Art Intersections Ed Washington, our very own hopeless romantic
by liz rangel
From graduating from the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s music department in 2016 to winning 3 of Alaska’s Hip-hop and R&B Music Awards, earning him a Legislative Citation for his accomplishments and contributions to the local art sphere -- Edward Washington II is easily the most successful Black singer/songwriter in Alaska. Being an expert producer, keyboard player, and bassist has opened many doors, but his croon has stolen hearts. The self-proclaimed hopeless romantic shares tough lessons learned while performing and producing music in Anchorage.
How long have you been performing? “At Bartlett (High School) I did theatre and step team. I used to dance. And when I went to UAA to study music -- classical because it was all that was offered -- I was exposed to theatre and choral music and opera. But my heart was always in pop, so I kept producing, self-taught, and continued until I was in a place where I could ask more questions and grow. 2016 is around when I started writing my own songs and performing them publicly.”
Why R&B? “I learned to sing by listening to R&B. I love Brandy, Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean, etc. My voice is soulful. I have my background in Gospel, Soul, and R&B, but I love all music. I feel like there’s no better time than the present to make your life’s work and I think the pandemic forced introspection that made me realize I don’t need to hold back creatively. I just want to have fun.”
Has social media helped you promote your music on your own terms? “As an artist in Alaska, if your work isn’t received here right away, you can put time and energy into TikTok and access audiences you otherwise wouldn’t reach. That’s the beauty of the internet. I’ve slowly found my audience with the music I love to make -- and that’s really the trick, is finding your audience. Because whatever you feel as an artist, there’s at least 10 thousand other people out there who feel that same way. You just have to find them.”
Have you had to adapt your performances for local audiences? “I came into the scene not playing the music I actually wanted to play because I realized I was better received while performing covers or playing in bands. For a while there, folk music was the genre of this state and there were many venues in town for artists in rock and folk, and access to hip-hop and R&B was limited publicly, like it was just a black thing. Based on the shows being presented to us in Alaska, you would think there isn't a market for more diverse music but it’s not true. There hasn't been enough thought into inclusion. That’s slowly changing as people realize it can be lucrative. Even then, if a show isn’t guaranteed to sell, it’s not going to happen. Thing is, you can’t know an artist will sell tickets unless you offer them that chance.”
Are there other barriers for Black performers in town? “It was at UAA that I realized there's a stigma around hip-hop shows. I was working for Student Activities where I was basically told they don't do hip hop shows. Maybe a fight broke out years ago or some kids had too much fun and nobody forgot. Later I learned certain clubs downtown give their DJ’s a quota on how many hip-hop songs they can play. They can't do a full hip-hop set, so things become segregated because you have to go to LED for Latino or hip-hop music. And if people don't feel safe going there, well there's some more stigma… And then there’s places where you only get full hip-hop shows when it's ‘Drake Night.’ These venues really just want to be marketable to white people. So, I’ve often had to create my own spaces.”
What advice do you have for Black performers new to the scene? “Relationships get strained when you’re trying to advocate for yourself in a music business setting with people who are your friends and only see you that way. That transition to better business practices takes time, effort, and respect. The business side of the industry is very dense, but it’s necessary to have some comprehension there. T-Pain said, ‘if you want to be an entrepreneur in music, you need to know everything about it -- from the creation of the song, all the way to selling it to your audience.’ Even without a big support system, knowing how to make a beat and write a song, record it, mix it, master it, and maybe make the art for the cover, and engage your audience on social media -- that’s your foundation. Maybe you won't be perfect at everything, but people want to know that you can create your own vision before they can get behind it themselves.”
Stream Edward Washington II’s second EP, Stoicism, on Spotify and Apple Music. You can follow @ed_washingtonii on Instagram for updates on his local performance schedule.
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