By Mike Kinney
A musical project aimed at encouraging Richmond community members to wear their masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic has unmasked a major talent within the Richmond Police Department.
Richmond police Officer Andrea President, age 32, is the voice and songwriter behind a new music video promoting protective face coverings that features dozens of Richmond community members. It turns out this cop is hardly new to the music business, nor is she new to musical projects that make a difference in East Bay communities.
Before becoming a police officer, President sang with legendary musicians Pete Townsend of The Who and Dave Pack of Ambrosia, and worked as a production assistant for the Grammy Awards’ 54th, 55th and 56th broadcasts, from 2012-2014.
President’s mother was a well-known gospel singer with world famous Edwin Hawkins Singers from Love Center Church in Oakland. Most people know them by their famous song, ‘Oh, Happy Day.’ Her mother also sang back-up vocal work with performing artists like Patti LaBelle.
“One day, Jamey Hawkins, the son of Walter Hawkins and brother of Edwin approached me to start singing gospel at the Church,” President said. “I have an alto voice so I started singing with the young adult praise team there. So, I learned the fundamentals of music and singing in the church.”
A Houston native, President moved to the Bay Area in 2000. In 2010, she bought a pink guitar at a second-hand store on International Boulevard in Oakland, admitting she knew “nothing about music, much less playing a guitar.” She went ahead and bout it anyway.
With persistence, she picked up the instrument quickly. Over a few years, she became accomplished at both the acoustic and electric bass guitars. She also began volunteering with the youth program Guitars Not Guns, a nonprofit that encourages youth to express their experiences through music. During her time with the nonprofit 2010 to 2014, she taught youth and young adults the fundamentals of playing the guitar in East Oakland, and became the nonprofit’s Alameda County Chapter president and joined its national board.
“Music and people are my passion,” President said, and passion would take her to the next level.
From 2014 to 2016, President was production assistant for Larry Batiste, an Oakland native and music director for the Grammy Awards pre-telecast. Batiste, a famed producer who has worked with Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis and the News, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and more, made President his protégée in the music industry.
President also worked for Batiste on the TEC Awards, held annually by the National Association of Music Merchants to recognizes achievements in audio and sound production. This is where President sang vocals with Townsend and Pack.
While her musical potential was high, so was her potential in law enforcement. At one point President decided to expand her educational horizons and enrolled in criminology courses at Merritt College in Oakland. She would finish at the top of her class, and her instructor, former Oakland police Chief Howard Jordon, told her she should really consider pursuing the career.
And so President attended the Police Academy at Los Mendanos College in Pittsburg, where she graduated with honors. In 2016, she was swiftly picked-up by the Richmond Police Department.
While President left her musical career behind, her talents have remained. And so when Michelle Denis Milam, the city of Richmond’s Crime Prevention Manager, approached her about helping with a musical public service announcement about wearing masks amid the pandemic, she pulled out a guitar and began writing.
Milam wanted the musical video to feature original music, so President wrote and composed a song in just 30 minutes. The resulting music video features Richmond community members wearing masks as President performs her song, “At A Distance,” in the background.
“I was super overjoyed to be involved in this production,” President said. “Music and people are my passion. And my true passion is giving back to others.”