Close this search box.
Many Moons panel
(From left) Stephanie Luckett, Maranda Joiner, Jasmine Williams and Peggy Brown spoke at the women-led “Many Moons” panel and music showcase during Jackson Indie Music Week inside Soule Coffee + Bubbletea on Jan. 10, 2023. Photo courtesy Jackson Indie Music Week

‘About the Music’: Women Lead Panel and Showcase at Jackson Indie Music Week  

JACKSON, Miss.—Maranda Joiner was an intern at 99 Jams WJMI, filing CDs in the trash, when host Mailman asked her to record a commercial. Once she entered the production room at the radio station, he presented her with a script wherein she had to pretend she was whispering in her boyfriend’s ear about strippers coming to town.

“He closed the door and closed me in a little dark room to record this commercial to read into the Adobe network that was currently running the wave in front of me, and I cut the commercial,” Joiner said. “He would invite me to sit in on the morning show. I didn’t have a name. He just called me, ‘The Intern,’ and that was fun times.”

Maranda Joiner
Maranda Joiner got her start in the entertainment industry with an internship at 99 Jams WJMI, cutting a commercial that eventually led to sit-ins on the morning show and then a part-time radio host job. Photo courtesy Maranda Joiner

Eventually, one of the weekend jocks quit, and Stan Branson asked Joiner if she wanted the job. She accepted it, starting part-time and later expanding her role to full-time as she built a 14-year career in radio. Working in that creative space allowed her to be around various creatives and artists, she said.

Joiner went on to start on an open mic called Synergy Nights, and she currently also works as a brand consultant, author, speaker and the co-founder and CEO of Succeed and Elevate, a nonprofit that helps small entrepreneurs overcome burnout.

Maranda Joiner sat as one of four panelists for “Many Moons,” an all-women panel and music showcase for Jackson Indie Music Week on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at Soule Coffee + Bubbletea (2943 Old Canton Road, Suite E, Jackson). Peggy Brown, Jasmine Williams and Stephanie Luckett joined Joiner for the discussion.

‘I Just Keep Going’

Peggy Brown said she thinks the music industry chose her, as she entered it late in life. Through her years, she became increasingly interested in live music, particularly the blues, which is one of her favorite genres behind R&B.

With her children having already grown and left home, Brown decided to become more directly involved with the local music scene.

Peggy Brown
Peggy Brown, executive director of Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and CEO of Hit The Road Entertainment, entered the music industry later in her life after her children had already left the house. Photo courtesy Peggy Brown

Presently, Brown serves as the executive director of Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, which promotes and recognizes notable musicians in all genres, and she is the CEO and owner of Hit The Road Entertainment, where she handles bookings and promotions for artists like Dorothy Moore and King Edward Antoine.

“That’s kind of what I’ve been about in my whole music (career) is the stories that I hear from these musicians and the lives they led,” Brown said “King Edward, (for example), he deserves so much more than he had, so I thought I could do something out there.”

“I just keep going,” she added. “‘What’s the next thing that I need to get involved in or the next person that has a story or whatever?’ And it’s truly been about the music. I absolutely love the music.”

‘God Is Telling Me’

Columbus, Miss., native Jasmine Williams’ choice to enter the entertainment industry came from her delayed love of Mississippi.

Growing up, she did not know much about her home state until she left for Austin, Texas, where she discovered a new love and appreciation for her former home. She learned about Mississippi’s contributions to the larger global landscape, and the more she discovered, the more she wanted to share that knowledge with others.

“I didn’t even know this was an opportunity,” Williams said. “I didn’t know that I could be a producer. It wasn’t a career option. I went to college for marketing and corporate relations. … The more I discovered about Mississippi, I learned how I could tell this story in a creative way to share the things I was learning.”

Jasmine Williams
One of Jasmine Williams’ first experiences in the music industry was when she worked as an extra on the set of rapper Big K.R.I.T.’s music video and found additional ways to become involved during the production process. Photo courtesy Jasmine Williams

Mississippi called to her, so she moved back and created ‘SippTalk, which she described as a guerilla-style form of storytelling that seeks to shift the narrative of Mississippi by centering Black experiences and culture through the exploration of art, food, language, history and lifestyle activities.

When Williams first returned to Mississippi, she kept telling herself that she wanted to be a storyteller, and then an opportunity presented itself.

“One of my first experiences, I seen that Big K.R.I.T. was doing a music video in Meridian, so I literally applied to be an extra on set,” Williams explained. “I didn’t know what that entailed, but the first woman that I seen that was doing work and making the things happen, I just asked her like, ‘Do you need help?’ And she gave me the opportunity to help on set in that moment.”

