shirlette celebrates Gladys Bentley in PBS American Masters Series, UNLADYLIKE2020


PBS American Masters Series, UNLADYLIKE2020 celebrates the unsung contribution of women throughout American history.

From the UNLADYLIKE2020 website:

From March 4 through August 26, 2020, UNLADYLIKE2020 will be releasing 26 short films and a broadcast hour on PBS American Masters profiling diverse and little-known American women from the turn of the 20th century, and contemporary women who follow in their footsteps.

Shirlette participated in the episode honoring 1920′s blues legend, Gladys Bentley, the inspiration behind shirlette’s 2016 album, Twilight for Gladys Bentley, which she calls a ‘re-imagining’ of Bentley.

Watch the UNLADYLIKE2020 profile of Gladys Bentley featuring an appearance by shirlette HERE.

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Purchase Language Barrier + Twilight for Gladys Bentley

Purchase  shirlette’s 2016 album Language Barrier (Churchkey Records, SugarQube Records), featuring guest appearances from Meshell Ndegeocello, The Indigo Girls, Amelia Meath, Median, Hiss Golden Messenger, sookee, Phil Cook, and H.C. McEntire HERE.

Purchase shirlette’s 2015 album, Twilight for Gladys Bentley featuring guest appearances from Chaunesti Webb, Jocelyn Ellis, Max Bedroom, Little Hollow, sookee, W. Ellington Felton, and Sy Smith HERE.

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Shorlette Interviews shirlette for After Ellen

shirlette ammons on collaborating with Indigo Girls & Meshell Ndegeocello for “Language Barrier”

Durham, North Carolina-based shirlette ammons is master of the backslash—that is to say she’s a poet/musician/activist. One of those busy few with a message and method who seems to find time in the day the rest of us assumed a fable Beyonce’s team imagined.


photo by Tim-Walter via

On her second release Language Barrier she’s partnered with a stellar collection of artists—from the Indigo Girls to Meshell Ndegeocello and Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso—to create a rounded and surprising collection of singles altogether enjoyable and surprising in their spectral range. She’s also releasing the album as a dual collaboration, the first with her business partner Shorlette, who happens to also be her twin sister and co-owner of their label SugarQube, as well as indie Durham local label Churchkey.

One of my favorite tracks on the album (“Language Barrier Segue), features German rapper sookee. It’s a beautiful example of shirlette’s ability to be both thought-provoking lyrically and musically minded in a such a way that invites an audience to want to listen and participate.



Ahead of the release of the album on Friday shirlette, creative juices flowing, sat down with Shorlette and recorded the answers to some of our questions.


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shirlette featured on NPR Sense of Place

shirlette at Overdub Lane Studios, Durham

My crew and I had a great time recording an in-studio session for NPR’s World Music Cafe Sense of Place series. Thanks to Overdub Studios for hosting us!

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Afropunk Exclusive Premiere: “Dear Nora” shirlette feat Meshell Ndegeocello

via Afropunk:

AFROPUNK PREMIERE: “Dear Nora” by Poet/Musician Shirlette Ammons ft. Meshell Ndegeocello offers a dose of hopefulness

by Sound Check

19 hours ago

“For me, Meshell Ndegeocello is the musician who best represents a genuine creative freedom, without fear of bounds or boundaries. Her catalogue of music is genius and has undoubtedly been one that has provided me with the most inspiration, affirmation, challenge to learn, and freedom to create what I want how I want. It’s really difficult to put into words how much it means to have her perform “Dear Nora”–a song I wrote that reflects this notion of ‘love as an act of resistance,’ which is the main artery of the album. I wanted each song on the record to possess its own collection of risks. I think “Dear Nora”‘s risks lie in its marriage of fantasy and hopefulness, which seem to be relevant, juxtaposing themes in this day and age. Meshell’s handling of the song allows those themes to become apparent, then visible, and ultimately tangible. She’s simply amongst the best. I’m so very grateful,” Shirlette Ammons tells AFROPUNK. 

“Dear Nora” is the musical manifestation of sunshine: bright, joyful, and evocative of pure optimism. Take a listen down below.

By Erin White, AFROPUNK Contributor.



Photo by Tim Walter

Photo by Tim Walter

Photo by Jason Rodgers

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Video Premiere: Earth Intro, shirlette feat. The Indigo Girls (via Paste Magazine)

via Paste Magazine:

By Paste Staff  |  December 23, 2015  |  11:00am

shirlette ammons is premiering the video for her track “Earth Intro” off of her upcoming full-length album Language Barrier, to be released February 5, 2016 via Churchkey and SugarQube Records.

“The video concept was devised by Kid Ethnic who also shot and edited it,” said ammons of the video. “It’s basically an arrangement of clips that are playful and carefree. I wanted to do something that represented the anthemic vibe of the song, the sheer joy of it….and I wanted to dance in front of the screen!”
The track features folk rock duo, The Indigo Girls.

“It was an honor to have the Indigo Girls sing this song,” she continued. “I had them in mind for the song from the moment I wrote it. They have so many songs in their catalogues that feel like epic sing-alongs and I wanted them to add that personality to Earth Intro.”

Watch the video for shirlette ammons’ “Earth Intro,” featuring The Indigo Girls, below.

