How this Philadelphia music aficionado fills a gap for black-owned music programming

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Branford Jones was the kid who devoured the music shows from his childhood home in Willow Grove.

Compared to today, music programming on television from the 2000s feels more like a dream than a memory. Instead of the regular marathons of Ridiculous reruns, MTV had a mix of shows that highlighted, well, the music.

“Grow up watching NMTgrow watching 106th and parkwhere to watch VH1 Storytellerswatching, you know, the music programming that we all love,” Jones recalled, “and then seeing it disappear.

Son of a mother who plays the piano and a father who plays guitar and bass, Jones explained that NMT and 106th and park was one of the ingredients of a solid musical education. Jones, whose parents named him after Branford Marsalis, learned to play the piano and clarinet as a youngster. He also sang in church choirs and performed musical theater in school. Jones, a cousin of Patty Jackson with deep Philadelphia roots, also stresses that the city is part of that upbringing: “We’ve given so much to the world, musically.

Jones, who graduated from Temple in 2013, understood that while the lineup may have died out after the 2000s, the talent was still there. Enter They Have The Range, a platform where Jones spotlights singers who are truly impressing on social media.

From TikTok duets to award show performances, Jones picks the internet for singers whose voices will have you raising your hand skyward, pursing your lips in satisfaction or raising your eyebrows in joyful admiration. His curated clips and challenges — where Jones could post a more difficult melodic passage or vocal run than Candy Crush, then welcome attempts from the masses — earned him 712,000 followers on Instagram.

Jones, who is based in Philadelphia, started They Have The Range in 2016, he explained. “Meanwhile was the ‘R&B is dead’ [comments], ‘They don’t want to see black music from black singers,’” Jones recalled. “And in my head, I was like, ‘No! I don’t think that’s true. I think you don’t know where to go to support them. And you don’t have the visibility to see them, nobody’s telling you. pushes them.

They Have The Range has approximately 9,000 members in its Clubhouse club, which hosts conversations about music and culture. (Jones helped support the Clubhouse production of dream girlswhen he paired his producer with both singer/actress Amber Riley and Sheryl Lee Ralph, the legendary actress who played Deena in dream girls in 1981.) He is working to fill a void in black-owned and black-led music programming that he said grows from media makers such as himself and YouTuber Terrell Grice, but has been largely absent from major networks.

“I grew up on train of souls,” he said. “You know how train of souls It was when it came to artists being able to perform their music and be seen. So I just see myself as the new age or the new generation train of souls without the dance.

Jones spoke to The Inquirer about They Have The Range and the state of R&B music. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

So the challenges – it was actually due to corona. I did a challenge a long time ago, for Writing’s on the Wall. And I was like, ‘Oh, when I get to 500,000 [followers], I’m going to do more challenges”, and I never did. So I was doing tours to different venues in Philadelphia because I was going to start trying to do live shows. And then the pandemic hit and it was like “No”. So I was like, ‘OK, well, what am I going to do? Everyone will be home. So what am I going to do to engage people? »

So I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to take on a challenge.’ And the first one I did was called the key change challenge. Because if you know, people know me, they know the things I like from what I post. I love key changes. I love bridges. I like songs that are longer than three minutes and I like the rasp.

These videos just popped out and I never looked back. It just gave me a chance to honor the songs in the type of vocals that I love. And remind people how insanely hard the songs are to sing and how insanely good those songs are. And to show that people can still sing like that. And also to show that people still want to hear singing like that.

I feel like it’s coming back. I think we’re finally getting back to what we grew up on, especially in the early 2000s and 90s. Where I feel like a lot of the music we grew up with was at its peak level, as its purest form. And I think right now is a really good time for R&B, but it’s also a time where people are really investing in developing singers and writing songs that take a lot of difficulty. Like, it’s not gonna be easy, is it? So I think it’s about finding talent and developing it and really dedicating yourself to writing great music and finding people who can really sing and move people. And I think right now we’re starting to see that.

If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said, ‘Mmmm, it happens.’ I think black women do a great job of R&B, but I’m ready to see black men really get more vulnerable in their music and sing about things again, especially love.

Honestly, I think it’s coming back to the charts. You know, being able to trace again. I mean, even you know, seeing recently what Muni Long was able to do with his song “Hrs and Hrs”. And how it impacts and how it debuted on Billboard at 83. It may not be very high, but you know, we have to start somewhere. (Note: After the interview, the song jumped 49 spots in its second week, to 34 on the Hot 100.) I think R&B is coming back to that place where it can top the charts.

I agree with all these mid-tempos. Of course, if you want to do trap R&B, that’s great. But I think there has to be a balance between up-tempo R&B. I always say this: I say the next R&B guy to do his version of “Yeah!” of this generation. by Usher is going to be the next superstar. The next R&B girl to do Gen Z’s “Get Me Bodied” will be the next female R&B superstar. And until we get our rhythm, I feel like it’s going to be a bit stagnant. But once we get mid-tempos and ballads and up-tempo records again, where you know R&B singers make people dance, then I think, you know, we’ll be back in perfect harmony .

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