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Lester Jackson signs streaming licensing agreement with UVA

Lester Jackson, aka Nathaniel Star, singing into a microphone
Terri Allard
Lester Jackson, who goes by the stage name Nathaniel Star, has created 17 albums of original material in the past three years.

The local singer-songwriter is the first to sign a streaming licensing agreement with the school’s Music Library.

Lester Jackson is a father, husband, singer-songwriter and life-long Charlottesville resident. His music spans multiple genres, including rap, rock, jazz, blues, soul and country.

“I pretty much make everything that I like, you know,” said Jackson. “If I like it, I make it.”

Jackson, who goes by the stage name Nathaniel Star, is also the first artist to have his catalog of digital music purchased through a streaming licensing agreement with the Music Library at the University of Virginia.

“This project is very special, even on a national level,” said Amy Hunsaker, librarian for music and performing arts at the University of Virginia. “It was the first time we purchased anything like this — a digital download directly from a creator. We had to create the license in order to be able to do this. And we're one of the few universities in the United States who have been able to do anything like this.”

The university has always purchased books, albums and CDs to include in its Music Library collection. What makes this licensing agreement different, and why is it so important?

“When an artist sells us their music and it's in the form of a download, we have a lot of power,” Hunsaker said. “We could release their recordings into the wild, which is bad for the artist because that deprives them of the sale and royalties. We wanted to provide protection to the artist, so that when they sell their downloads to us, we download the file, and we only allow access to our patrons who have sign on privileges, so that they can stream the files. They cannot download the files.”

The licensing agreement also guarantees that the university will maintain the files in perpetuity, meaning that a century from now, students and faculty will be able to study Jackson’s music as a historical record of arts and culture from this time period.

Hunsaker discovered Jackson’s music when she first moved to Charlottesville during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was an article in UVA Today, talking about this wonderful rap artist who happened to work at UVA,” said Hunsaker. “And so, I went to his site. I listened to his albums. And, quite simply, I just really loved his work. It was so creative. It was so interesting. I wanted to collect it for the library.”

Jackson is excited and honored to be the first artist to sign a streaming licensing agreement with the library.

“You know, it's something that I can tell my children and that their children can show their children," said Jackson, who refers to himself as a “South First Street housing project baby.”

For Jackson, whose “day job” is working as an elevator assistant mechanic for UVA Facilities Management, making music is “as essential as breathing.”

He remembers singing around the house as a young child with his mother and sister. In his early teens, he focused on writing raps as a member of the Music Resource Center — a nonprofit after-school program for Charlottesville youth where Jackson now serves as board chair. Shortly after, he took up guitar, joined a band and began honing his singer-songwriter skills.

Over the past three years, Jackson wrote material for 17 albums, which he plans to periodically release in the future. Currently, there are several collections covering a variety of themes of music on his Bandcamp that he recorded with his producer, Vintage.

“Eros” — a collection of songs about love — was written around the time of the anniversary of “the summer of hate” in Charlottesville.

“I wanted to infuse some love back into the situation,” said Jackson. “Charlottesville was in the newspapers and in the news for all the wrong reasons. And I felt like we just needed, like, some love.”

For the album, “EL ‘Negro,” he wrote and released 29 songs in February 2020 in honor of Black History Month.

Jackson, who considers himself a father, first and foremost, featured his daughter and oldest son on his album, “Family Matters.” It’s a collection of some of his more personal songs and includes, “Beloved,” a tribute to his mother, whom he refers to as “everything good that I possess.”

“I’m a Charlottesville boy, you know,” said Jackson, “and the University of Virginia is king around here. I never would have thought that the little boy from South First Street was going to have his music archived up there at this place. And here we sit. I’m humbled, that’s for sure. I’m humbled by it.”