To make it in the music business, you need talent and an "in."
Unbeknownst to many, the music industry program at the University of Texas at Arlington has both.
"When I was a freshman in college, I had the opportunity to write and produce a song with Boyz II Men, and so I jumped on it and was successful," said Jamar Jones, an adjunct professor of music industry studies at UTA. "So my first song that I ever got out was on a record that sold about five million copies."
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When he's not busy teaching at UTA, Jones travels the world, producing for and performing with some of the biggest names in the industry — including Rihanna, Jamie Foxx, and Usher.
But for him, there's one artist who stands out among the rest.
"Let me tell you about Patti LaBelle," laughed Jones. "Patti LaBelle is like my other mother."
It wasn't long ago that the music legend called him up and asked if he'd produce her new holiday album. Naturally, Jones said yes. As he started working on it, he saw an opportunity to create opportunity for the people around him.
"I hope they get the opportunity to see that this is how the music business works," said Jones. "Everything is based on relationships."
The first person he turned to was his UTA colleague and friend Dan Cavanagh, who agreed to arrange all the horn parts for the album.
"I want it to be good no matter who it is," said Cavanagh, the director of music industry studies at UTA. "But an artist of that stature, you have more exposure so you pull out all the stops."
Jones then went to some of his students who are members of an acapella group called Rise and asked if they'd be interested in doing backup vocals.
"All he said was that he wanted to get us involved on a project that he was working on," said Caleb Moore, a student at UTA. "And then he told me later on, oh by the way, it's Patti LaBelle's Christmas album. And when I told the group, everyone lost it because everyone loves Patti LaBelle. Who doesn't love her?"
The rest, as they say, is history.
"It was magic for this project to come together," said Jones.
"It was a lot of pressure, but we pulled it together," said Moore.
"Yeah, I think we did pretty well," said Marie Stennett, another student who sang on the album. "We've never done anything like this, so we were super excited to be anywhere near Patti LaBelle."
LaBelle recorded all of her vocals in a studio on the east coast, but Jones would constantly send her files with the work they were doing in Texas so she could listen and offer her input.
Apparently, she liked what she heard.
"She loved all of it," said Jones. "It was incredible."
"Patti LaBelle Presents: Home for the Holidays With Friends" is now available in stores and online retailers.