Musicians And Artists Show Unity With ‘Milwaukee Strong’ Project

By Brad Kolberg | August 18, 2020

  • A screenshot from the "Milwaukee Strong" music video. (Directed by Samer Ghani)

A screenshot from the "Milwaukee Strong" music video. (Directed by Samer Ghani)

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When the mayor of Milwaukee asks you to write a song that shows love for your city, it’s easy to say yes.

Kevin Sucher, executive director of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, got a call from Mayor Tom Barrett’s office asking if he could coordinate the music project.

“So I called Shonn Hinton, who is an unbelievably talented guitar player and writer and producer,” Sucher said.

Hinton is a lifelong Milwaukeean and has serious music credentials —  as a guitarist for Mary J. Blige since 2004, plus Jill Scott, John Legend, Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne.

Shonn Hinton on stage with Mary J. Blige (Courtesy Shonn Hinton)

The project started when musicians in Louisville, Kentucky released a song called “Lift Up Louisville” in April. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer challenged peer cities to create songs for their cities as well.

So when Hinton was asked to write a “love song” for Milwaukee, he felt the stakes were high.

“This is kind of a big deal,” he said. “It’s nothing like writing a song for yourself. It’s another thing to write something that could possibly represent who we are as as Milwaukeeans. I was like, you know what? I’m gonna take a stab at it.”

“Now, keep in mind, we’re fresh off the heels of the Miller Coors shooting that claimed the lives of five employees there. So that was heavy on my heart,” Hinton said. “Then the pandemic happened and then we had to deal with the civil unrest with George Floyd dying. It was weighing heavy on my heart. I needed to do something.”

The result is “Milwaukee Strong.” Written and performed by Hinton with production assistance from B~Free, the song features contributions from over 30 Milwaukee musicians, including REYNA and SistaStrings.



The pandemic prevented everyone from piling in to a recording studio or gathering for a video shoot, so a little extra creativity was required to get the job done.

“I cut the song here in my living room. B~Free cut the song with her and her husband’s studio,” said Hinton. “I shot my video here at home and everybody else, you know, they did the exact same thing.”

The song’s video was directed by Samer Ghani, and features a 620 foot-long mural by Milwaukee artist Ken Brown entitled “The Hero In You.” The song, video and mural make the project something the whole city can take pride in.

Mayor Tom Barrett was thrilled with the results, and declared July 24th “Milwaukee Strong Day.”

“The results of their work are remarkable,” said Barrett. “In suggesting a Milwaukee song, I hoped for a piece that would inspire and unify our community; my expectations have been greatly exceeded.”

Hinton said that with all the negative in the world right now, he wanted to put out a positive message for his city.

Shonn Hinton on stage (Courtesy Shonn Hinton)

“Yes, we are dealing with difficulties right now. You know, there are difficult days ahead. But I want to be able to go out and dap you and like, ‘Yo, we good, fam! This is love,'” he said. “This is all love, you know? No hate, no negativity, no negative energy, no nothing,”

And Hinton is optimistic. He thinks Milwaukee can come away from its current challenges stronger than before.

“If we’re always conscious and aware of what’s happening around us and we’re not on autopilot, I think that moving forward, this city will start to really, really demonstrate unity, complete unity,” he said.

“I do. I do.”

Brad Kolberg with his daughter at Miller Park.

Brad Kolberg

Brad Kolberg is a radio producer and engineer from Stoughton, WI.  He likes to take time for his wife & daughter, The Brewers & Packers, music & beer discovery, and running down a trail somewhere out in the woods of Wisconsin.

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