Shawn Elle Montgomery is a digital maven and queen of all trades within the world of marketing and storytelling. Blake had a chance to talk with her about her roots in Marrero and how she built her career working with different creatives over time.
Blake: Shawn I appreciate you taking the time to meet today. I am talking to folks around town that are doing interesting stuff. Trying to talk to experts in their field. Those with knowledge of the architecture and history of our neighborhoods. People who help to create the culture and keep things here interesting. So a bit of the old with the new. In the end stories that are evergreen. Content that has a longer shelf life.
Shawn: Definitely. I don't think people really understand how historically centered this city is and how much we have contributed to America as a whole.
It is almost mind boggling to me how people don't realize that Plessy vs. Ferguson is right around the corner here. I am fascinated by the history of the city. The red light district, the horse and pony show, the fact that prostitution was legal here.
New Orleans history is my hobby for lack of a better term. I have always loved the stories of the gangsters. Carlos Marcello is one of my favorites. One of my favorite people to read about. There used to be this woman, her name was the Queen of Dauphine. She was the madam of the Quarter. The original madam. She had the little black book on the who's who of everyone here in the city. Facinating stuff.
Blake: Since we're talking history, let's talk a little bit about your history. What's up with Marrero? Do you still have roots in the West Bank?
Shawn: Born and raised. Cruising down the street, real slow with the fellas be yelling Marrero!
Yes, I am born and raised in Marrero. As you can tell, super, super proud of it. My father was born and raised in Marrero as well. Deep, family roots there. From the fifties to the sixties if you were black and educated on the West Bank and in Marrero specifically there was only one school that you could go to and the name of that school was actually called the Fourth Ward.
All of my great aunts were educators. So one of my great aunts, Vera Meyers, she was the principal of the school. You had Edith Butler who was her sister, who was the a physical education teacher. You had Jesse Collins who was there also, their sister, who was the dietitian and ran the kitchen. There is also within that lineage their brother, who is with Judge Lionel Collins, who was the first black lawyer as well as black judge in Jefferson Parish.
Yes, I am very proud to be from Marrero. I actually grew up in the deep parts of Marrero. Along the bayou, all the way to the back of Barataria, just about parallel to Lafitte. My name is Shawn because my mom had her mindset on having a boy and they got me instead. So I grew up checking rabbit traps and shooting guns in the woods and on a boat.
So you can imagine I was my dad's homie. I can tell you every type of fish that's native to New Orleans. We can talk red fish, we can talk bass, we can talk speckled trout. I can tell you the difference between freshwater, saltwater, brackish water. I can fillet a fish and probably about five minutes flat.
Yeah, I am definitely a Bayou girl, Marrero, born and raised. And it's really funny because me and my sister were talking over Christmas. And she was saying, she was like, you know what? Out of all of us, you were the only one that's truly from Marrero because she was born at Charity. My father was born at Charity. My mother is actually originally from Gulfport, Mississippi and even my daughter was born at Baptist. So I am the lone, true Marrero and from the family. So I, wear that badge quite proudly for sure.
Blake: That is awesome. Deep Marrero roots. I was talking to our mutual friend Jonathan and asking him who he thought would be cool folks in town to talk to for an interview series. And your name came up, I think, probably 1st or 2nd people he mentioned. What is your connection with Jonathan. Is it with Studio3 and float building? Or is it through JamNola?
Shawn: Jonathan and I actually go back a little bit further than that. When I met him, I was the sales and marketing director at a senior living community on the West Bank. I met Jonathan because he was looking for a place for his mom. I was the one who actually moved her in, gave him the tour. And really just walked him through the process of getting his mom settled in this new community.
Then from there we has a series that we did that was called “Honoring Our Elders” and working with seniors in New Orleans. We got to tell their stories and hear their stories. Through that Jonathan and I connected because I wanted to honor his mom as well as the entire Berticelli family, just with all of the their contributions to the city. From Mr. Bingle, to the Frank Davis statue, to Louis Armstrong and more recently the King Cake Baby costume.
His mom was one of the first masseuse in Italy. He used to tell me this story about how she would put him on the front and his brother on the back and they would write his appointments and they would sit on this, they would sit outside and wait for her to finish her massage therapy. Then carry on to then next appointment in their town in Italy.
Then later on I found my way into art. I tell people all the time that I am not an artist. I am a creative. Artists work in certain mediums, right? And as a creative, I guess I am able to work through and strategize and execute the work of those artists.
