Strayhorn Heights, an alternative R&B band, comprised of teenage siblings Jetta, Zaila and Wyatt Strayhorn, released their debut single, "Cascade," which has garnered lots of attention toward this musical Southwest Atlanta family. I first saw the video on Facebook and shared it in all local groups and on my page. For weeks, people were still "loving it," commenting and sharing it so much I had to turn off my notifications; that doesn't mean I love it any less because I find myself going back to bounce to the catchy tune daily.
Another local influencer, Atlanta District 11 Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet, caught wind of the song. Overstreet loved "Cascade" so much she declared it as the Cascade Corridor's official anthem and its communities to which the song pays homage. On October 20, she presented Strayhorn Heights with a virtual proclamation. The song resonated with Overstreet, who grew up in and currently resides in Cascade. "The song shows how young people can be engaged in their community and uplift others," said Overstreet. I agree.
View the virtual proclamation here.
Strayhorn Heights consists of Jetta, 17, on lead vocals & guitar, Zaila, 15, on drums, and Wyatt Strayhorn, 14, on bass. The trio grew up surrounded by musicians and creatives as their mother, Atlanta-native Clarice Bell-Strayhorn, a musician and songwriter.
We were so excited about the song and enamored by the Strayhorn Family's creativity and passion; I just had to talk to them to see #HowItStarted, #HowItsGoing and of course, where is it going?
What inspired you to write this song?
SH: The song started as kind of a "day in the lives of us." As we thought of ideas, we thought about the many "mental-health" drives around town we took during the pandemic and started out writing lyric ideas that included different parts of Atlanta. But when we wrote down "Cascade," it was like, wait, we can't just throw Cascade in with a list. Cascade is home. It's the place we know-know. It's the place that we see and get inspired by every day. Then the song morphed into being entirely about Cascade.
Was it your first time in the studio?
SH: This is the first song we've ever released, but we've played around in our studio at home and in my mom's friends' studios since we were little kids. We would make up song ideas and record them as little kids. We would always hang in the studio when our mom's music friends would record their projects that she participated in as a part of the writing and production team.
A couple of years ago, in our home studio, we recorded the "oohs and ahhs" as the "kids' choir" on a song my mom co-wrote for Charlie Wilson called "Amazing God,"; and Jetta did the spoken word intro on the song.
That is so awesome. So you all have a little experience? What role did each group member play in the creativity of the project?
SH: Jetta is definitely a wordsmith and wrote most of the lyrics, followed by Zaila and mom. She also is the lead singer of the band, came up with the chorus melody, and played the guitar and trumpet.
Zaila has the artistic eye and ear and was most responsible for shaping the song's sound with mom. She wrote the bridge melody and sat in the studio for hours, tweaking the music and telling mom what to add and subtract from the songs. She played the drums, percussion and saxophone, and she also picked out the clothing for the music video and designed the artwork for the cover for the song.
Wyatt is the most skilled musician of all of us. He developed the unique bass line. Wyatt also played a guitar line to mimic his bass line in the chorus and played piano bed for the song.
Mom played the auxiliary keyboard parts to add color to the song.
I love how you all work together and, as a family, created a beautiful legacy that will live on for many years, not only to be passed down in your family, but the world knows about it now. It's something that Atlanta can be proud of or people from the Cascade area far and wide.
Why do you feel such pride about living in Cascade? Why is it a special place, and why did you find it important to tell the world?
SH: Cascade and Southwest Atlanta are where we've been all of our lives. The vibes of the Cascade area are the coolest. And we would literally see as we would drive around Cascade that, wow, this mayor lives here, that one lives there, Congressman John Lewis lived right there, and so on. Many Black-owned businesses that we patronized are in Cascade, like the ones we filmed in our video, The Beautiful Restaurant, The Spice House, Rite At Home Furniture, and Cascade Skating Rink. And many of the schools in the Cascade/Southwest Atlanta area bear the names of Black leaders, like Ralph J. Bunche Middle (our middle school), Frederick Douglass High (mom's high school), Jean Childs Young Middle, A Phillip Randolph Elementary.
Will there be more songs?
SH: Yes, definitely. We've already started recording on several other songs and plan to put out the next piece by Christmas.
Is music among your goals for the future?
SH: Music is a part of our lives and definitely a part of our future goals.
As one who grew up on great music and formerly worked in the music industry, I see a great future in it for you all. Who helped to make this project a reality?
SH: The project was recorded and mixed at home by our mom and our play-uncle, Etienne "EJ" Porter. She mainly uses the recording program called Logic. Uncle EJ and a family friend, Sean Presley, filmed the video. Sean and mom edited the video. The other people who helped make this a reality would be all of the music teachers we've had over the years! (Some of them include Aheisha Duke, Michael Middlebrooks, Mariea Watkins, Marcelo MacCagnan, VerLyn Music Program, Monica MzDrummer, Jonathan French, Jerry Jerome.)
Your song and video were very inspiring to me as an adult. Some kids believe that because they are kids, their voice is not essential. What message would you like to send to other young people in your community?
SH: Because of apps like TikTok, Instagram, Tidal, Spotify, YouTube, and others, probably more than ever before, kids and young people can express their voices. Our voices are needed, and sometimes, by using our voices, we inspire other young people and adults. Follow through with your creative ideas because in the process, you'll grow in ways that you didn't expect, and other opportunities will present themselves along the way.
I see your dog even made a cameo. He is adorable. What's his name?
SH: His name is Scooter.
I am so impressed by this trio, but everyone knows that behind every amazing child are fantastic parents. I just had to learn more about this Rockstar mom, Clarice Bell-Strayhorn, a musician, songwriter, music producer and (wait for it), a physician! She is a Family Physician who has worked in both patient care and medical administrative work in the Southwest Atlanta area. This lady has superpowers, and we thank her for her contributions to Southwest Atlanta, her service and the gift of her talented children, as well.
Bell-Strayhorn told me that she started playing the piano in high school. She played on and off in church throughout college and medical school, and the first song she played on and wrote was released in 1989.
The group's name is a combination of their surname, of course, and the "Heights" part of the name came in part from places called heights and because when they were little, Bell-Strayhorn figured they would be tall because both she and their dad are tall. That turned out to be accurate, as Jetta has grown to be 6' 1", Zaila 5'11 and Wyatt, well, he's still growing.
Well, no doubt the Strayhorn Family will continue to soar, so their name is quite fitting. Can't wait to see what's next.
You know where it's going!
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