During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted game-changing industry executives (including one posthumous award) into the Roll Of Honour, in association with TikTok.
They join the pantheon of previous honourees, including some of the biggest names in the business, from Emma Banks, Sarah Stennett, Rebecca Allen to Kanya King, Stacey Tang, Charisse Beaumont and Mary Anne Hobbs, who have been selected since the awards began in 2014. The Roll Of Honour aims to highlight the breadth, depth and variety of individuals who are trailblazers in the music industry, with their activities consistently benefiting women, or focusing on empowerment/gender disparity.
Following the Women In Music Awards ceremony, Music Week is running Q&A interviews with all of this year’s Roll Of Honour inductees.
At 16, Dellessa James became first interested in media, listening to the Top 40 every Sunday and watching 90’s music videos on TV.
She attended Luton University – now Bedfordshire University – to study Media Production with Radio, which is where she first met now-Radio 1 Live Lounge presenters Rickie and Melvin and a host of other friends working within the world of audio production. After university, she secured a work experience placement at BBC Three Counties Radio, which led to 16 years working for the company.
This included full-time positions at BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra, where James produced shows for Trevor Nelson, Annie Mac, DJ Target, Nihal, MistaJam, Jo Whiley, Fabio and Grooverider, championing Black music across Radio 1 and 1Xtra. Alongside this work at the BBC, she trained also as a teacher, became a visiting lecturer at Birmingham City University and started her own media production company where she began short media training courses for new artists and labels.
After the BBC, James continued to executive produce Fire In The Booth with Charlie Sloth. In 2020, she joined Amazon Music, where, in her role as senior artist relations manager, she leads Amazon Music’s Black music strategy, overseeing playlists and content creation for the +44 channels and playlists, as well as working alongside artists and labels to execute large scale campaigns.
How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women in Music Roll of Honour?
“It is a real special moment for me. My role has always been to support and work in the background, so to receive recognition for my hard work, dedication and 20 plus years of service warms my heart. It is a real honour, thank you!”
How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?
“The early years were filled mostly with rejection, it was difficult to find opportunities, work experience or anywhere to showcase my skills. Luckily, I managed to get on the right educational courses to learn my craft and meet like-minded people – it’s also where I have made friends for life, like Rickie and Melvin who I went to university with and where we were all presenters on our student radio station, Luton FM! I had and still have an entrepreneur, hustling mentality, which means I’m always on the go and I always strive to be the best. I left university with a first-class degree, so I knew after that I needed experience and I entered the world of working for free, which wasn’t ideal, but an important part of my journey.”
Did you have a mentor at that stage?
“I have never really had a mentor, but there have been women that I have looked up too over the years. Angie Greaves who, when I was around 15 years old, came into one of my classes and gave a talk about her job, [which is] when I decided I wanted to work in the media industry or become a teacher. Janey Gordon, who was my lead university lecturer at Bedfordshire University and pushed me to apply for jobs and to secure work experience placements. And finally Annette Griffith, a presenter at BBC Three Counties, hosting a show called Black Mix. She gave me the opportunity to work on her show every Saturday night answering phones, editing and recording audio content. But most importantly she would give me feedback on my work, which taught me additional skills. I did start off working for free, but this eventually became paid work and part of my path to working at the BBC full-time. When my friends were out partying on a Saturday night, I would be at the radio station answering phones.”
How would you sum up your impact at Amazon Music so far in terms of creating opportunities for Black artists and offering them the support they can't get elsewhere?
“It is hard to sum everything up, but overall the feedback has been overwhelming from artists. If you have a look through the @plus44uk’s Instagram account, it’s a diary of projects and campaigns that we have executed over the past 3 years.”
You've been working in Black music in the UK for a while now, taking in many successful years with the BBC. What is the biggest change you can pick out in Black music over your time in the industry, and where do you feel it is right now?
For me, there have been two biggest changes. Number one, music streaming – it changed the whole industry and gave any artist a platform to release music. And number two, the industry-wide name change to Black Music in 2020 led by the Black Music Coalition. Before that, if I’m honest, many people didn’t want to acknowledge the word Black, let alone the culture behind it. I feel like [the industry] is in a great place and I’m so glad it continues to grow globally.”
How do you think things have changed and developed for women in Black music, both on the artist and executive side and beyond, since you've been in the business?
“I don’t think a lot has changed from a business perspective for women in general. We still continue to fight for gender equality and the same opportunities given to men. But there are amazing women working to create a balance within the industry, like Women In CTRL’s Nadia Khan, GirlsIRate’s Carla Marie Williams, Girls Talk About’s Sian Anderson and Girls Of Grime’s Shakira Walters, to name a few.”
Motherhood in the music industry is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life
One of the main recurring themes around the WIM Awards and something that comes up every year around the event is motherhood in music. You had a child after moving to Amazon, what has your experience of motherhood in the music industry been like so far? We’ve done various bits of coverage in this area at MW and several companies have been making moves to improve how they look after parents. What’s your take on the situation?
“Motherhood in the music industry is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I am always on the go, always running around and always on. Every week is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle as I try to adapt to the needs of my son and job obligations. I would say it has helped me prioritise my life and what is important. On my Instagram, I also do a monthly Story feature called ‘Dee-In-The-Life’, where I take my followers on a journey of a typical day of my life. It gets good views, because it shows the reality of my life, not just the glossy side. I want them to see that sometimes I’m up at 2AM in the morning with my son Darryl, I want them to see how tough it is and how I manage and multi-task under pressure. Hopefully it can also show other mums that they are not on their own and how strong we really are.”
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
“My biggest achievement so far is being a part of the growth of the UK Black Music scene. I have been there from the early stages and have contributed to it and helped develop it. It’s been a long road and people have come and gone, but it’s great to see the change. Some of the artists call me their music mum, so that’s now my official title – Dellessa James, Music Mum!”
What advice would you offer young women about enjoying a successful career in music?
“Just to chill out, relax and enjoy the moment, your time will come. Don’t watch what others are doing and compare yourself to them, you are in your own lane and running your own race. Social media makes it super hard, but don’t be afraid to block, delete or remove any distractions or anything that affects your wellbeing.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?
“Money management from my Aunt Juanita, who lives in America. She pushed me to save money each month for a house deposit or a rainy day.”
Is there a young woman you'd like to shout out who you think is a rising star in the industry?
“Yes, Nichola Ntim. I have been her mentor throughout 2023, as part of the Radio Academy’s mentoring programme called RAMP. She is definitely a rising star and great at her job.”
Similarly, is there a young woman artist whose music you’re enjoying right now?
Yes, Cristale, a London-based rapper, actor and presenter. She is very versatile and super talented, so I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
What’s your biggest lesson from 2023 so far?
“That I can’t do everything and I need to protect my energy and mental health at all costs, which is something that I’m still working on.”
“I just wanted to add that working in the media and music industries over the past 20-plus years has not been easy. It’s been a battle, pushing for change for Black artists and the Black community, and the amount of heated conversations and brick walls I have had to go around has been exhausting. I’m just glad that we are now in a better place and the word Black is being normalised within the industry.”