Editor’s Note: “The Reel Black List” is our annual spotlight of brothers and sisters in the worlds of advertising, film, TV, music, radio and media who are making a difference through their contributions and creativity on a daily basis. For the next 29 days, you will be able to celebrate wonderful human beings, like Matthew Head with us.
The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song is a moving four-hour, two-part series from executive producer, host and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America.
Emmy-winning composer Matthew Head (P-Valley) scored PBS and WETA’s upcoming doc. His inspiration for creating the intimate score and brand new gospel songs comes from his own childhood experiences in the Black church.
The two-part documentary made a huge impact on Matthew’s own faith. He realized just how important gospel music is and how it served as a release and as the secret code that allowed Black people to continue to move forward and have faith.
Matthew made sure the new gospel songs he wrote were different from the compositions because it was important that they didn’t blend into each other.
What’s your origin story?
I started playing piano at the age of five years old. My mother was very adamant about me learning an instrument and piano was my first choice. I studied piano for eight years and ventured off on playing by ear and writing my own music.
I wasn’t a huge fan at first, because I wanted to play sports, but eventually writing music became a hobby that grew into something bigger that I never expected. After dropping out of college to pursue a career in music, I began producing music for local Atlanta singers and songwriters.
How did you get into the film industry?
While working in studios, I was contacted by a film production company (The Horne Brothers) and was asked to write the score for their indie film, The Kissing Bandit. I fell in love with the process of film composition and never looked back.
Who were your mentors?
While being in Atlanta, film composers were hard to come by. At the time, Atlanta was and is a heavy music production hub, but not a film hub. So with that, I would study and read about other film composers in the industry.
I admire the work of Quincy Jones, Terrence Blanchard, and Hans Zimmer and would read about their process and their movement through the industry.
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement to date has to be winning an Emmy for my work on a short documentary film titled, Melissa’s Story. It was so unexpected and I did the project not knowing that it would take off the way it did. With that win, doors opened up for me throughout the industry.
Also, winning an NAACP Image Award for my work on Greenleaf was incredible.
How about your biggest disappointment?
I really don’t have any disappointments. In my world as a composer and music producer for film/tv, I receive a lot of “no’s” until I get the yes. I learned early that I had to develop a thick skin and prepare myself for setbacks.
With that being said, every setback is an opportunity for a setup. Every project I work on is preparing for future projects. So I don’t consider disappointments in the industry as negative moments, but future blessings. What’s for me is for me.
How has having the superpower of your Blackness helped you?
I am proud to be a Black Film Composer from Atlanta. Black folks are the culture. Our style, our music, our writing, and creativity is needed and wanted in the industry.
It’s been this way since the beginning of time. I am proud and grateful to be able to create music to shape our story and history.
If Black culture is your superpower, what is your kryptonite?
Myself… I am my worst enemy. Because I am a Black film composer in a field that has been dominated by white males, I tend to overthink and add pressure and stress to myself to compete with “industry” standards and expectations.
I have to remind myself that I deserve to be here and I belong. With the help from my wife, family, and friends as support, I continue to gain confidence and move forward.
How did last year’s BLM movements affect you personally?
BLM movements and the protests of 2020 affected me deeply. I come from and live in a city (Marietta, Ga) that has subtle reminders of how far we’ve come, but so much further to go.
My wife and I have had several uncomfortable conversations with my 8-year-old son about his skin color and how America sees him. We hate that we have to them, but it’s necessary in these days and times.
What can the industry do better to promote true diversity?
Black people should tell and create BLACK Stories. The opportunities are there and we should continue to use our voices to do so. I am proud to be a member of the Composer Diversity Collective, which is made up of minority composers, music supervisors, and more.
The goal of the group is to increase visibility and opportunities to minority music makers in the film/tv industry. The program was founded by award-winning composer Michael Ables and lead by fellow composer Amanda Jones.
If you’re Batman, who’s Robin?
I really don’t have a Robin…. But I do have an amazing support system with family and friends. My wife, Etasha, has been my biggest cheerleader from the beginning.
Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I also work with a network of musicians, songwriters, and artists that are extremely talented. They keep me motivated and grounded.
What drives you to create?
I love working on projects that tell our unique story. I want to work on projects that push me to new heights musically and creatively. Looking forward to bigger and better in the future.
The Black Church premieres on PBS February 16th and 23rd and features interviews with Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, among others. It’s from executive producer, writer, and host Henry Louis Gates, Jr.