Few events in recent memory have shaken Fort Worth like the killing of Atatiana Jefferson. The 28-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by Aaron Dean, a white police officer, as she played video games in a house with her nephew Zion, who lived just a few miles from musician Jeff Dazey.
“I was out of town on tour with a band when it happened,” Dazey said, referring to the October 12, 2019 shooting.
Dazey, who has seven nieces and nephews, was struck by the senselessness of Jefferson’s killing. Jefferson was shot through her window by Dean, who did not announce his presence. Dean entered the property’s backyard after a neighbor alerted Fort Worth police through a non-emergency line that the front door of Jefferson’s home was open.
Dazey attended a candlelight vigil for Jefferson and, weeks later, the National Day of Outrage, where he met Jefferson’s relatives. It was through those tragic first days and weeks that Dazey connected with Amber Carr, Jefferson’s younger sister.
Beyond being a source of support as the Carr family sought justice for Jefferson’s death — Dean has been indicted for murder but remains free on a $200,000 bond, and an August 2021 court date has been tentatively set by Judge David Hagerman — the local saxophonist recently released his first single, “Song for Atatiana,” to fundraise for the Atatiana Project, a STEM-based community center that will operate out of Jefferson’s former home, which belonged to her mother, Yolanda Carr, who died just months after Jefferson was killed.
The “Song for Atatiana” concept, which evolved into a fundraiser, started with conversations between Dazey and Austin-based blues drummer Jay Moeller early this year. Dazey is known nationally as the sideman for R&B sensation Leon Bridges, but he’s been active in the local music scene for 17 years and currently tours with the Colorado-based band Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Keyboardist/bassist/singer Anthony Farrell and guitarist/singer Andrew Trube of The Greyhounds, who are friends with Moeller and Dazey, volunteered to join the recording session. Dazey outlined a blues progression that serves as the acoustic scaffolding for the ballad he envisioned.
“I started with what I thought would be the chorus,” said Dazey, whom Zion refers to as “Uncle Jeff.” The lyrics kept coming. Atatiana’s nephew “loves music,” Dazey said. “He’s a great singer. He sings with the radio and has a great voice for a 10-year-old. ‘What if I can make Atatiana’s name singable for Zion?’ That’s how it started.”
Recorded at Bud’s Recording Services in Austin, “Song for Atatiana” is steeped in Texas blues. Ferrell opens the chorus with warm and deep vocals as he sings, “Atatiana, we won’t forget you. / We won’t let the world forget that you were taken too soon.”
Dazey answers Ferrell’s lines with bluesy lines that sew the verses together into one continuous melody. Trube’s guitar solo, unhurried and stirring, leads to a melancholic bridge that oscillates between major and minor. The extended outro is bathed in soulful vocals by Austin-based singer Tameca Jones.
To expand the reach of “Song for Atatiana,” Dazey directed a music video using footage from an October event dubbed Pull Up for Tay, referring to Jefferson’s nickname. The music video, directed by Dazey, was filmed by camera operator Jake Ryan Hull and edited by Barbara FG, and it follows the two-day celebration of Jefferson’s life that respectively included a car parade, ceremony at Jefferson’s home, candlelight vigil, and memorial service at Jefferson’s gravesite. The cinematic feel of the footage blends solemnity and resilience. Dazey said striking the right tone for the song and music video was important. The subject matter is tragic, but “Song for Atatiana” is intended to do more than evoke feelings of sadness, he said.
“I’d love to raise awareness for them, and if we can raise funds in the process, even better,” Dazey said. “There are forces that are trying to make us forget about her. We need something to counter that.”
Friends and family of Jefferson remain skeptical that Dean will ever face justice. A recent article in The New York Times found that “few police officers are ever charged with murder or manslaughter when they cause a death in the line of duty, and only about a third of those officers are convicted.”
The too-frequent killing of unarmed Black people haunts Dazey.
“There are tragedies happening all over the place, but Atatiana is a Fort Worth, Texas, tragedy,” he said. “It involves a child [Zion] who was 8 at the time. Who can’t read about this story and not become devastated by it? She was such a bright light for that family and anyone who she was around.”
“Song for Atatiana” is available on Bandcamp Friday under Jeff Dazey’s music profile. All proceeds benefit the Atatiana Project. The video will be shown on Saturday at the ceremonial naming of Atatiana Jefferson Memorial Parkway in the Southside neighborhood of Hillside Morningside.