Fender and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R. recently made history cementing a multi-year creative relationship with making her the first black female recording artist with a signature guitar from the legendary guitar manufacturer Fender. H.E.R. joins an iconic list of string ticklers in history who have had a guitar with the imprint. To get a little more insight on how it all happened we spoke with the person who was instrumental in making it happen Moya Nkruma, Fender’s Artist Marketing Manager representing Black Music & Culture: R&B/Hip Hop, Reggae, Gospel, etc. Although in the middle of launching the American Professional II, Fender’s biggest line of electric’s this year, she was able to give us time for 5 questions about the H.E.R. x Fender relationship and the songstress’ history-making signature guitar.
Cassius Life: How did the decision come about with giving HER a signature guitar?
Moya Nkruma: Immediately following H.E.R.’s unforgettable 2019 Grammy performance of “Hard Place” with the H.E.R. Fender Custom Shop acrylic Stratocaster made by Scott Buehl, we learned that there was a huge uptick in Google searches for clear guitars and we received several order requests to our Fender Custom Shop to make the same exact guitar for other artists. I also received several calls and text messages from other artists and colleagues, who watched H.E.R.’s performance, tell me that their daughters or little sisters now want to learn how to play the guitar. Coupled with H.E.R.’s incredible artistry, I saw this as an opportunity to make the pitch for Fender to invest in an influential artist that is clearly putting her stamp on music and culture. H.E.R.’s management team, MBK Entertainment, was also aligned. Outside of her winning performance, they witnessed first-hand, the magical response H.E.R.’s clear guitar received, so when I reached out to gage H.E.R.’s interest in the project, they were already on the same wavelength. Once I got the green light from our CMO and executives on our Product Team, it was on!
CL: What was the process from agreeing to the final release?
MN: I flew out to Brooklyn with our Head of Artist Signature Models, Michael Schulz and Chase Paul from our Product Team to meet with H.E.R. to discuss the design of the guitar. She knew exactly what she wanted and it was our job to turn her vision into a reality! She wanted to create an instrument that changed based on how light would touch it and the paint was inspired by chrome nail polish. Our product team immediately went to work to R&D the paint and they made a beautiful guitar and named the paint color “Chrome Glow.”
H.E.R. and her management team at MBK are one of the easiest artist partners I have ever worked with! Specifically, H.E.R.’s day-to-day, Jeanine McLean. Jeanine provided the access we needed to ensure the design approvals, contracts, and content concepts were all done with ease.
CL: Fender and H.E.R. have had a long-standing relationship, how did that get started?
MN: Fender has been an early supporter of H.E.R. In 2017, Fender produced a mini-documentary featuring five artists, including H.E.R., for its Offset Series campaign. These artists were given complete creative freedom to showcase how the guitar inspired them. It wasn’t until the Grammys performance in 2019, that kicked the relationship into high gear.
CL: H.E.R. is the first Black woman to receive a signature guitar from Fender. What does this mean to Fender and will there be any more initiatives reaching out to this demographic?
MN: As H.E.R.’s Signature Model project was underway and we began to plan the marketing strategy, it was very clear to me, early on, that this would have a huge impact on culture. As a Black woman who is also a musician, I knew what it would mean to see someone, who looked like me, honored in this space. The day of the release of the H.E.R.’s Fender Signature Stratocaster was definitely an emotional moment for me. Representation matters.
Before I began my tenure at Fender, it was already a goal to make the Fender artist roster more diverse and to support more genres. A few years ago, Fender did an independent market research study that found that 50% of all new guitar owners were women. These findings began to shift Fender’s understanding of the new market and influenced its marketing strategy. As the Artist Marketing Manager that supports the R&B, Hip Hop, Reggae, Gospel genres, and everything in between, my role is to not only supply performing, recording and touring artists with Fender gear but to also amplify the voices of artists of color and women that are representatives of our current culture by partnering with them on producing original storytelling content told through the Fender lens. Fender has made it a top priority to invest in the growth of this space because it is important that we see our heroes in the legacy artists we all know and love but also usher in the next generation of tomorrow’s icons.
CL: I know she has had two other Strats designed by Fender. An Acrylic one and a black one. Would love to hear the stories behind those as well.
For the Clear Acrylic Stratocaster, I had only been at Fender for about 3 months and it was the last day of NAMM. I received a text from H.E.R.’s management to see if we could make an all-clear Stratocaster for a surprise Grammy performance. I just so happened to be standing next to our EVP of Operations, Ed Magee, who runs our factories in Ensenada, Mexico and our Fender Custom Shop in Corona, California. I showed him the text and asked if we could make this. He said yes but asked when she needed it. I told him she would need it in about a week for the Grammys. Fender Custom Shop projects typically take about 6 months to complete and he told me that we probably couldn’t make that work. After some discussion and problem solving, we knew we would be missing out on a HUGE opportunity to be part of a very special moment. With four Grammy nominations and her prowess in the music industry, we knew she’d likely take one home. Ed told me later that night that the team could build the guitar! In fact, Fender Custom Shop Master Builder Scott Buehl made the clear acrylic Stratocaster in just five days! The rest is history.
For the Blacked-Out Stratocaster, Jeanine and I had an end-of-year check-in meeting before business shut down for the holidays. She gave me an update on all things H.E.R. and let me know that she was preparing for a Pepsi Co Superbowl commercial with Missy Elliott. They recorded a cover to the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and needed an “all black everything.” We also made a replica of the same Strat for H.E.R. to auction off at the Musicares charity event during Grammy week. This project also came out of our Fender Custom Shop and we got it to her fairly quickly. It’s really exciting to see this project show up in a major commercial spot for Pepsi promoting the Super Bowl. H.E.R. also used it during her 2020 Grammy performance of “Sometimes.” I really enjoy making exciting showpieces for artists like H.E.R. The instruments Fender builds are used as extensions of an artist’s personality and voice, so to see projects like these cross the finish line and show up on stages is well worth the effort in knowing that you played a small role in building their dream.