Two Amandas Make Beautiful Music For Lena Waithe's "Twenties"
Composer Amanda Jones (photo by Anthony Guinnip)
Composer and music supervisor delve into groundbreaking BET series centered on an LGBTQ+ woman of color

Recently the Lena Waithe-created comedy series Twenties, which premiered on BET in March, was renewed for a second season. The show broke new ground on BET, becoming the network’s first to be led by an LGBTQ+ character, a masculine-presenting woman of color named Hattie (portrayed by Jonica T. Gibbs). 

Twenties--which is gaining additional exposure as season one started running on Showtime this month--introduces us not only to Hattie but her two straight best friends, Marie (played by Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham). The Black protagonists all have entertainment industry aspirations, with Hattie keenly focused on forging a career for herself in Hollywood from the ground up.

Among those behind the scenes of the show are two women who drive Twenties musically and are making their own mark in Hollywood--composer Amanda Jones and music supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas. The former’s credits include Ava DuVernay’s anthology series, Cherish the Day, for OWN, Robin Thede and Issa Rae’s A Black Lady Sketch Show for HBO, Sujata Day’s upcoming feature film Definition Please, Kofi Siriboe’s directorial debut Jump, James Bland’s scripted series Giants (season two) produced by Rae, Lisa Kudrow’s Shitty Boyfriends on CW/Refinery 29, Cierra Glaude’s film Spilt Milk for AT&T Hello Lab, the Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra-directed St. Louis Superman which was nominated for a Best Short Subject Documentary Oscar, and director Menelek Lumumba’s 1 Angry Black Man.

Meanwhile Thomas’ credentials include three Guild of Music Supervisors Award nominations in 2019 for Ryan Murphy series--one for Pose and two for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Her music supervision credits include such other Murphy shows as The Politician, Hollywood, American Horror Story and 9-1-1. Outside the Murphy realm, Thomas--who heads her L.A.-based music supervision firm Yay Team Productions--has supervised music for such series as the Eliot Laurence-created Claws and Joseph Weisberg’s The Americans.

Category inclusion
Thomas is gratified to see the primetime Emmys finally recognize music supervision, with the TV Academy launching the category in 2017. She said that the role of music supervision is multi-dimensional. On the surface, it’s equated with being the person who picks songs to fit the mood of a scene. But in the bigger picture, she observed, “The job is fulfilling the musical vision of the showrunner or creative leads on a project to the fullest and in the most effective way. This does of course include song ideas for scenes, but it also includes listening to everyone creatively, keeping track of budget for every episode, clearing all the songs for every episode. Multiple people can own a single song so you’re dealing with a range of personalities--artists, songwriters, lawyers, publishers all with their own agendas, wants and needs. You also have to weigh the cost of one song against another. [For Twenties] Lena wanted Frank Sinatra’s ‘I’ve Got the World on a String.’ It’s an important song in the story. We needed to make that happen clearance-wise while financially looking at the rest of the episode. You have to save money in some places without sacrificing any bit of the creative.”

In her capacity as music supervisor, Thomas also has to oversee the process of any on-camera recording which for Twenties included, for example, a choir in one episode. “You work closely with Lena in picking the song they would sing, then help to get it arranged, get a band into the recording studio, get producer approval, deal with budget components and paperwork.” 

At times, Thomas is also involved with picking a show’s composer. However in the case of Twenties, Jones was already secured for the show. Still, the music supervisor and composer need to come together, determining what scenes call for musically, how original scoring will mesh with existing songs and so on. Thomas said that Jones is a talented collaborator with the two sharing the goal of “making sure Lena’s creative vision is honored, that the characters in the story are honored--women, female, Black, LGBTQ artists. We wanted the communities represented, a responsibility that we all took very seriously.” 

In that vein, Thomas found herself having to delve deeply into music by women of color, by LGBTQ artists. Twenties deployed a mix of legendary artists (Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston) and new talent. On the latter score, Thomas cited such personal discoveries as Eryn Allen Kane whose “Fragile” is a song about generational trauma as it pertains to women of color. “Fragile” made its way into Twenties.

Jones connects with Thomas, Waithe
Composer Jones meanwhile described working with Thomas as a “beautiful and blissful experience,” bringing together licensed and original music to great effect. While Jones’ credits are wide ranging, it was the Twenties pilot that first established her. The show had been in the works for some time, originally slated for another network. “It was my first major project,” related Jones who went onto other significant jobs while Twenties waited to get a full season’s commitment, which eventually came from BET. “Lena let me be an artist,” observed Jones, affording her creative freedom and being receptive to ideas. Jones assessed, “Lena has a knack for identifying talent” and giving them the space “to be their own artistic self.”

Jones met Waithe at an NAACP Image Awards luncheon in 2018. This was back when Jones was coming up the ranks at Lionsgate, working in the music department, involved in the hiring process for composers, music editors, and other aspects of production. This came after Jones worked alongside such heavyweight composers as Michael A. Levine, Henry Jackman, John Powell and Hans Zimmer. She had served as Zimmer’s studio assistant for a stretch. 

At the Image Awards get-together, Waithe--who was laying the groundwork for Twenties at the time--gave her manager’s contact info to Jones. Some six months later Jones finally connected with Waithe’s manager, expressed her desire to work on Twenties, then went through a vetting process and wound up getting the pilot gig.

In addition to her industry experience, Jones brought a formal music education to the proceedings. She received her BA in music from Vassar College, studying music composition, production and classical guitar under Terry Champlin. Jones received certificates in film scoring and orchestration from the Berklee College of Music. Her education is ongoing and she regards Waithe as among her most valued teachers. “I’ve learned so much from Lena. She’s a leader,” said Jones. “She knows how to delegate. She had been working on Twenties, her brainchild, for years, and brought me on to handle the music. Her ability to identify talent and delegate has made me want to include that in my own life. I’m looking to grow a skillset like hers, learning to delegate in a similar fashion, to bring opportunity to others--to learn to let go, to trust your team and let them be themselves.”

Jones is in this year’s Emmy Awards season conversation for her work not only on Twenties but also the Apple TV+ documentary series Home and her main title/theme music for Beef House, a comedy series on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block. Beef House was created by and stars Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.

This is the 11th installment in SHOOT’s 16-part weekly series of The Road To Emmy feature stories. The features explore the field of Emmy contenders, and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, writing, producing, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, music, sound and visual effects. The Road To Emmy series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners in September, and the Primetime Emmy Awards later that month (9/20).

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