I then moved into working in artist management as a marketing strategist. So that's what I do here at Jam NOLA. I run all of our digital marketing content creation are executing of any of our sales and things like that. But I also do that on the artist management side as well. I work with a company that's based out of new Orleans called Second Son Productions. We're a management company. We manage Laila Hathaway, local Chief Odule, formerly known as Christian Scott, Derek Hodge, Robert Glasper Taylor McFerrin, Ed Scott, just to name a few. And outside of that, I am basically the person that is in charge of your digital footprint. And your brand. So I'm the person that's making sure that we are staying in our brain management, making sure that we're staying true to our brand. But also connecting the dots to be sure that we're giving back and doing our due diligence as well.
Blake: The way you described your skill set reminds me of a time I was at a crossroads trying to figure out exactly what my own career was exactly. I've always worked for myself as an entrepreneur and I never really was specializing in one field. A friend of mine pointed out that I was basically operating as a Producer. Having ideas and putting teams together to bring those ideas to life. Sometimes it feels like herding cats but it is always collaborative with teams.
Shawn: Yeah, I just i'm just starting to embrace the term Producer. It comes with so many different things in my background. I have a bachelor's in Mass Communications and a minor in Arabic. I also have a Master's in Business Administration and so for me, maybe I am really a Producer. But am I producing this content? Like where do I, fall in this creative process? So it's always hard to put a nail in the head of what I do just because it is so vast.
I enjoy working with smaller mom and pop shops as well as working for myself as an entrepreneur just because I feel like you get more value, you get more of the appreciation than those corporate 500 companies. With them you're just another name on a sheet of paper. Whereas here you're able to build build teams and truly see your work come to fruition, and see everything come together.
Blake: Are there specific experiences or certain moments that stick out to you that have been significant in terms of impacting the creative journey you're on right now?
Shawn: Yeah, actually, I got into the music business by happenstance. I have a four year old her name is actually Calliope. Yes. Spelled C. A. L. L. I. O. P. E. People always laugh at me. I get to give the little spiel that Calliope was the muse of the arts and poetry. But I did go a bit further and her middle name is Olivia. So technically the child's name is Callie-Oh. We all call her Callie.
Having her and being a mom totally changed me. I didn’t want my daughter seeing me working a nine to five, just going in and out doing what I needed to do just in order to make ends meet. I wanted to truly enjoy what I did and love what I do and be able to pass it along to her.
So after a while I got tired and I quit and I took a chance. A chance in the music industry. I started working on Robert Glasper's Black Radio Three Project. Literally three days before it was released. I had a meeting on a Monday and by that Tuesday I'd accepted the position and by Wednesday at midnight, the entire album was dropping. So I got to work on that project from beginning to end the entire rollout of it. Everything that went with it, from digital to working with the label team on our messaging and things like that. So I went into my first year in the music industry with three Grammy nominations and then securing a Grammy. That was definitely a highlight. After the Grammys we went viral right after that with the whole Chris Brown situation. I was a little upset about that. But I would say that the highlight thus far has been us being nominated and winning a Grammy. This year we are nominated in two categories as well for the Grammys again.
Recently I got to produce a really great series. It was funny. It was a spoof. It was a spoof series. He was stopped by TMZ in the airport recently. And he thought that it was a smart thing to challenge Chris Brown to a dance off. So he sends me this link. He's like “yeah, TMZ just stopped me. Here's this.” I took literally everything that he gave me and produced it into a five episode series of him getting ready for this makeshift dance off. Then from there we've gotten some nods from different producers and different directors to get him into the acting realm. I am proud of that as well.
Another one of my other client’s is Derrick Hodge. He’s an amazingly talented composer and bassist. The opening baseline on Common’s Be, that's all him. He has played on some of music’s most iconic albums, written & performed breakthrough orchestral arrangements and compositions, scored an impressive catalog of film and television work and created evocative sonic installations for prestigious cultural institutions. Last year he arranged and conducted Jeezy's Thug Motivation 101 with the Atlanta Symphony.
In 2022, CNN hosted a global celebration of Juneteenth at The Hollywood Bowl featuring the first all black orchestra with music arranged and conducted by Hodge.
I’m lucky. I get a chance to come up with some really cool ideas and work with some really amazing people.
When you bring it full circle and come back to New Orleans, the place that I love and I know and love that I can call home, being able to share Johnny and Chad's love letter to New Orleans. They call JamNola their love letter to the city. It's just a wonderful snapshot of our culture, our people, our food, you know how we celebrate all we need is a reason in New Orleans to throw a party. Being able to share the things that I love so much with so many people, always, makes it worth the hard work.
