Pass the Mic:
Creating a Stage for Change

Celebrating diverse, underserved, and under-supported artists and audiences

Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change provides an opportunity for artists from marginalized and underserved communities to share their art with others. Through concerts/performances, visual art displays, discussions and panels focusing on important issues, and educational opportunities, artists have the chance to engage with the community. The Tennessee Theatre is proud to provide a space for audiences and artists to better understand one another. 

Upcoming Events

Watch East Tennessee PBS Episodes Here!

Season 1 Episode 1: The Black Opry Revue Featuring Chapel Hart, Jennah Bell, Joy Clark, Kam Franklin, Roberta Lea, Nikki Morgan, and Autumn Nicholas

Season 1 Episode 2: Las Cafeteras and Making Movies

Season 2 Episode 1: The Black Opry Revue Featuring Sunny War, Chris Pierce, Buffalo Nichols, and Adia Victoria

Season 2 Episode 2: Bettye LaVette and Danielle Ponder


Podcast Episode 15: Jonathan "Courageous" Clark

For this episode of Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage For Change, we interviewed Knoxville-based performer and entrepreneur Jonathan “Courageous” Clark. Courageous has been an important figure in the Knoxville theatre community since childhood, and served as Executive and Artistic Director of the Carpetbag Theatre (CBT), Inc. He has toured nationally as a spoken word poet, has worked in nonprofit arts administration, and currently facilitates creative writing & performance workshops for groups of all ages that explore unconscious bias. He is the CEO and Founder of ART.Official Intelligence, a DEI Consulting company, which aims to foster empathy and understanding in the workplace. In this conversation, we discuss the language and rhetoric around social justice, the importance of developing understanding of unconscious bias, and ways that storytelling can strengthen Appalachian communities.

Podcast Episode 14: Devan Jaquez

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we talked to Devan Jaquez who serves as Principal Flutist with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Devan was selected as a finalist in the 2020 Young Concert Artists International Competition, was selected to play in the 2020 Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, was chosen as a 2020 instrumental fellow of the Music Academy of the West (MAW), and was chosen as a winner of the Keston MAX Competition, resulting in a performance with the London Symphony Orchestra. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Devan served as producer and performer for his “Queer Covid Quarantine Commission” recording project, which featured contemporary flute pieces written by queer composers. In this conversation, Devan shares a glimpse into his life as a classical musician, ideas about ways that symphonies can adapt to be more accessible and meet the needs of an evolving audience, experiences as a queer classical musician living in the South, and the importance of making music spaces, including the symphony orchestra, safe and welcoming for all.

The Bristol Sessions Podcast Episodes:

Rene Rodgers and Micah Davidson

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we celebrate the spirit of the 2023 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion by highlighting some of the diverse voices that make this event so special — some attending the festival for the first time, long-time returning festival goers, and some of the folks working within and on the periphery of the event to keep in running smoothly. We had the privilege of speaking to Dr. René Rodgers, the head curator of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, about the museum’s current exhibit entitled “I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music.” We also interviewed talent buyer Micah Davidson, president and founder of Midwood Entertainment. Micah serves as a talent buyer for the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.

Kelsey Waldon

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we talked to Kelsey Waldon at the 2023 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Kelsey Waldon was born and raised in rural Western Kentucky. Originally, she identified primarily as a songwriter, but eventually embraced her distinct singing voice after receiving positive feedback and encouragement. In this conversation, Kelsey shared recent experiences touring and promoting her most recent full-length record, No Regular Dog. Kelsey discusses the influence of her mentor and friend, the late John Prine. She describes her decision to quit drinking, and ways that the choice to become sober has impacted her life and career. We also discussed shared connections to Healing Appalachia, a festival that raises awareness and funds for people in recovery in Southern Appalachia. Finally, we discussed Kelsey’s experiences of being a woman in the music industry and the importance of female friendship and creative collaboration. Special thanks to Seth Hopper for recording this interview in Bristol.

