Alyssa Dann was a quiet and reserved child raised in a very musical household. Her father is a highly-regarded bass and guitar player and her mother is a singer. For Alyssa, music has always been her voice. She started lessons at the age of five and songwriting by seven. By 13, Alyssa was playing bass on her father’s gigs at clubs in New York City. Fast forward to 2018, and Alyssa, while still in high school, was performing in New York City and Boston and releasing her own recordings.
During high school, Alyssa was introduced to the power of storytelling through film. She directed, filmed, and edited two of her own music videos, and fell in love with video editing. In a “Media as Service” program with Woodstock Travels, she visited India and Nepal, working with NGOs to create promotional content. After high school, she taught video editing and recording media arts to 8th Grade kids — in her old classroom!
Alyssa’s decision to direct and edit “George Floyd: Say Their Names” during her transition to college has opened her eyes and changed her life — and she is not looking back.
Alyssa recently started attending Sarah Lawrence College (US-NY), Class of 2024, and sees herself majoring in Psychology, Public Health and Music.
CHRISTOPHER R. OWENS / CHRIS OLEDUDE
As a singer-songwriter and performer, Chris Owens has been musically active for nearly 55 of his 62 years. He studied piano, cello, recorder, and African drums, and also sang in numerous choruses. Owens had been in bands and school musicals, but no videos or films.
With a family to support and a career to sustain, Chris Owens put his passion for music aside until his father, Nelson Mandela and family friend Pete Seeger all passed within three months of each other between October, 2013 and January, 2014. As a result, Chris and his two brothers formed OBB – The Owens Brothers Band and started performing original music live. Then, in 2017, Chris’ wife was diagnosed with cancer … and music was again put on hold.
In 2020, a year after Sandra’s death and at the start of the COVID pandemic, Chris Owens decided to create the artist known as CHRIS OLEDUDE to serve as the full outlet for his creative energy and the burning desire to speak out during challenging times. Focused on music, Owens never really thought about “videos”. He really knew nothing about video production or editing.
Chris Owens founded CESO ENTERPRISES, INC. in May, 2020 to manage the work of CHRIS OLEDUDE and the intellectual property past, present and future from Chris and his two sons.
On June 14, 2020, Owens recorded the vocal tracks for the song “George Floyd”. During that session, studio musicians, singers, and the recording engineer’s young daughter gathered outdoors around three microphones to record the chants heard in the song. That young woman was Alyssa Dann, then a high school senior, who also served as the “voice over” towards the end of the video. Alyssa is a singer-songwriter herself and was so inspired by the song, that she asked Owens if she could work on a video for the song. And Owens consented.
The result was an inter-generational, cross-cultural, and geographically diverse urban/rural relationship. Owens had worked in local politics for a few years, including campaign management. He had overseen production of some short videotaped candidate messages for voters, but never a musical production. Dann had worked on high school video projects and her own music videos. But this video was much more complex and nearly seven minutes in length.
Between June and October, Owens’ company, CESO ENTERPRISES, INC., produced the video, “George Floyd: Say Their Names,” with Owens and Dann co-directing and Dann handling the editing. Owens had a small singing role, and singer Wendy Ward had the lead role, along with the community church-based Angels of Transformation Dancers.
The production was “low-budget,” technically challenging, and emotionally draining. But, in the end, everyone involved with “George Floyd: Say Their Names” was moved by the experience. Now, audiences are moved as well.
The murder of George Floyd focused attention on police brutality against people of color, and racism in general, in a way that few moments have in American history. As an artist, I had to speak out in my way, right away, because I was just as angry as everyone else.
We need stability and a focus on “people first” in order to rejuvenate our nation! If you know economic justice, you will know peace. If you know health care justice, you will know peace. If you know education justice, you will know peace. If you know fair and equal justice under the law, you will know peace. If you know human and civil rights, you will know peace. And, as one of humankind’s most powerful communication tools, music brings us closer to feeling these issues in our bones and saving our collective soul.
I was also blessed and honored by the strong interest of the talented Alyssa Dann in making the video. GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAMES is a unique statement in large part because Ms. Dann brought the energy and perspectives of younger people to the project — as well as her excellent aesthetic sense.
It is a tribute to her commitment and fortitude that Alyssa was able to complete her good work on her first ‘professional’ video while simultaneously starting her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College during the COVID pandemic here in New York State. I don’t know if I could have done that.
When I was a background vocalist for the Chris Oledude song, “George Floyd,” I was caught up in the passionate frustration and determination embedded in the music. In the aftermath of the recording session, I kept visualizing aspects of the song. I knew I wanted to create this video. When I asked Chris for the opportunity to do this, he gave me a strange look, but he agreed right away and we embarked on a wild journey into unknown territory. After all, we are both strong-willed songwriters. What could be more perfect, right?
As we completed “George Floyd: Say Their Names,” however, it became so clear that we had created something special — more of a short film than a simple music video — more of an “experience” than a “moment.” When someone whispered the phrase “film festivals,” we paused and agreed to explore some more. Wow! Neither Chris nor I had any idea that there was a world of music video and short film festivals where GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAMES could be shared. Now, we are truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of these events.