Tiara Thomas

When singer-songwriter Tiara Thomas was a Ball State University student a little more than a decade ago, she said she wanted her music to matter, and she wanted to win a Grammy.

She did just that, and maybe more if the Oscars go her way, too.

Thomas, who earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Telecommunications in 2012, won a Grammy for co-writing the 2020 Song of the Year, I Can’t Breathe, in collaboration with singer-songwriter H.E.R.

Fight for You, another song co-written by Thomas and H.E.R., has been nominated for an Oscar. The song is from the movie, Judas and the Black Messiah. The Oscar Academy Awards show is scheduled for April 25.

Thomas developed a diehard core of fans long before her Grammy win and Oscar nomination. Her fan base developed in the early years of her music career, back when she was attending Ball State.

In a recent question-and-answer session, Thomas shared her thoughts and feelings about the standout song I Can’t Breathe, as well as her life’s journey — from the Ball State student writing songs, strumming her guitar and getting a few noise complaints in the dorm, to a Grammy-winning artist … and whatever else awaits her.

How did the song I Can’t Breathe come together?

H.E.R. texted me like “Hey, let’s write a song today,” while I was out apartment hunting. We jumped on a FaceTime call when I got home from apartment hunting. We started talking about everything that was going on with George Floyd, and she wanted to write about it. She was sitting there with her guitar and started playing chords, and we started coming up with lyrics. It all came from a conversation we were having on FaceTime.

We were just happy to try to do what we could. As artists, it’s our job to reflect the times. It’s our job to reflect what we’re going through, what the world is going through, and what people are going through. So, we were happy to put that out. Neither one of us thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to get a Grammy for this!’

Last year was such a unique year because of the pandemic. Usually, the world is moving fast. Everything is moving around you. But last year, everything was closed. And everybody had to pay attention. That’s why I think last year was so important, because it really made people look at themselves, look at the world and see racism for what it is. It was a painful and frustrating time.

What was going through your mind when I Can’t Breathe was announced as the Grammy’s Song of the Year?

I was fine with the nomination, and grateful for it. The nomination was more of a confirmation, for me, that the song was making a big impact.

I was in such disbelief that H.E.R. and I won. We were up against some heavy hitters in the music industry. For example, we were up against Beyonce in that category. I was in disbelief that I was even at the Grammys. And, just thinking about all the stuff I went through in my life. I went through some pretty tough times that left me wondering if I was ever going to accomplish my dream. And here I am, accomplishing my dream in the most unlikely way. I didn’t imagine writing a song with H.E.R. I didn’t imagine writing the ‘Song of the Year.’ I didn’t imagine all of that happening to me. I was just overwhelmed. I was filled with joy and gratitude.

How would describe your experience as a Ball State student?

I loved it at Ball State! I got the chance to find a really cool group of friends in college. I loved the human connections I made, our shared experiences on campus, that sense of community. Also, I appreciate the independence, self-reliance, and confidence I gained there.

As far as my major, I’m happy I chose Telecommunications. I figured I could choose a major that could lead me to get a job that would help me ease my way into the music industry. I just wanted to get into entertainment. I thought, ‘If I get a job at a radio station, maybe I can get my music played.’ Everything was about how I could get into the music industry. Looking back, the classes that I took, like TV production and script writing, were helpful to me.

What’s next on the horizon for your music career?

For the last year, I’ve been working on my solo project that I’m putting out this year: my debut album. In conjunction with that, I’ve also been working on H.E.R.’s album; I wrote a lot of songs with H.E.R. for her album. I’m really excited about that. That will be her debut album.

I’ve been in this game for a long time and I haven’t dropped my own full album. So, I’m really excited about getting that out there. I feel like I’m in a good place to do a solo project. I feel like it’s a good time for me.

Obviously, I’m going to continue work with H.E.R. She’s like my little sister. But I am ready to get back to doing more of my artist things, like touring. I miss touring, being on the road and performing. But that probably won’t happen until sometime next year.

I tell people this about life’s journey: You have an idea about how your life is supposed to go and it might take you on a different route.

In my case, I went on a different route. Attending Ball State was part of that route. I am grateful for my journey, every step of it. I’m not done yet. My journey continues.