Carlene Carter

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we had the pleasure of talking to Carlene Carter at the 2023 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Carlene shared memories of learning music from her mother, June Carter, and her grandmother "Mother" Maybelle Carter. Her 2014 record Carter Girl celebrates this family history with unique contemporary interpretations of the Carter Family’s original songs. Carlene made a conscious decision to embrace her country roots while also incorporating elements of rock, advice she chose to follow from her step-father Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to ignore boundaries of genres and to focus on creating authentic music. This served her well. Her 1990 album “I Fell in Love” was Grammy-nominated and selected as one of the best albums of the year by Time and People. In this conversation, Carlene shares thoughts about staying connected to the spirit and legacy of her family though music, and the significance of East Tennessee in her family’s history. She also talks about her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated music industry. We appreciate Carlene for making time to share stories about her life and the legacy of the Carter Family.

Alison Brown

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we talked to Alison Brown at the 2023 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Alison is an internationally recognized and GRAMMY winning banjoist known for her roots in bluegrass with elements of jazz. At a pivotal moment in her life, Alison left a career on Wall Street to tour with Alison Krauss and Union Station. She never looked back. Allison has released twelve critically-acclaimed solo albums. In addition to performing, she is a co-founder of the well-respected roots label Compass Records. In this conversation, Alison discusses her career change, the importance of honoring the unique history of the banjo as an African instrument, experiences collaborating with musicians like Steve Martin and Sierra Hull, and her passion for uplifting artists through her record label.

Sierra Hall

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we had the pleasure of talking with mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull at the 2023 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Sierra’s career launched at a young age — at just 12, she performed at Carnegie Hall. Only one year later, she signed a record deal with Rounder Records. In this conversation, Sierra describes ways that the enthusiasm of her family and support of her bluegrass community helped her thrive as a young musician. Sierra also describes what she values within a musical collaborations. Her album Weighted Mind, produced by Bela Fleck, was nominated for Best Folk Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards. While Sierra is immersed in the world of Bluegrass, her music ventures into expansive and imaginative soundscapes beyond its traditions— evidenced beautifully by her most recent full-length release, 25 Trips. The music you hear in this episode was performed live during our interview, and is written by Sierra Hull. Special thanks to Seth Hopper for recording this interview in Bristol.

Beth Snapp

For many talented working musicians, juggling a variety of professional responsibilities and identities is the reality. For this episode of Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage For Change, we talked to singer-songwriter, occupational therapist, and massage therapist Beth Snapp at the 2023 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival. In this episode, Beth discusses her experiences providing healthcare services to patients with COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic, including ways those experiences shaped her songwriting and perspectives on health and healing. She was also candid about the internal struggles that come with balancing different professional identities and uncertainty about what comes next following trauma and burnout that became common for many healthcare providers during and following the pandemic. Finally, Beth also shared her excitement about her upcoming full-length record release, produced by Barry Bales, which will feature some surprise collaborations. We appreciate Beth’s honestly about the joys and challenges of being a professional artist and healthcare provider.

Rebekah Todd

For this episode of Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change, we talked to North Carolina based musician Rebekah Todd at the 2023 Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Rebekah, who identifies her music as “Cosmic Soul Rock,” has won numerous awards and has performed with a wide variety of notable artists including Keller Williams, Big Something, and Vince Herman among others. She hosts the podcast “Rebekah Toddcast,” and also hosts the “Realign” glamping retreat for women and non-binary people in North Carolina. In this episode, Rebekah discusses the North Carolina music scene, experiences with sexism in the music industry, and the importance of women uplifting and protecting one another.


Podcast Episode 13: The Scooches

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we talked with members of the NYC based band the Scooches, named appropriately for the way it “scooches” a wide range of genres and cultures together to create beautiful and eclectic roots music. We talked to founding members and spouses, Betina Hershey and Nick Russo, percussionist Harvey Wirht, originally from Suriname, and vocalist Miles Griffith. In this conversation, members of the Scooches discuss their early experiences of being immersed in music, becoming working musicians and creative multi-taskers in New York City, and what they have learned from one another along the way. We also discussed the inspiration behind their latest full-length release, Lift You Up, including ways that climate change, social injustice, and the pandemic inspired the artists to speak out more directly than ever before, asking listeners to take action.

