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Alumna Follows Passion for Music and the Written Word

Mills College Weekly

Mills alumna Thembisa Mshaka has been credited with creating the
messages that have put some of America’s top selling recording
artists on the map.

The Los Angeles native’s career goals were originally focused on
politics after graduating with a degree in International
Relations/Ethnic Studies. She was intent on becoming a UN
ambassador when her talent for writing and the music industry took
her life in a different direction.

Mshaka feels she was born a writer. She loves the written word
and always kept a journal in which she constantly wrote, especially
about anything related to the music industry.

That’s how she got started in journalism and writing.

Her first stint in writing was as a freelance journalist for
KLUB, a San Francisco club magazine.

“I got my first cover story after writing a story on KRS-One,
and, as they say, the rest is history,” said Mshaka.

She went on to freelance for Grits and Gravy, a Bay Area
lifestyle magazine and her career catapulted after she joined
Absolute Artists, a small San Francisco talent agency, as an

After graduating from Mills in 1992, she transitioned her intern
position at Absolute Artists as an office manager/receptionist into
a full-time position as manager of artist relations. In that
position she worked with great talents such as Gil Scott Heron,
Etta James, Junior Walker, Parliament and Bootsy Collins.

“I worked with many artists and it was actually on this job [at
Absolute Artists] that I got the bug,” said Mshaka reflecting back
on where her career began to take off.

Mshaka joined Gavin, a San Francisco-based national music trade
magazine (equivalent to Billboard), where she held the position as
their first black female Rap Editor. They say jobs don’t come
knocking on your door but in Mshaka’s case they do. Kelly Wu,
Mshaka’s predecessor at Gavin, met her during a “Rap Panel” for the
Black Women’s Collective at Mills. He was so impressed with her
knowledge of the rap industry that he later sought her out and
asked her to come check out his job, because he was leaving.

“I stayed with Gavin for five years when I got another one of
those ‘hey, why don’t you come check out my job’ offers from Sony
Music in New York. I freelanced for several months and after my
stories were accepted I interviewed and got the position,” said

“I knew if I wanted to move forward in my career, I was going to
have to move to New York which was a very difficult decision. I’d
been in California my whole life.”

Mshaka’s husband, whom she met while at Mills during one of the
BWC’s Rap Panels, was very supportive of the idea and in 1998 they
left the Bay Area to begin a new life in New York City.

As senior advertising copywriter for Sony Music, Mshaka now
writes advertising campaigns for the music industry and has created
the messages that have put some of America’s top artists on the

Her first project was with Lauryn Hill, on The Miseducation of
Lauryn Hill, who she met while at Gavin. She also helped launch
Beyonce, NAS, Maxwell, Will Smith, Bow Wow, Macy Gray, George
Michael, and the Wu-Tang Clan. She won several industry awards for
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and NAS I Am campaigns and she
received a Telly Award for Bow Wow’s Doggy Bag commercial.

Her accomplishments are many and she attributes part of her
success to her Mills education.

“I want to give a shout out to Fred Lawson, Linda Goodrich and
Dorothy Tsureeta, who were some of my professors, for their
tremendous source of inspiration and support as I navigated my way
through Mills,” she said.

Mshaka was encouraged by the progress of Mills’ diversity. The
battle waged on campus for greater diversity in faculty of color
and diverse curricula was successful as the result of hard work by
the Black Women’s Collective and white women working together. She
had an opportunity to visit the campus in 2002 and said she had a
sense of pride as she looked around and saw the increased number of
brown faces on campus.

She now lives in New York with her husband of seven years,
Anthony Morris, a real estate agent with the Corcoran Group, and
their four-year-old son, Mecca. She keeps a busy schedule and in
addition to her demanding job at Sony Music, Mshaka continues to
utilize her moderating and public speaking talents on panels and in
workshops, including ASCAP’s Real Stories, Borders Books &
Music, New York University, The First Amendment Center and The
United Nations.

She is also working on a non-fiction career self-help guide for
women in the music industry. For more information on the book,
check out