Like your iTunes? Thank a Plymouth grad

NASHVILLE — You could really call 1981 Plymouth High School graduate Joe McKesson a renaissance man.
A self admitted “computer nerd,” he is also an extremely talented singer and performer with a love and skill for opera, singing for opera companies all over the United States. With his background in music and technology, it was kind of a natural fit for him to be involved when iTunes was just an idea on a drawing board.
“All the time I was singing and performing I always worked as a library temp and as time went on, I learned more and more about technology and ways to use it. I had sort of built this other life as a techy,” he said. “I was working a freelance job for Apple doing a database for all the items that Steve Jobs used in his keynote speeches. His keynote speeches are kind of famous for what huge productions they are and we were cataloging all that material in databases. That’s when a program for a thing called iTunes came across my desk. I begged to be a part of the project. I just told them I knew I could do it. They had great programmers, but what about the music? My background in music was what I knew I could bring.”
The rest — as they say — is history.
Joe became a Senior Producer for the iTunes project. His team was in charge of merchandising and distribution, building the entire library from scratch and making key decisions on how that content would flow through the iTunes system.
“I lived in my cubicle while we were doing it. Literally,” he said. “I’ll never forget, we worked an entire weekend to fill up the entire store. It was only a week before we were supposed to launch so we decided we needed to have a first preview to see if the whole thing would work.”
So what song was the very first ever played on iTunes?
Joe laughed, “Um. Well. It was Abba. Supertrooper by Abba.”
While he’s traveled many roads and experienced many things in the course of his adult life, formative years in Plymouth meant a lot to the development of the artist.
“I came to Plymouth after some very traumatic and dark times in my life,” he said. “Plymouth rejuvenated me. The people of Plymouth rejuvenated me. People accepted me as family almost immediately. I’m not sure whether it was because they knew my dad and my grandmother and through them, me; but they accepted me as family. I remember meeting Dan Tyree (then a teacher at PHS and now Superintendent of Schools) and being a part of the Speech Team, really working with all those people in building that team from scratch, and that was an intimacy with a group of people that I’d never experienced. I think sometimes maybe people didn’t know what to think of me when I’d stand down by the G&G parking lot and sing to people coming out of the grocery or the laundry there.
“Being in Plymouth allowed me to spend time with my grandmother, Rose McKesson, who is the love of my life and definitely the musical influence in my life. Music is my life blood.”
Joe currently uses his skills and experience to work on varying projects of interest. He is currently working on an animated 3D film for families that is a retelling of the “Big Bang” theory.
“I’m a religious person and a scientific person and I really like working on projects that merge the two,” he said. “Science explains a lot of things, but there are some things it can’t explain.”
He’s also working a lot of freelance projects – a fundraiser for the San Francisco Symphony, web projects for Warner Brothers Records, and helping Kanye West with maximizing his “social media” presence. He also has a passion to help young artists.
“I was really sort of fearless when I was younger and right out of high school I really didn’t have the option of going straight to college, so I went to Chicago and auditioned,” he said. “There came a point when I knew I had to go to school. I couldn’t read music, I didn’t know the languages I was singing, I didn’t have peers like I had in high school. I needed that.
“A lot of kids just go straight to auditioning and don’t go to school and I want to help those kids because I was that kid. You see artists like Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus and they really have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). They are so very frightened of what is going to happen to them when they aren’t ‘the thing’ anymore. I try to help them realize that they can do things to help themselves survive that. They can gain skills that will help them have long productive careers and they don’t have to be afraid. For me, I went back to IU and felt that feeling of belonging again, like I had at Plymouth. I was part of a system. I don’t know, but I think I’m getting to the point in my life that I may want to teach now. We’ll see.”
From opera, to MTV, to iTunes, Joe has had many great experiences in his career and has some specific advice for anybody about to begin:
“Follow your desires but learn everything you can. Education is something we take for granted when we’re younger, but that’s the time when you’re most able to learn. I am very glad I was a voracious reader. You always have to read and learn especially the way technology is changing our world every day. You have to adapt. And you have to be fearless in following your passions. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be humiliated. We’re humiliated every day whether it’s the kid on the playground saying somebody smells or somebody in the office talking behind your back. In the end, none of those things matter. When you find something you have a passion for, go for it.”
This story is courtesy of the Plymouth Alumni Association. Become a member of the Association or read more stories about Plymouth High School grads at http://ply mouthalumni.