Have patience — be patient and trust in what you are doing. Make sure you are doing what you love and what you want your vision to be.
It is easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing but if you want to make your own mark you need to make your own way and go forward with what you truly believe in and that is what I’m doing.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jimmy Dennis.
If you wrote it as a movie plot, they’d say it was too incredible to believe. But sit down with Jimmy Dennis, the incredibly talented singer/songwriter who is releasing his third single — an important commentary on race and injustice in America today from someone who has lived it, and almost didn’t live through it — and you will hear a back story that no other artist in American history can top. Not only is Jimmy Dennis the first artist ever to spend half a lifetime locked away for something he didn’t do, but his release from Pennsylvania’s Death Row in 2017 set important precedents and is still shaking up the justice system and having an impact on other cases nationwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Abbortsford Projects, in North Philadelphia. Music has always been my passion, my dad was a musician, my aunt was a musician, my mother sang on a choir, and so at the age of three, I started playing the drums and by the time I was in elementary school, third or fourth grade I had my own singing group, Sensation.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always knew from the time that I was a kid, listening to all the greats that I grew up loving, I always knew that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter and make people happy through my music, touch people and make them think, conjure up positive emotions, send them down memory lane, all that good stuff.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Just as I was on the cusp of my career I was stolen away for an extensive period of time, when I was wrongly charged and then actually wrongly convicted and sent to death row for two and a half decades for a crime I was absolutely innocent of. I was finally released in 2017. Now the last three years is me journeying back into the music business and it is a fantastic ride. After coming back after such a long hiatus it just feels fantastic to be recording again., putting out new music, the experiences I am having in the studio and just the whole process of the Philadelphia music scene and working with the people I am working with like the talented musicians, singer-songwriters, producers in Philadelphia like Gwen Jackson, Michael Boykin, Daryl “Peyanoman” Marshall, Mateo Gloistein and others. I am enjoying every aspect of the music industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I guess I have been lucky enough that I can say that in the last three years I haven’t made any mistakes I regret careerwise. Things are going well.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just released the lead single off my up and coming album, Troubling TIme. The single is called Hate The Skin I’m In — it is a representation that we as Black people know that racist people hate the skin we are in, but we are still a beautiful resilient people, and we cannot be defeated no matter what type of hate or hatred is lobbed against us, we still go out each day and bring nothing but beautiful-ness to the world we live in. And I wanted to speak to that in the song.
I’m working on Troubling Time to be completed and released in 2021 and also Love Songs 25.5 (lead single Awe You Done Went And Did It) . So I am working on two albums at once. And I just released the second single from Troubling Time — Tears This Year, a social commentary on the year that we all faced in 2020. It is an inspirational song that is musical medicine for your soul.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
- All people need to see a positive reflection of who they are reflected in the arts. Obviously this makes a difference.
- In order to have proper representation all across the board we need to see more diversity. Of course we have had trailblazers like Quincy Jones, Sylvia Rhone, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay…We need to see more of that, with more diversity in the decisions makers. This will lead to more genuine representation right across the board.
- We all benefit and learn from the diversity of the art that is presented to us, different voices, different stories, different perspectives in life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
There are really only two points that I have to make in this regard –
- Have patience — be patient and trust in what you are doing. Make sure you are doing what you love and what you want your vision to be.
2 . It is easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing but if you want to make your own mark you need to make your own way and go forward with what you truly believe in and that is what I’m doing.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My motto is Never, Ever Give Up. I have it on a shirt, and that is the advice I always recommend. No matter what it is, no matter what your dream is — chase after it with reckless abandonment, like I always say.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Police and Prosecutor accountability. When they send innocent people to jail and they violate people’s constitutional rights there needs to be legislation and laws passed across the country that they be sent to prison. That is the only way you are going to stop seeing innocent people like me losing decades of their life, being sent to prison for something they didn’t do, that’s the only way you are going to stop seeing police taking innocent lives in the Black and Latino communities all over this country.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I was in prison on death row, Gwen Jackson, COO of SaintHood knew and believed that I was coming home and she got all my music copyrighted for me. She took her own money and got my music copyrighted for me, and as soon as I walked out the door of the prison, a free innocent man, she put me right in the studio with the top producers and musicians in the city. And the love and the guidance from my parents — my father who gave me the love of music, who is now gone and my mom who is still instrumental in my life, and my childhood sweetheart Corby — they are my guiding forces.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never Ever Give Up. I never once believed that my day of truth was not going to happen, and then it did happen. I never gave up, even though I had some dark times I never gave up. And that is why I can tell you no matter where you are at in life, or what your circumstances are. No matter what your dream is, chase after it with reckless abandonment.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Stevie Wonder — he is one of my musical influences. He is the eighth Wonder of the world. This man has given us hit after hit, classic album after classic album, and I would just like to sit and talk to him about the music business and the world in general because he has always had a beautiful sensibility of everything that goes on in the world and that is how I am, through my music I want to represent love, and peace and justice. I want to change things for the better like Stevie Wonder did with music. He is the benchmark.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!