Blake: Working in digital, one of the things that I've talked to some friends about who grew up here is how the growth of the smartphone, while it's a powerful tool, has killed off a bit of the happenstance that can happen in New Orleans. No surprises. It can hurt the local social scene.
Do you think digital tools have benefited or maybe hurt this sort of thing? The loss of Surprise, of happenstance, accidental experiences you might have in the city.
Shawn: It's a catch 22 because, of course, as a digital marketing strategist, digital marketing manager I'm of course going to see all of the advantages to digital media. As a 34 year old and seeing the generation come up behind us that has never experienced life without social media, this kind of “instant society”, I'm just like, bro, y'all would have never made it back then. It's a catch 22 because even as a digital marketer, and don't tell anybody, but I will take a break from time to time.
I totally see the advantages of social media, being able to communicate things as quickly as possible over these multiple streams. However, I see the the other side. The disadvantage of that speed of spread. How much of this is accurate? How much fact checking is really being done? How many of these social media influencers are doing their due diligence and doing their research? Technically you are a borderline journalist depending upon what your platform is, based on and what type of information you're sharing and things like that.
I can see both sides of it, but I also like I said, as a digital marketing manager, it's my job to manage probably six different people's social media platforms a day. And that can vary, in that can be three to four platforms per person.
The younger kids who are coming up, they don't know life without it. Which is very interesting. I can't wait to see 10, 20 years from now. You know what digital, what this space will look like. As young people get more ingrained in it.
Blake: What is your advice to someone who's high school or college, who is interested in pursuing something similar to the field that you're working within?
Shawn: My advice to them would be, number one: you have to be able to write.
So yes you, can create all the content that you want. It can be as cool and as goofy as you want it to be. But your, language skills are going to be most important. Outside of the production and everything else that I do, writing is very important. I consider myself a wordsmith. When you look at, when you look at all of the things that you write, all of the articles that you read, all of the quotes that you get from artists or whatever, as much as we would love to think that those artists are sitting there putting those quotes together, nine times out of 10 someone from their team has written that quote, giving it to them, they've made a tweak or they've just approved it. Then you move on your merrily way.
You are in charge of a brand. So integrity is huge. That's one of the words that me and my four year old talk about all the time is integrity. And she will tell you at four, I'll ask her, Calliope, what's integrity? Doing the right thing even when no one's watching. And so I would say that if you don't have integrity and if you're not willing to say No then this probably wouldn't be the best industry for you.
As far as within social media platforms, within that creative side of things, there's always going to be a need for storytellers. Cause that's essentially what it is. We're really good storytellers. Someone gives us an idea and it's our job to execute and strategize around it. You know what that story will be and how it's going to connect with the identified audience. I would tell the young person starting out to make sure that you understand your audience, making sure that you understand who you're catering to, making sure that you also understand the person that you're representing because you are their voice essentially, right?
So, I guess overall, my advice would be do not drop out of school because it’s still takes some education in order to be an influence or an influencer or a producer or whatever it is that you want to pursue. Have integrity, be able to speak up for yourself. Also be able to articulate, both verbally and written, your thoughts.
Blake: That's great advice. I think the idea of being a storyteller, it may be something that just comes from living in the South or living in New Orleans. It seems to be a trait that a lot of people have down here.
Shawn: You are absolutely correct. You are absolutely correct, because you can ask someone one question or ask three people the same question. You're going to get a different story for how it came to be or something like that. But I've never thought about it in that way, Blake. I think that you're absolutely correct. It's something about the South that we enjoy being able to tell our stories. A lot of it is also linked to lineage and to family history. That continues to be passed on by word of mouth. Yeah I have to agree with with the storytelling aspect of it. That's, definitely a southern trait for sure.
Blake: So when you have to turn it all off, obviously working in this digital space, social media, it's part of the job to always be connected. But when you do actually put the phone down or log off, what do you do? Where do you go? Obviously with your four year old, there are some options in town. What do you do on the weekend?
Shawn: I tell people all the time that I've created a little monster, because this child that I have. I practice attachment parenting, so there's not many places that I don't take her. So at four, she's been to the Blue Note. She has been to Blue Note Napa Jazz Fest.
She's been to Houston. And she, essentially has the opportunity, has grown up at festivals, for lack of a better term. And I think that's something that I took from my dad. Like I said, my dad was my homie. So when we weren't hunting and checking rabbit traps or on a boat, the other thing, our other love was the French Quarter.
He loved the city. That man has told me stories about him and his friends trying to bike across the Crescent City Connection Bridge from Morero. Or being found or skipping school, catching the ferry and going to get hot dogs or whatever at some lunch counter and being caught by the principal.