Podcast Episode 12: The Kentucky Gentlemen

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we talked to Brandon and Derek Campbell, twin brothers who form the country music duo The Kentucky Gentlemen. In this conversation, we delve into their roots, discussing the trials and tribulations of growing up in the small town of Versailles, Kentucky, and how their experiences shaped their music writing to reflect their personal values. We also explore the importance of diversity in the music industry (both on and offstage), their mission to create music that helps people feel a sense of belonging, and even their love languages! The Kentucky Gentlemen were named “Artist to Watch” by NPR and Nashville’s Country Music Almanac in 2023.

Podcast Episode 11: Brian Brown

In this episode of "Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change," we had the pleasure of sitting down with the talented Nashville-based hip-hop artist, Brian Brown. Brian discussed his eclectic musical upbringing and how those early influences continue to shape his unique sound. He shared his journey as a working musician, shedding light on the ongoing pursuit of balance and self-care. During our conversation, Brian highlighted the hypocrisy of Black hip-hop artists being held to a high standard, while mainstream white artists are celebrated even while promoting music that is sexually immature and simplistic. Brian hit on important realities of racial disparities in the music industry along with the overall impact of gentrification in Nashville (all while showcasing a great sense of humor.) 

Podcast Episode 10: mTheory

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we sat down with Tiffany Provenzano and Ahsaki LaFrance-Chachere, two music industry professionals involved with Nashville-based mTheory‘s Equal Access Development Program. The mission of this 12-month program is to uplift underrepresented voices in country music by extending funding, training, and access to industry leaders to both artists and managers in the industry. In this conversation, Tiffany, the Director of the Equal Access Development Program, and Ahsaki, a management professional from the 2023 cohort, share their unique perspectives with the program. Tiffany describes the importance of using her privilege to be an effective ally to professionals in the arts who have historically experienced marginalization, while Ahsaki explains how her identity as a Navajo and African American woman allows her to inspire diverse voices in the world of country music.

Podcast Episode 9: Adia Victoria

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we sat down with Nashville-based blues musician Adia Victoria. Adia was born in South Carolina, lived in Europe for a period of time, and eventually landed in Nashville in 2010. Adia honors Blues traditions while carving out a space for her own unique voice and sound as a contemporary Blues songwriter and musician. In this conversation, Adia describes the significance of the Blues, and what it still has to teach us. Although she doesn’t describe herself as a teacher, her relationship with the blues and current events is informative and important, and we're sure that you'll learn something from her. She also describes letting go of the expectations of others, finding a sense of peace outside of the city, and nurturing important relationships. Songs are her way to socialize and keep connected to the world.

Podcast Episode 8: Obayana Ajanaku

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we had the opportunity to talk with Knoxville-based percussionist and educator Obayana Ajanaku. Obayana has been studying West African drumming since the age of 6. He is a lifelong student of African percussion, and continues to pursue opportunities to develop his performing skills and expertise of African music. He has performed both internationally and across the United States. Obayana serves as the West African drum instructor at Austin East High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. In response to gun violence that resulted in the deaths of three Austin East High School students, Obayana founded the Drums Up, Guns Down program. Drums Up, Guns Down aims to stop the cycle of gun violence by providing students with an outlet for expressing emotions, and a meaningful space to heal from trauma. The program’s website states that “through the process of learning to drum, participants will not only experience emotional healing, but will be able to express themselves, develop effective communication and problem-solving skills, and learn to work with others in a positive environment.”  We are grateful to Obayana for sharing his time and thoughts about ways that music creates safety and healing, particularly for Black students who are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