Since then, Williams has been able to work on different projects with larger brands, learning what avenues she can take to put the larger story of Mississippi on a bigger platform—because as rapper Andre 3000 so eloquently put it at the 1995 Source Awards: “the South got something to say.”

‘You Don’t Need to Sing in the Background’

Singer Stephanie Luckett has been singing since she was 6 years old. An outlier in her family where no one else sings or plays an instrument, she has performed on the same stages as artists such as Mariah Carey, Calvin Richardson and others. A background singer, she was content to stay in that role until the artists she worked with began to push her to the forefront, telling her that she did not belong in the background.

“It actually took a southern soul artist who sent me a text message and said, ‘God is telling me to tell you that you don’t need to sing in the background,’” Luckett told the audience inside Soule.

“The next week I was at a church, and the pastor said to me, ‘God is telling me to tell you … that he’s going to take you from the background to the floor,’” she recalled. “A week later, I was singing lead. I have not stopped since.”

Stephanie Luckett
Stephanie Luckett was content with performing background vocals until multiple people—and her faith—encouraged her to pursue a career as a lead singer. Photo courtesy Stephanie Luckett

Luckett released her debut album, “Life Versus Love,” on Aug. 30, 2020, which received high reviews from mainstream artists such as Ledisi and Tank. The album has also charted on streaming platforms such as Amazon, Apple Music and Spotify, and she has become a trending topic in countries like Japan, France and the U.K.

“I’m a firm believer,” Luckett said. “I’ve said it since I was 14, when people would ask, ‘Why aren’t you doing your own music?’ And I would always say, ‘When God sees that it’s time for me to do that, he’ll allow it to happen.’ So when it happened, it was no doubt in my mind that it was meant for me to do it.”

‘Affirmed Every Day’

The moment of affirmation that let Jasmine Williams know she was on the right path came when she helped curate a call-and-response to Nick Cave’s “Beyond the Cave” exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Art in 2020.

“I hadn’t been in town but a few weeks, and I went in—didn’t know what was going on—but the artist was there,” Williams said. “We were just telling him how much we enjoyed seeing his exhibition, and in the moment, he was like, OK, we want to hire y’all to do a call and response.’ I was like, ‘A call-and-response? What do you mean? What do you want? What do you want us to do?’”

Williams went on to hire more than 42 artists and others to bring a dynamic production to the museum. Seeing different generations enjoy the art and live artists and connect to something she created felt affirming for her.

Nick Cave’s “Beyond the Cave” exhibit
Jasmine Williams met artist Nick Cave in 2020 at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, Miss., where he hired her to create a call-and-response for his “Beyond the Cave” exhibit. Pictured is “Architectural Forest,” a 2011 artwork that Cave created using bamboo, wood, wire, plastic beads, acrylic paint, screws, fluorescent lights, color filter gels and vinyl. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. ©Nick Cave, Photo: James Prinz Photography

Rather than point to one moment of affirmation, Maranda Joiner emphasized that while people can sometimes feel pressure to have a specific story that inspired them, life is often full of moments that collectively affirm people along their respective journeys.

“I also feel like because we live in this world of moments, that that’s what it does to us—it makes us look for what we feel like is the right moment,” Joiner said. “Sometimes it’s not always this big amazing moment that we feel (when) we trust our gut and our instinct to say, ‘Oh, I feel like I should be doing something,”

“I think I get affirmed every day on a regular basis,” she added.

Amara Nicole
Amara Nicole is a gospel and R&B singer-songwriter who was introduced to music at an early age through her church’s music ministry and her school’s choir program. Photo courtesy Amara Nicole

Stephanie Luckett attributed her transition to a lead vocalist as the affirmation that she was where she needed to be. The singer had no issues during the recording process of her album, which she recorded in six months using Mississippi producers, artists, and engineers, and she fortunately never had to pay for anything, she said.

“When that album got the attention it received from someone who went from background to lead within that time, that’s what let me know I’m supposed to be doing this,” Luckett said. “Everybody’s right.”

Peggy Brown said seeing the results of her efforts assured her she was in the right field. She recalled one time she followed a voice in her head that told her to contact a record producer and get him to listen to an artist she was promoting at the time. While she was nervous about reaching out, she remembered the adage that people miss 100% of the shots they do not take.

“I went to talk to this well-known record producer, and he came to listen to the guy, and several months later, he signed him to his label,” Brown said. “I knew that I had done something right, but there weren’t a lot of people there going, ‘Man, you really worked hard at that.’ It was God speaking to me and telling me, ‘I put you in that place, and I asked you to step out and you did it.’”

‘It’s OK to Ask Questions’

When Peggy Brown first began in the local music industry, she lacked confidence because she had not gone to school to learn about what she wound up doing. A lesson she learned from the very start, though, was to take a chance and ask questions.

