Melanated Melodies: A space for Black students to connect through music

Founded in 2019, the a cappella group helps Black students at Elon connect and strengthen their community.

Rehearsal is about to begin as “I Feel So Good,” a crowd-favorite warmup song, resonates through Carlton Hall. The members of Melanated Melodies are content simply being together, but the real magic happens when they sing.

“Our purpose is to spread joy,” vice president of Melanated Melodies Kara McKinley ’24 said. The group, which is 13 members strong, boasts a variety of songs in its setlist, ranging from Billie Eilish to Willow Smith.

The group poses for a photo after performing on Elon News Network for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Melanated Melodies has performed at several events this year, including Elon’s annual Festival of Lights and Luminaries, “Acapocalypse,” a concert benefiting Elon Academy and the group’s own first concert.

“I really get into the lyrics … what each artist is trying to say. I feel connected,” said Steven Mmari ’24, who also serves as treasurer of the group. Mmari attributes Melanated Melodies’ cohesive sound to the closeness of its family-like atmosphere.

“We’re always open to exploring and bettering ourselves as musicians,” said Nina McDow, music director. As music director, McDow specializes in perfecting the group’s sound. Along with its music, Melanated Melodies provides an opportunity for Black students at Elon to connect and strengthen their community.

“We see ourselves as representing something that is not represented already,” Mmari said. The group has provided Mmari and other members with an Elon family and given them a home within the Elon community.

“I made the space so that Black students felt like they had a voice in a cappella,” co-founder and former president Queen Assata Stephens ’22 said. Stephens founded Melanated Melodies in the fall of 2019 but has envisioned the space for Black students since she first stepped foot on campus.

As the former president of Elon’s Black Student Union (BSU), Stephens is heavily involved on campus. She was determined to expand the a cappella community to promote inclusivity ahead of the group’s founding. Through her involvement on campus coupled with her passion for music, Stephens became passionate about creating a space for Black students to connect through music.

“When you see a need, meet the need,” Stephens said. The purpose that Stephens sought for Melanated Melodies came to fruition in fall 2020, when the group was first able to recruit new members.

A photograph of the group’s logo.

“I wake up thinking about Melanated,” McKinley said. “It’s something I look forward to every day.” Melanated Melodies has allowed McKinley both a musical and social outlet. You will find the group bonding over its collective sense of humor, passion for music and involvement in the a cappella community.

“I get to spend every other day with the same people I know and love,” social chair Alyssa Wise ’25 said. “I’m very excited and interested to see where this goes over my next four years.”