I think the virtual lessons are pushing them to be more confident. Since I’m not with them in person, it makes them step up a little bit in figuring it out on their own.” 

Harmony Pike adds that, aside from the benefits as a single mother, having an in-home studio to work on her music offers a safe recording option to prevent spreading COVID-19 to her daughter and grandmother, who both live with her.


The students at Swan Strings are 45% Black, 45% Latinx, and 10% white and/or other. Their economic level is mixed, and Garland notes the difference between these students, who receive free classes that they want to attend and enjoy, from those who take her private paid lessons, who are a white majority. “Once I saw what kind of impact I was making, and seeing the difference between my students and their different backgrounds, that was the reason I decided to start Swan Strings.” She adds that being a Black music teacher and musician has not only had a positive effect on her BIPOC students at Swan Strings, but also on her private white students as well, when she is often one of the only Black people in their lives. “It’s not just Black and brown students that need to [learn from BIPOC teachers]—all students need to see this representation.”

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Black musicians must be heard, and all white and non-Black POC must do the internal work of breaking down stereotypes that have too long been rooted in racialized mindsets… This work cannot be done without real monetary compensation for Black people.” – Alice Tsui

Alice Tsui notes that it’s time for the music industry and general public to listen to young Black music students, in terms of music and decisions. She adds that each and every one of us has a platform to amplify their voices, and while it’s easy to give a BIPOC musician a seat at the industry’s table, it’s more important to listen to them: “It is my hope that the music industry and public actively engages with decolonizing their perspectives of what music and music education is. As a society, we operate with a whitewashed sense of what is music, what is ‘good’ and/or ‘bad’ music, and who decides what gets to be ‘at the top’ of the industry. Black musicians must be heard, and all white and non-Black POC must do the internal work of breaking down stereotypes that have too long been rooted in racialized mindsets… This work cannot be done without real monetary compensation for Black people…”

Passing the Mic

Behind each individual artists’ GoFundMe also exists the commitment to give back to their communities through education and opportunities for current and future generations of Black artists. “If I, as small as I am, as a single mother, can create an entire studio at home, I can also help young Black youth come up and record at my place, in a safe space,” says Harmony Pike, who feels a continuous energy to educate young artists. And since the birth of her daughter, who is now six years old and keen on learning from her mother, that energy resounds daily. She adds that the space will also support other women like herself who want to learn how to engineer and produce their own music:  “Women producers are very hard to come by in Toronto. If I get this equipment, I could learn more and help other women.”

Ahya Simone PC Kai Dowridge cx
I’m a Femme Queen and I do FQ things. And one thing FQs do is invent themselves, innovate, and evolve over and over. I am woman and beyond woman. And part of that innovation for me is to continue to create and heal through the arts.” – Ahya Simone

With Swan Strings, aside from providing approximately 210 hours of free music education and serving 166 children, Garland hopes to spread some of the funds from her GoFundMe to other music educators: “Just being an artist in Dallas, I know that other musicians need other opportunities for income, prior to COVID-19. I really want to give that opportunity to other musicians.” 

Similarly, Ahya Simone says that hiring women to work on her webseries, Femme Queen Chronicles, was a priority: “ I wanted to pay everyone fairly for their participation. I also wanted this production to have girls in front of and behind the screen: interns, doing Instagram stories, assisting during production, script revisions, etc. Collaboration with people of the community was super important… to foster opportunities for my friends and communities to make and display and come home to themselves with art. I want to create a cultural center in Detroit for Black LGBTQ people with an emphasis of being Black trans led and centered.” She adds that as far as music, she periodically donates sales from her debut single “Frostbite” directly to Black trans people or to local Detroit grassroots organizing groups.

These women, while all very different in their experiences and identities, all express a similar sentiment: the music industry at large must support Black women musicians and students. We suggest that along with setting up recurring donations to larger organizations working towards anti-racism, you should also consider regularly donating to individuals. We’ve included more information below about the artists featured as a place to start, but consider checking out smaller organizations that often list individual fundraisers, including Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, a collective of Black trans femmes dedicated to creating space for themselves in the arts and beyond, who are currently working on an Black femme artist/resource directory; and Nina’s Daughters Collective, a Canadian community of Black women building a safe space to meet, create, and share knowledge. “There is no freedom without art and music,” says Ahya Simone—and history has shown us that there is no evolution of art and music without the pioneering vision of Black women.

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Ahya Simone

Ahya Simone is an internationally acclaimed harpist, composer, and filmmaker born and raised in Detroit. She has been playing the harp for 12 years and has performed with Kelela, Juliana Huxtable, Tunde Olaniran, and Kelsey Lu. Simone is also a co-founder of the Trans Sistas of Color Project and creator of Femme Queen Chronicles, an award-winning comedic webseries about the lives of four Black trans women in Detroit—written, directed, and brought to life by Black trans women. She is currently fundraising for a new concert grand harp.

Harmony Pike

In 2014, while pregnant with her daughter, Harmony Pike picked up the decorative guitar that had been collecting dust in her bedroom. With painfully swollen feet and a sedentary prescription from her doctor, Pike taught herself to play with power chords. “They were probably the best songs I’ve ever written,” she says. “I felt such an amazing connection with my daughter. The vibration of the guitar against my stomach was a really big thing for me.” Since 2018, she has released a handful of singles including 2019’s acoustic-driven Unapologetic and 2020’s Just Might. She is currently fundraising to build an in-home studio to further her skills in bass guitar, production, engineering, and to complete her debut album.

New Bridges Elementary School

New Bridges Elementary is a public school in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, NY. It was founded in 2013 and currently serves Pre-K through fifth grade students. Their mission is rooted in the purpose and passion behind learning, community and belonging to one another, in preparation for college and careers, and in the development of our best selves. Their music program, taught by Alice Tsui who helped co-founded New Bridges, is in need of new instruments, including violins, violas, and cellos.

Swan Strings

Swan Strings is a 501-C3 non-profit with a mission to provide free music education and sound therapy services to North Texas Individuals without access. Founded by Jess Garland, who has been teaching guitar in Dallas for over 15 years, Swan Strings has been providing free music education for three years and currently offers six online classes taught by Garland and three other local music teachers. They are currently raising money to provide weekly harp lessons—which have never been offered in any Dallas school before—to students at W.E. Greiner Middle School in North Oak Cliff, TX.

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