“I have a friend who tells me, ‘Peggy, you ask more questions than anybody else I’ve ever known.’ And I said, ‘Well, if I don’t ask questions, I can’t learn,’” Brown recalled. “That’s been really, really beneficial to me. I learned a long time ago to not try to pretend that I’ve got all the answers. It’s OK to ask questions.”

Creative producer Jasmine Williams knows the importance of being open to expanding one’s institutional knowledge and skill set and to do one’s best no matter their position. While on set, whether she is producing or directing her own project, she does not mind playing whatever role needs to be fulfilled. She is never too big to do any job, she said.

“I would say always be open and do your best, regardless of where you are because there have been situations that I already know regardless of what capacity I’m hired, I just need to get in the room,” Williams said.

Billy CEO
Florida rapper and singer Billy CEO wrote her first 16-bar rap at 8 years old and has since built a career that has put her on stage alongside artists such as Fetty Wap, Fat Joe and Fabulous. Photo courtesy Billy CEO

As a creative, Maranda Joiner learned very early to make sure that she takes time to think about the people who engage with her art. Sometimes artists can get so caught up in their own journey and who they are, that they can forget about the audience they serve and how their art is being delivered, the author and CEO explained.

“Sometimes when we are creating art, … we think it’s more about us than it is the music and the art that we put in the world,” Joiner said. “So, one of the bigger things I learned in the beginning is that the work that I do, the creativity, the things that I put out, while it could be therapeutic for me, it’s also for the people that are receiving it.”

Early on in her career, Stephanie Luckett managed herself and understood that if she was going to have someone manage her, she needed to know the music business well.

“I think everybody knows that the business of the music industry can be something else,” she said. “If you’re doing something that I don’t believe is supposed to be right for my brand, I need to be able to tell you.”

When she was young, Luckett was gullible and wanted to be in the music industry so badly that she would have signed anything, the singer said. Her mother’s guidance prepared her for later on in her career, so at the first opportunity someone tried to sign her, she asked an entertainment attorney to look at her contract.

“It was extremely important then, and it’s still extremely important now for me to make sure I learn as much as I possibly can about the business,” Luckett concluded.

‘CEO of the South’

Once the Q&A concluded, the event transitioned into a music showcase featuring performances from Billy CEO, Maleah Dawn and Amara Nicole.

Ashley Kayo Williams, who goes by Billy CEO, is an American rapper and singer from Broward County, Fla. At 5 years old, she showed an interest in music, and at age 8, she wrote her first 16-bar rap. Her niche incorporates pop, R&B and hip-hop, and she has performed alongside artists such as Fetty Wap, Fat Joe and Fabulous. She dubs herself the “CEO of the South.”

Maleah Dawn is an alternative R&B singer-songwriter based in Jackson, Miss. Following in her writing father’s footsteps, as she grew up, Dawn would write poems and make up songs that she would sing for her family, starting in 2010. She currently attends Jackson State University, where she is a senior studying social science and ethnic studies.

In 2019, Dawn released her first single, “For Myself,” and in 2021, she released her second song, “In My Home.” That same year, Dawn secured the opportunity to open for rappers Lil Durk and Flo Milli at JSU’s homecoming concert. She has also auditioned for NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, performing “In My Home.”

Maleah Dawn
Alternative R&B singer and songwriter Maleah Dawn released her first single “For Myself” in 2019 and two years later, she released her second single “In My Home”. Photo courtesy Maleah Dawn

Jackson, Miss., native Amara Nicole is a gospel and R&B singer and songwriter. Her church’s music ministry and her school’s choir program introduced Nicole to music at an early age. Today, she draws inspiration from musical genres like gospel, R&B and soul.

After taking a break from music during her college years, she was inspired to make music again after losses she suffered during the pandemic. In 2022, she made her official debut with the release of a series of songs: “Stand,” “In the Shallow,” “A Million Reasons,” “Eyes Wide Open” and “Imitation of Love.”

Maranda Joiner urges performing artists to be particular about their positioning and how they show up, whether that thoughtfulness presents itself in their appearance, the type of music they make and for whom they make their music. Branding is a messy process, and at any moment you may have to relinquish control and pivot as an artist, she said.

“One thing I tell my clients, you cannot create the perfect plan from your couch or from your house or from a brainstorming session at your table,” Joiner said. “You actually have to start doing the work, showing up places and continuing to perform and be in places until you find your niche.”

For more information about Jackson Indie Music Week, an event focusing on local music artists that takes place in the capital city each year, visit To sample the music of artists featured in this article, follow Billy CEO’s YouTube channel or find Amara Nicole, Maleah Dawn or Stephanie Luckett on Spotify and other music-streaming platforms. 

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

The Mississippi Free Press is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) focused on telling stories that center all Mississippians.

With your gift, we can do even more important stories like this one.