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Meet 88Nine Amplifier's inaugural class

88Nine Amplifier, a new artist-development program from 88Nine Radio Milwaukee (WYMS-FM), has selected four Milwaukee musicians for its Class of 2021, the station announced Tuesday. The musicians are in the program’s first eight-month class, with national mentors Justin Vernon, Butch Vig and Marcella Araica (Ms. Lago). 

The musically diverse artists in 88Nine Amplifier’s Class of 2021 are: 

  • Leosha Stones, better known as The Oshi, is a Bajan-American rapper and producer. Stones released her self-titled EP in 2019 and launched into 2021 with the new album “Confidential.” In February, The Oshi was featured on a R3LL track “Fantasy,” which was written up in Billboard and EDM Network. 
  • Marcus McFarlin, also known as Elder Mac, is a gospel vocalist and producer. He also runs his own music production company, Elder Mac Entertainment, in Milwaukee. McFarlin has been releasing music since 2011 and has earned major praise in the gospel industry, including winning The UpTV Network's 2014 Most Powerful Voice competition and being named one of the 2020 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Award Honorees. 
  • Maxwell James is an Americana singer-songwriter with a focus on rhythm and melody. In 2018, he released his self-titled EP and single “Roll Down Your Windows Slowly,” which peaked on both the Indie and National Radio digital charts. His sophomore album “Wheels,” coming after winning Third Man Records’ Guitar for Gifts songwriting competition, was entirely self-performed and produced in his home studio. 
  • Valerie Lighthart is a folk-pop songstress who brings a multidisciplinary approach to her music. She tempers fun melodies with the sense of something a few shades darker, and first came on the scene through a collaboration with electronic duo Immortal Girlfriend. In 2018, Valerie released debut EP “V.A.L.” via N43 Records and followed that up with the EP “Places” the next year. In 2020, she dropped two singles, each with its own music video.

“Milwaukee has so much untapped talent,” Program Director Chad Roper said. “Through the selection process, it was exciting to see the incredible passion and drive from these four artists, and we cannot wait until the world sees what this class has to offer.” 

Over 200 artists applied for the inaugural eight-month class of Amplifier, which 88Nine established to develop the careers of Milwaukee musicians and shine a national spotlight on Milwaukee’s immense pool of musical talent.   

The program’s first class kicked off virtually earlier this month and will run through November 2021. In addition to eight months of mentorship and learning, program participants will each receive $10,000 grants from the Mary Louise Mussoline Artist Fund to be used in consultation with 88Nine Amplifier to further their careers.

Throughout the course of the program, artists will develop skills needed for long-term success in the industry, including management, production, collaboration and more. 

Participants will have quarterly conversations and connection points with program mentors Justin Vernon, Butch Vig and Marcella Araica (Ms. Lago). Each month’s curriculum will also be accompanied by master classes with national or local experts to share industry experience with participants. 

Ami Bedi, LPC, NCC, of Akhilanda Consulting, will work with artists to understand how their unique abilities and blind spots impact the way they navigate their careers in a complex culture, as well as help build a literacy around mental health and wellbeing. 

Artists will also develop strategies to help prepare them for the increasing demands of their profession with guidance and insight from E. Keller Fitzsimmons, a Milwaukee-based technology entrepreneur and author.

The selection process was facilitated by Roper and Associate Director Britney Freeman-Farr (B~Free) along with a group of national experts, including Jonathan Adelman, a 20+ year industry veteran of the Creative Artists Agency (CAA). 

“I was beyond impressed with the caliber of talent, diversity and community mindfulness presented by all applicants,” Adelman said. “I am truly excited for the future of Amplifier.”