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Culture Collide debuts shirlette new single feat sookee

November 13, 2015

shirlette teams up with sookee on “Language Barrier Segue”

From Culture Collide:
As a poet and musician, Durham, North Carolina-based wordsmith shirlette ammons is well-versed on the robust and all-encompassing power of lyricism. In anticipation of Language Barrier, her sophomore album and riotous ode to verse (out on February 5), ammons has just gifted the public with a brand-new single, a collaboration with Berlin’s resident rap queen sookee entitled, “Language Barrier Segue.” Here, militaristic drum beats merge with ominous drones and heavy-hitting bass drops as spoken word reigns supreme. ammons reveals that the release centers around the notion of “love as an act of resistance.” She explains, “I wanted to approach genre as a ‘barrier’ then break it down. I wanted to write an album that explores the ways we love across imposed and implied barriers.”

sookee and i are consistent collaborators and i’m very proud that this track is debuting at this moment. for those interested, i’ve posted the lyrics here:

lyrics: sookee, shirlette ammons
music: Daniel Hart
vocals: sookee, shirlette ammons

sookee verse (w/English translations)
Es geht selten um english esperanto und deutsch
It’s rarely about english esperanto or german

Es geht oft darum zu verdrängen und darum zu versäumen
It’s more often about repressing and neglecting

Die barriere im kopf eine karriere verbockt
The barrier in the mind, a career gambled away

Keine euros und dollars auch kein leben für für gott
No euros no dollars neither a life for god

Aber ein klares verständnis wie kann ich dir begegnen
But a clear understanding of how i can i encounter you

Meine konzepte und wünshe inzwishen nicht mehr vernebelt
My concepts and wishes aren’t foggy anymore

Denn ich trau mir vertrauen zu in gesichtern verewigt
Cause i dare to have trust manifested in faces

In teilen im meim eigenen und dazwishen beweglich
Partly in parts and also in my own, still flexible in between

Da sind liebesbegriffe die uns zu tiefe verpflichen
There are terms of love that obligate us to depth

Worte sind sauerstoffflashen wenn uns krisen vergiften
Words are oxygen bottles when we are poisoned by crises

Wir kommunizieren komplexer realitäten entsprechend

We communicate more complex according to realities
Was meinst du mit was meinst du kann mich nicht ewig verstecken

What do you mean by what do you mean, can’t hide forever
Sprache ergänzt durch blicke hände und lächeln

Language complemented by gazes hands and smiles
Wir sind so im moment dass wir das ende vergessen

We are so kept in the moment that we forget about the end
Und den anfang, den standard wenn du magst kannst dus weitersagen

And about the beginning and the standards, you can spread the word if you want to

Parole brückenbau und grenzen zerplatzen wie seifenblasen
Watch word building bridges, barriers burst like soap bubbles

shirlette verse:
For those who deal with the ridged curiosity’s hidden
and the aim is mistaken coded in smokescreens of language

Take the tongue from the tiger feel ashamed when they bite it
but we aim for the opposite, igniting the silence

If we don’t name our injustice a generations indicted
if we do speak about it, we’d be far from nearsighted

I wrote this fearing the mirror the one you clearly invited
held up facing the angels plus the demons inside us

I’m only versed in 3 pidgins: ebonic, country, and christian
plus the jargon of forefathers who don’t seek forgiveness

Now we burning them bridges amidst the broken and brilliant
watch the barriers burst like bubbles scaling a building
but nothing’s ever that simple ‘cept my word and my pencil
in 24 hour diners breaking from making a living yeah

so when I finish the sentence
since we mend distance with sentence
let’s never finish this sentence




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shirlette & twin sister, Shorlette, Launch SugarQube Records

Durham, NC-based poet and musician shirlette ammons partners with twin sister, Shorlette Ammons, launch SugarQube Records.

shirlette says, “Our goal is to create a platform that supports artists who blur genre lines by making music that pushes the bounds of categories and labels. The concept behind SugarQube developed from my own experiences as an artist seeking support. SugarQube will represent artists who want to create defiant work. I love hip hop and R&B, but what if you’re a Black musician who wants to create outside of the molds you’ve been arbitrarily cast into? SugarQube aims to allow artist that opportunity.”

SugarQube will co-release shirlette’s sophomore solo album with Durham, NC’s Churchkey Records in early 2016. The first single from the album will be released September 2015.

“Soon after Shorlette and I decided to create the SugarQube label to release my new album, Churchkey expressed interest in releasing the new record to,” shirlette adds. “We’re excited to work with Kyle and Steve of Churchkey on our inaugural project and feel the collaboration only strengthens the ideas that inspire SugarQube Records.”

For Shorlette, a former librarian-turned-community gardener and food justice activist, this is a first venture into music. About starting SugarQube, Shorlette says, “We grew up around music and continue to have a genuine love for artistic expression. I am truly a fan of shirlette’s first solo record, Twilight for Gladys Bentley, and look forward to working with her to support her second.”

More information will be announced about SugarQube Records’ co-release with Churchkey in the coming weeks. Visit for more information as it is announced.

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New Dates Announced!

Language Barrier Tour | Germany Summer 2015

Langauge Barrier Tour | Summer 2015 (photo by Danielle Riley)

Shirlette Ammons Tour Dates

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Done Dyin (Free Download)

done dyin (lyrics)
[original lyrics, music by outkast: idlewild blues (dontchu worry bout me)]
something’s on my mind
gotta tell you now
got my feet heavy
got my mind worried
got my soul searching
i’m done dyin
now more closed curtain
pussyfootin haul-tailing
got my storytelling
i’m done dyin
something’s on my mind
gotta tell you now (2x)
the sky turned purple and pale
the wind got wound up and wailed
look around in every direction
mother earth just wouldn’t behave
somethings on my mind
gotta tell you now (2x)
all the ones was believing in prayer
got round up and hauled outta there
man tried to blame the sky lord
should be ashamed of himself
somethings on my mind
gotta tell you now (2x)
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