Podcast Episode 7: Robbie Lynn Hunsinger

This episode of Pass the Mic features Nashville-based artist Robbie Lynn Hunsinger. For many years, Robbie Lynn worked as a top notch classical oboist in Atlanta, New York and Chicago. Recently she has become a sought after media and concert artist, a composer, multi-instrumentalist, creative technologist, improviser and educator. Robbie Lynn is a pioneer in Western and Eastern oboe, multimedia performance and responsive art installation. She has been an obbligato soloist with the Chicago Symphony and played improvised music duets with Evan Parker. Her list of credits include playing English Horn on the Chicago Symphony’s triple Grammy Winner “The Wooden Prince” with Pierre Boulez and touring France as an Oboe d’ Amore soloist with Robert Shaw’s Choral Institute. She has played with Myra Melford, Ken Vandermark, Tatsu Aoki and Rob Mazurek and was a leader for the “Trio” album with the late Art Ensemble of Chicago and AACM Founder Joseph Jarman which received a 4 Star review in Downbeat. Festival credits include Marlboro Music Festival, Blossom Music Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Chicago World Music Festival and SXSW. In this conversation, we talk about adapting to physical challenges and embracing new approaches to performing, finding community through environmental and wildlife activism, the impacts of discrimination toward the LGBTQ community in Tennessee, and the importance of self-expression and creative play.

Podcast Episode 6: Dom Flemons

This episode of Pass the Mic features Dom Flemons, also known as the “American Songster. Dom is Grammy winning recording artist, two-time Emmy nominee, and a 2020 U.S. Artists Fellow. His repertoire covers a century of American Roots music. In addition to being an accomplished songwriter and instrumentalist, Dom is a music scholar, record collector, actor, poet, and creator of the “American Songster” radio program based in Nashville. In his early career, Dom formed the Carolina Chocolate drops alongside Rhiannon Giddons and Justin Robinson. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of African American Music. Dom has released numerous solo records including Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibuson Omnivore Recordings; Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys, which was co-produced bythe Smithsonian National Museum of African American History; and his most recent solo release, Traveling Wildfire, which contains original songs that honor traditional elements of American roots music while also telling personal stories.   

Podcast Episode 5: Daisha McBride - The Rap Girl

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we sat down with Nashville-based hip hop artist Daisha McBride, also known as The Rap Girl.  Daisha first gained attention for her music while recording and sharing videos of herself rapping while attending MTSU as a college student. At the age of 27, Daisha has already released three full-length albums and numerous singles. She is the subject of the recent documentaryIn Her Elementdirected by Idil Ibrahim. The documentary was featured on BET as part of itsQueen Collectiveseries, hosted by Queen Latifah, which is an initiative showcasing Black female and nonbinary filmmakers. In this conversation, Daisha discusses her dedication to emotional vulnerability and authenticity within her music, including her exploration of her own queer identity. She also shares her thoughts about Nashville’s relationship with the Black hip-hop community, including structural barriers and racism that can limit access to opportunities that are often readily provided to white country artists. 

Podcast Episode 4: Andrea Kukuly Uriarte

For this episode of Pass the Mic, we talked to Knoxville-based musician Andrea Kukuly Uriarte (they/them). Andrea performed with their band Rica Chica at the 2023 Beg Ears Festival, which was described byOxford Americanas “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over. Rica Chicha’s sound is inspired by psychedelic Peruvian cumbia groups of the 1960s, and by Argentinian and Peruvian folk, punk, rock, and ska from the 1980s and 1990s. Andrea was born in Peru, immigrated to Argentina during childhood, and then later to East Tennessee in their early teens. Each of these moves was driven by a need to escape unsafe circumstances arising from tumultuous political events. Andrea’s musical identity is a culmination of many cultural influences and explorations. For this particular episode, Andrea crafted and recorded stories and reflections of their life, and thoughtfully paired these stories with pieces of music representative of the corresponding geography and cultures. Andrea is a non-binary, Latinx immigrant and survivor of generational trauma. They are also an artist, activist, and a bridge between cultures. Andrea’s story is entirely unique, yet also captures the struggles, joy, and resilience common to the immigrant experience and queer experience in America. 

