Okayplayer’s VP Of Music Ginny Suss Is A ‘Maven’ Of Tour-Managing And Social Justice Activism

Next week Red Bull will release a new episode of their female-focused series, Mavens, sharing the story of Ginny Suss, a VP at the music and media platform Okayplayer.com and OkayAfrica, as well as the music director/producer of the historic Women’s March On Washington. In her (non-existent) free time, she’s also tour-managed for the likes of The Roots and plenty of other artists. The episode was shot as a lead-up to the Red Bull Sound Select Presents 3 Days In Philadelphia music festival, where Suss and Okayplayer are curating the headlining show, Saturday 10/14, with Syd, Ravyn Lenae, St. Beauty, and Dawn Richard.

Suss and I talked via phone about the episode, what it was like tour managing for The Roots, producing the Women’s March On Washington and the event’s global impact, along with her favorite arguments on Okayplayer’s legendary discussion boards.

UPDATE: Ginny Suss’ episode of Mavens is now live! Check it out below:

First things first, what was your Okayplayer screen name? Were you involved in the forums at all?

Yeah, and I just did a whole Red Bull video for this too! There’s a whole funny story behind my Okayplayer message board name, which is Gingerlynn. I can’t give away the whole story until that video goes live!

That was you?

Yeah, that was me! Do you remember me?

I haven’t been on the boards in a long time, but I remember you.

I didn’t start participating in the message boards until Questlove got me into it around early 2004, just a few months after I started tour-managing The Roots. My first experience with the boards was like, ‘You’re now representing The Roots officially, so you have to think about it from that perspective.’ So I was like an observer, and I didn’t want to get into the conversations too deeply with my own opinions because I was representing The Roots on there.

So, you met Questlove through Rich Nichols, but I noticed you didn’t tell us in the video how you met Rich.

I met Rich through a good friend of mine, Amanda, who was my roommate at the time in Cobble Hill (Brooklyn), my first New York apartment fresh out of college. She had befriended Rich after they connected at Black Lily [music festival] at The Wetlands and became friends, and he came and hung out at our apartment one day and we just instantly bonded. I remember that first day so vividly because I had my turntables out, and of course, I have all these Roots records. There were all these records from artists that he worked with every day: Common, The Roots, Mos Def, Jill Scott, (Talib) Kweli, Black Star. This is what I was listening to in 1999.

So, this guy came in, and my friend was like, ‘He’s the sound guy from The Wetlands for Black Lily,’ and he started talking about how he was the manager for The Roots and I just looked at her like, ‘You just said this was the sound guy.’

How did you come across all these different bands and artists like Mos Def and Jill Scott?

Well, I’m from Philadelphia, so there was always a connection with local musicians, and I was just a huge music lover when I was a little kid. My father was a huge jazz and blues aficionado; he was obsessed with jazz blues. I would come downstairs with my sisters and he would be playing music, and he would quiz us. Literally, the first he would say when I would come down in my pajamas for pancakes is, ‘Who’s playing? Who’s playing?’ And I’d have to tell him if it was John Coltrane or Miles Davis or Muddy Waters or Thelonius Monk or Rahsaan Roland Kirk — he expected me to know who it was.

As I got older and developed my own taste, I always had a real love of soul, funk, and hip-hop. That was the music that spoke to me. Some of that music, I think I came across because of The Roots, just listening to who they had on their songs, or who they had on their Black Lily nights. It was — for lack of a better term — conscious, left-of-center hip-hop and R&B at the time. I was listening to Outkast as well as pop radio; I listened to Biggie too!

In your Mavens interview you point out that you ‘don’t look the part’ of The Roots’ tour manager. What did you mean by that?

I don’t think anyone was expecting the short, white, blonde girl to be tour managing The Roots! First of all, tour management is hugely dominated by men. When I’ve been on tours, on the road, when I meet other tour managers, they’re always men. It’s not really a space for women. There would be seventeen of us on the road, all men, all African-American, and I was the only white girl. But in terms of intellectual space, we really connected. I took with me the idea that it’s an honor and a privilege to be in a space that is other than where you come from in terms of identity. I think it’s really important in a space like that to recognize that it’s a privilege.

