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Spotify Hosts 1619 Podcast Listening Party at Howard University

Students participated in a listening party held by Spotify in the Blackburn Ballroom.

Knight Chair in Race and Journalism Nikole Hannah-Jones moderates a discussion with students Jacob Smith, Trinity Webster-Bass and Zoe Cummings at the “1619: College Edition” listening party in the Blackburn Ballroom. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

Spotify took over the Armour J. Blackburn University Center’s ballroom to hold a listening party for the student-produced podcast series “1619: The College Edition” on April 16. 

The podcast is a result of the partnership between Spotify’s NextGen program and Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones’ renowned “The 1619 Project” course. Spotify provided equipment and podcast production training for 19 students to learn how to edit, produce and host a podcast. The ideas behind the episodes came from students examining the ways slavery impacts their lives and connects to the modern-day. 

“The most important thing to me for this podcast was the students’ voice and the subjects that we were going to cover were going to come from them, and they were going to cover them in their own way,” Hannah-Jones said.

Hannah-Jones said she wanted the students to feel inspired as they continued to research and analyze historical readings. 

The essays of three students from the 1619 course were turned into three episodes. “Principles of Drip” discusses the origin of modern-day ‘drip’ culture and Black fashion. “Color Theory” dives into the topic of colorism. “Queer Seminar” memorializes O’Shae Shibley, a 28-year-old gay Black man, and explores Black queer activism from slavery until today.

“I wanted to do the project because I wanted to know how students would interpret the ‘1619’ project,” Hannah-Jones said. “How might we see things differently, or think about different things if it’s through the lens of a younger person is my favorite part. If you listen to ‘1619,’ the podcast that I created, and you listen to this, you’ll see how they both go together but are also very distinct.” 

Kristin Jarrett is the lead of Equity, Diversity and Impact at Spotify. NextGen has previously partnered with other universities and recently expanded the program to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

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Students stand for applause during the “1619: College Edition” listening party in the Blackburn Ballroom on April 16, 2024. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

“I think it’s important that we’re focusing on schools, where there is a larger access gap to the industry. We know that there will be stories and of shifts in culture that we’re missing if we’re not tapping into that source,” Jarrett said.

The collaboration came about because NextGen had Howard on their radar and wanted to work with communications students with a background in storytelling.

“We thought it was really interesting to figure out how we could translate that to audio. So knowing that she was teaching her 1619 course, we were like, that could be really interesting if [Hannah-Jones] was interested in creating some type of podcast with her students,” Jarett said.

“When I reached out to her, never in a million years would she say yes. She was like, ‘I’m in, let’s do it.’ So, we were able to co-design the curriculum and it just came together.”

Jarrett, a Spelman alum, was thoroughly impressed with the students.

“Howard changed the game in every way, in having confidence in how much we could push our students. Sometimes, we have been a bit reserved with general training and guidance. Like, we can take this on for them, but they have the ability to get in and do the work… I think pushing them to get that involved was one of the greatest lessons I think we learned,” she said.

A DJ and a podcast-themed photobooth set the vibe for attendees. The event kicked off with an introduction by Howard’s “Showtime” Marching Band and short speeches from Dean Gracie Lawson-Borders and Provost Anthony Wuthoh. The panel with Hannah-Jones and three student creators: Jacob Smith, Trinity Webster-Bass and Zoe Cummings followed. Audio clips of the podcast were interwoven with the discussion.

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Howard’s “Showtime” Marching band performing at the “1619: College Edition” listening party in the Blackburn Ballroom. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

Spotify also recognized sophomore journalism major Karys Hylton as the 2024 NextGen scholar. Hylton received a $10,000 scholarship. 

Danilo Wrightsell, a junior broadcast journalism major, served as the host for the last episode of the series. He says that participating in the project was an immersive and “life-changing experience.”

“I got tools that I will use for the rest of my life. Trinity spoke about the interviewing masterclass that Professor Jones did with all the hosts and the producers. Those skills are what I used to be able to perfectly nurture a conversation… It also taught me how to work collaboratively with a team of different writers, producers and engineers,” he said.

Students from the 1619 Project class behind the podcast pose for a photo during the listening party. (Juan Benn Jr./The Hilltop)

Wrightsell said this was a great way to recognize that hard work was the best part of this event. 

“Not many people can walk away with a Spotify-stamped podcast to their name. Like, that’s on my resume,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with my team and see our hard work come into fruition was really amazing.”

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady

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