Podcast Episode 3: Donald Brown and Taber Gable

For this episode of Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change, we sat down to chat with two Knoxville based jazz pianists: Donald Brown and Taber Gable. These two talented musicians represent different generations, yet share some common experiences and a passion for nurturing others in their East Tennessee communities through the arts. Donald Brown is an accomplished pianist, composer, and producer. He grew up in Memphis Tennessee, and is one of eleven children. He began studying piano at Memphis State in 1972. During his time in Memphis, Donald performed with artists like Rufus Thomas, The Soul Children, and Al Green. He performed in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers prior to taking a teaching position at Berkeley College of Music for several years. He then moved to Knoxville to become a member of the jazz faculty at the University of Tennessee, where he taught for the next 32 years. Taber Gable grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and began playing piano at age 9.  He began taking lessons at the Joy of Music School, and had opportunities to study with a number of instructors including Donald Brown and Jerry Coker. He earned bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Hartford, then went on to earn a master’s degree in Jazz Performance at the Juilliard School where studied under Kenny Barron and Wynton Marsalis among others. Taber released his debut record, Hidden Driveways, in 2020, which reflects his eclectic musical influences. He currently hosts the radio program Improvisations on WUOT.

Podcast Episode 2: Holly G and Kelle Jolly 

For close to a century, the Grand Ole Opry has been at the heart of country music. Despite country music’s roots in African American culture and traditional African instruments, Black musicians only represent 1% of the Grand Ole Opry…but the Black Opry is changing that. In this episode that aired June 1, we sit down with Holly G, the founder of the Black Opry, and East Tennessee’s own Kelle Jolly to learn more about their experiences (good and bad), inspirations, and hopes for the future of the industry.

Podcast Episode 1: Allison Russell 

The Tennessee Theatre is proud to release its debut podcast episode as part of its “Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change” series. The new episode, which aired May 18, features Grammy-nominated Allison Russell. In the episode, Russell discusses her work on Love Rising (a benefit concert for LGBTQ causes), recent gun violence that has impacted Nashville, and the country and the role arts can play in making positive change. “While we have been working on producing a new Pass the Mic podcast series for some time now and look forward to sharing more episodes with you very soon, our host, Cecilia Wright, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Allison Russell,” said Becky Hancock, executive director of the Tennessee Theatre. “In light of recent events in Tennessee, this conversation felt important to share as soon as possible.” 


Songs That Make a Difference - Virtual Event with Chris Pierce

In August, singer-songwriter Chris Pierce joined us to discuss his journey as a singer/songwriter in “Songs that Make a Difference,” a live video program shared with local East Tennessee students. We’re excited to share this video with you now as part of our Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change series.

This project is funded is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.





In 2022, the Tennessee Theatre launched a new series of immersive arts events titled, “Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change.” The series provides a stage for artists from marginalized and underserved communities to share their art with a broader East Tennessee audience.

Tennessee Theatre leadership and a community advisory group presented three concerts in 2022, featuring artists such as Black Opry Revue, Bettye LaVette, Danielle Ponder, Las Cafeteras, and Making Movies. Each performance also incorporated education and outreach opportunities in the communities that the series strives to reach.

“It is our hope to provide opportunities for new communities to experience the Tennessee Theatre, in addition to providing a stage for artists to share their craft,” Theatre Executive Director Becky Hancock said. “As a southern venue that was segregated for the first 35 years of its existence, the Tennessee Theatre of today has a strong desire to partner with and feature artists of color and those from other marginalized communities, especially those that may experience systemic obstacles to greater commercial success, to demonstrate that it is truly a venue for all people.”

In addition to the “Pass the Mic” events that will take place in person, a virtual product will be distributed via podcast and video to increase the accessibility of the theatre to more people and remove barriers to participation for the audience. As another facet of the initiative, community members will have opportunities to connect and interact through educational programs, such as masterclasses and workshops, and complementary partnerships with nonprofits. Stay tuned for more information about the release of the virtual series!

In addition to presenting regional talent through concerts, each event will incorporate other art forms through visual art galleries, spoken word performances, readings and other experiences featuring local artists. We are now accepting submissions for upcoming events. Please complete the form linked here if you are interested!

This project is being supported, in part, by federal award number SLFRP5534 awarded to the State of Tennessee by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as well as generous support from the following organizations: