At the age of three, Jamelle Houston sat at his grandparents’ piano at their home in Temple, Texas and struck a chord for the first time. In that moment, his family knew that he had a gift that runs in the family. His grandfather, John Wilson, was a drummer in the 1960s Texas funk band, the Brothers Seven. He inspired Jamelle to become a musician, and is also the reason why he wants to pursue music law.
“It goes back to my grandfather and his group,” he says. “They have a song called ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ and we’ve always wondered … I’m not saying nothing, but if you go and you listen to, ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ by Minnie Nelson and the Brothers Seven, and then you go and you listen to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I just wonder sometimes, I’m going to leave it at that.”
This fall, Jamelle is starting the music business master’s program with Berklee Online. He wants to empower himself and others to protect their music and art. One day, he would like to create a documentary about the Brothers Seven and shine a light on his grandfather’s legacy, and the possible copyright infringement case.
“That really sparked something in me,” he says. “There are so many stories of that out there. And I just want to make sure that people have the knowledge and know this is what they should be doing as it relates to intellectual property.”
Jamelle has established his music career in LA and toured the world with various musical acts, but his roots are strong in his hometown of Temple, Texas, and he’s very much invested in improving the town for the better. It’s a place where he and his grandfather’s musical endeavors began, a place he returns to each summer to give back through his nonprofit music camp, and a place that is currently grappling with racial injustice during the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jamelle moved to LA in 2011 to attend the Independent Artist Program at Musicians Institute, and attributes part of his success to the relationships that he’s built with musicians in his community. As a session pianist and keyboardist, he went on to tour with acts such as Conrad Sewell and AJ Mitchell, performing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Today Show. He realized that Temple was lacking musical community and opportunities, so he took it upon himself to foster music and art in a town where sports were prioritized.
“In my hometown, there are just no opportunities or platforms for those young creatives,” he says. “You have baseball camps, soccer camp, every other camp, but you got all these creatives that are just dying to get around other creatives. And I was just like, ‘I guess it’s up to me.’”
In 2015, Jamelle established his nonprofit, the Academy of Art Music Performance and Dance (AAMP’D), where students can learn everything from songwriting to hip-hop, dance, theater, voice, photography, and more. Every summer, he goes back to Temple with his friends from LA to run the camp and teach the various courses. Among the AAMP’D teachers are Jacob Lusk, a former American Idol contestant who now teaches voice; Justin Arrington, an artist who teaches contemporary dance; and Patrick Gamble (PatG), who teaches hip-hop. The camp caps at 100 students and Jamelle says that these students are quite literally amped up to get started every summer.
“When I tell you, they come ready, they’re like, ‘Hey Jamelle, you know, I sat at home last night, and I was thinking, on the chorus,’ I’m just like, ‘Okay! Let’s work,’” he says.
Because of the pandemic, Jamelle paused the 2020 program with plans to come back in 2021. He didn’t travel to Temple this summer for the first time in five years, but his hometown has been on his mind, especially during the Black Lives Matter movement.
In December 2019, Jamelle’s friend Michael Dean was fatally shot in the head by former Temple police officer Carmen DeCruz after he was pulled over for a traffic stop. This summer, Dean’s family visited the White House with other parents of Black men who have been killed at the hands of police brutality. Jamelle says that what upsets him the most is that justice has not been served, which underscores the importance of the current movement.
“It’s been really hard because it just feels like the biggest coverup I’ve ever seen in my life, and Temple is a small community,” he says. “They’ve admitted, ‘We’ve never had anything like this happen. We don’t really know what to do, or how to do it,’ and I’m like, just do what’s right. That’s all we’re asking, that’s it.”
He says that this hit him personally, not only because Dean was his friend, but because Jamelle is a Black man in America himself."That’s why I’m glad that there’s an awakening of what’s really going on. You really do, as a person of color, have to move about differently." —Jamelle Houston Click To Tweet
“I have that story of being racially profiled and pulled over,” he says. “Put in handcuffs, just because you know, you fit the description. And I’m asking them, ‘Well, why was I pulled over?’ It hits close to home and people don’t realize it. That’s why I’m glad that there’s an awakening of what’s really going on. You really do, as a person of color, have to move about differently. It just is what it is.”
Although there is more progress to be made, Jamelle says it’s been amazing to see the support from around the world. As he begins his music business master’s program this fall, Jamelle is going to use his education to create more good in Temple and beyond, whether he’s fighting for his grandfather’s copyrights, providing children music education, or fighting for racial justice.
“I believe that we all have some level of influence and purpose as it relates to our gifts,” he says. “I would hope that my musical gifts and contribution to the world would influence and inspire other creatives to realize that there’s a world out there waiting on the gifts that you have to offer!”