I think that he gave me every bit of that love for the city and that kind of mischievous nature in a sense. And so that's who I am as a parent. I think we've all been to a festival and there's a kind of a dad that's just laying there in the grass and there's a kid that's just a few feet away, just living their best life. With either some bubbles or something, just dancing to the music, just enjoying their time, just a barefoot in the grass kind of situation. That was me growing up. And now it's my daughter. She can give you a tour of JamNola better than anybody else. She can walk in and say, in this room is this and this room that.
This was her first year going to French Quarter Festival with my mom and my sister. And I asked her, I said “Callie how was, the festival?” She says, “Mommy it was okay. But, they didn't know how to get me backstage.” I said, “Come again, honey.” She said, “They didn't know how to get me backstage to where Nani was.” Her godmother is Angelica Jelly Joseph."T"hey didn't know how to get me backstage, mommy. I don't think they know how to do it. Can you show them?” So yeah, it's things like that.
When I first started out in this industry it was with Tank the Bangas and Big Frida working for Mid Citizen. Callie has grown up with Big Frida. Whenever she can go and see FreeFree, or go and see Miss Tanky, as she calls them, she is there like Jonnie on the spot.
She is literally my sidekick. She's absolutely amazing. I call her my joy personified. So yeah, we spend a lot of time just hanging out. We enjoy the park. We enjoy the city. She's old enough now where she can keep up. She can keep up walking so we don't have to do as many stroller things and things like that.
And we live in the point and she loves a good ferry ride. So like literally on a Sunday, if it's pretty out and we just want to get out, will take the ferry, catch the ferry across and just take a walk and then go back. So she's a very, special girl that is growing up in quite an amazing time.
I hope that when she looks back in the next five years, 10 years, 15 years, and she's able to reflect on some of the spaces that she's been been in or some of the people that she's met or some of the things that she's been able to do all before the age of five. She’ll appreciate it.
Blake: That sounds great. You sound like you're a really good mom. It's a great experience.
Shawn: Thank you so much. That means the most to me.
Blake: So one last question. The biggest question of them all. If you were mayor, what are three things that you would try and institute in your first 100 days? How would you direct the city?
Shawn: You know what, I love this question.
I think I would say the streets, but that's pretty obvious. We all know that the streets here suck a lot. My goal honestly would be one of the things that drew me to the music economy and the music culture of New Orleans during COVID. We didn't have any infrastructure or a workforce for lack of a better term to support it.
We always talk about festival season and the fact that, this festival bought in this much money and this festival bought in this much money. But who cares? Because half of the money is leaving and is never invested back into the workforce in order for us to have our own workforce and production companies, right?
So I would create some type of training program for production, for live production. There would also be another training program that will go hand in hand with stage building. All facets of the productions. So we are able to support the production of the live events and able to offer those jobs to locals and keep the revenue here. So I would want to create a workforce development for stage production here in the city.
Blake: Yeah, I think that's a great answer. And needed. It seems to me, the most important thing would be for the next mayor to actually put out there a brand message for the city. To say, “This is where we're going, together and here's how, and who we need to help get us there. How you can help.” We should try and rekindle some of that, post Katrina solidarity. See if we can get everybody on board and head in a certain direction. Right now with there is no brand message or narrative the city can embrace.
Shawn: I know. We're adrift. But I will give her kudos for the mayor's office of cultural economy, and actually doing a little bit more and supporting our cultural bearers and supporting the things that make New Orleans, that create our history. That is, that's one thing that I would definitely give her kudos for.
But as you said, I couldn't agree with you more. Like there's no brand. There's no press kit. There's no brand strategy for the city right now as to where we're going, what we're doing, what we're achieving. I definitely have to agree with you there.
Blake: All right. I think this has been great.
Shawn: I wanted to connect with you because Jonathan couldn't say more about you. You're cool as shit and I feel like we need to know each other.
Blake: Yeah, absolutely. I love Jonathan. Him and I were fast friends and we've done a lot of fun stuff together over the years like throwing parties together and things like that.
Shawn: So were you responsible for some of those Studio 3 Halloween parties back in the day?
Blake: I will absolutely take any accolades and praise from it, but I was not the driving force for those parties. I just helped promote them and showed up and invited people. Anything that was awesome about those parties was all Jonathan.
Shawn: We, I had so much fun. I think it was the last one that he threw, I went as Diana Ross and I had the time of my life.
Blake: Awesome. I think thank you so much for taking the time to chat today.
Shawn: Thank you. It was such a pleasure.