I think it’s very cool how you’re able to move in different worlds in that way. It must have helped you transition from tour management to producing larger events. How was producing The Women’s March On Washington different from managing shows on the road with The Roots?

They were really similar because I was producing the music stage [at the Women’s March]. One thing that was really different was the scale and the timeline; when we’re producing The Roots Picnic, we start booking eight months out. The election happened November 8, and the Women’s March got into full swing a week and a half later, so we had under ten weeks to pull this off. This is ten weeks when artists are already touring; they have their winter schedules set. So, that was a big challenge. So much had to happen in such a compressed amount of time.

But when you’re booking a music show, the steps are kind of basic. You book the venue, you look at what the splits are, you look at what the venue rental fee is, you look at what the ticket sales are gonna bring in, you look at the capacity, and you figure out what acts make a great creative flow or what story you’re trying to tell with your event. The narrative was certainly in place at the Women’s March producing stage.

What was different was all the things I did for the Women’s March outside of booking the music. I was fielding daily calls and using everything I had to get it done as best as possible. I was involved in organizing, I was involved in creative, I reached out to a graphic designer one day to help with something on that end. It wasn’t like a structure, where you already had departments, this was all hands on deck, anyone who can help in any way, shape, or form, jump in. So, I was doing a lot more than just simply curating the stage.

How’d you select the appearances for the stage?

I wanted the stage to be grounded in a strong woman as music director, so I tapped Toshi Reagon, and an all-female band as a house band who could play along with other artists. I also really wanted to make sure that we were intentional about including musicians that were also real activists. This was an activist moment, not a celebrity moment. This was a moment for people who’ve been speaking out for their whole lives. Toshi is one of those people — she’s a force of nature. She’s been an incredible, outspoken advocate of women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, issues around race, and criminal justice reform.

Once she was on board, we wanted to make sure there was an equal playing field between unheard artists we wanted to introduce the world to or were lesser-known with an amazing activist message, and we wanted to make sure it was really intentionally intersectional group in terms of performances. The Women’s March was for everyone, it wasn’t just for one kind of woman.

So, what effect do you think the Women’s March had on the overall discourse taking place in our country since then?

Well, that day could have been a really tragic day for our country. It could have been a really depressing day for Americans thinking about what might be ahead of them. What we offered was this idea of the Resistance; we brought the Resistance to the forefront, and we offered inspiration and hope in a way I didn’t know was possible. I didn’t know that was gonna be the takeaway. All the marches around the globe were some of the most peaceful, beautiful, and well-attended marches we’ve ever seen.

I think the idea that we brought to the culture was, we’re centering women’s voices — particularly women of color. Women around the world are disenfranchised and marginalized, and women’s issues are still a thing. Women in this country still get paid cents to the dollar compared to men, and that’s outrageous for 2017. The idea was, we’re here, there are more of us than there are of them, we stand on the right side of history, we support human rights, and we’re gonna keep fighting for it. That’s still embedded in every conversation you see going on today in the political landscape.

What’s next up? What are your future plans?

I’m still rocking with The Roots Crew, we have a lot going on with them. I’ll be helping out working on The Roots Picnic next summer in June and on October 28th, we have the Women’s March next big moment, which is a social justice convention in Detroit.

I created a chorus with a bunch of the women who I worked with on the creative side of the Women’s March with, called the Resistance Revival Chorus. The point of the chorus is to create a space where a ton of women musicians and singers can come together and sing in community, share ideas, create new protest music, and sing protest music together. We’ve been singing a lot of Civil Rights era songs until now, but we have a bunch of original music we’re creating. There’s so many amazing musicians involved. Its purpose was to use joy to bring people together and reinvigorate people’s passion. It’s really hard. Post the six-month mark, people are really beaten down and we just want to uplift them.