Nonprofit record label centers around representation

Tiara and Andrew, Duo group, perform at Behind the Music concert. Photo by Teairrah Green

Natalie Barr, Staff Writer

Grimalkin Records, a Richmond-based nonprofit, is more than just music — it’s about community and representation for LGBTQ, transgender, people of color and disabled artists.

Grim Kells, founder of Grimalkin Records, is queer and disabled and wanted to create a space where others like themselves could feel safe and supported within the music industry, they said. 

The passion project began in 2016 and became Grimalkin Records two years later. The record company became a nonprofit in 2022 and received grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts to help fund their mission, according to Kells. 

“Personally, it’s important to me just wanting there to be a space for folks to feel like it was okay to be who they truly are,” Kells said.

Kells wants to extend beyond just releasing music; they want to help promote their music, book shows and hold events, they said. 

Grimalkin offered workshops to their artists on topics like mixing, running a label and putting up a release. Next on the horizon is the dream of a Tri-City festival, Kells said.

“We could have it in different cities. I think Baltimore would be awesome because we have several artists both in Baltimore and in Philadelphia,” Kells said.

Grimalkin Records hopes to continue to expand their community outreach to build more connections and partnerships to support their artists on a bigger scale, eventually hoping to have a studio and event space near or in Richmond. The record label wants their impact to be deeper and change the music industry, especially for marginalized creatives, Kells said.  

“We hope to be an example of how to provide artist-centered services within the music industry and to have an impact on transforming the music industry,” Kells said.

Eli Owens, a solo artist known as (Eli)zabeth Owens, is also a founding member of Grimalkin, they said. The work Grimalkin does to support queer and people of color musicians is important because usually marginalized groups are often overlooked, Owens said. 

“It feels really nice to be part of a community that’s trying to create alternative systems for artists to find support to live their truth and find fulfilling lives doing what they love,” Owens said.

Owens has always been a creative person and grew up writing songs, playing piano and guitar, and enjoying voice lessons, they said. Owens followed their creative drive into college, realized they missed music and began making music again in 2016. 

“The first release was pretty challenging,” Owens said. “I think, by the time I had started writing my second album, which was 2017, it was very — ‘Oh, I think this is what I’m supposed to do with my life’ kind of a moment.” 

Owens said they wanted to become a big pop star at the beginning of their music journey with all the “glitz and glamor” but found they were already living their dream — teaching music and making their own music, they said

“I don’t have any huge plans other than just like, keep doing what I’m doing, make the next album. Keep working with Grimalkin. Keep making art,” Owens said.

Hoàng-Oanh Huynh, a fan of Richmond’s music scene, has lived in the city since 2020 and credits the music scene for exposing them to many genres of music, even some they thought they would not enjoy, Huynh said. 

“Once you see it, live and hear it, and see these unique people and how they creatively express themselves, it changes your mind,” Huynh said.

Huynh creates music themselves, but has never released anything, they said. After seeing local musicians perform, it has sparked them to do more, Huynh said.

“Being surrounded by a lot of creative, queer, people of color, as well, really is super inspiring to me, and I always walk away feeling really inspired and motivated to try to release something,” Huynh said.

Richmond and the city’s music scene also allowed Huynh to find a sense of community and acceptance with themselves, they said. Huynh appreciated the representation shown within local Richmond artists and Grimalkin Records that is often not seen in mainstream artists, they said.

“It’s really nice to see other queer POC [people of color] that are not seen in huge musicians or have a lot of representation,” Huynh said. 

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