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John Forte, Musician-Producer, to Lecture at Juniata

(Posted October 24, 2011)

John Forte, former producer for the Fugees, will talk at Juniata at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 in Neff Lecture Hall.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. - John Forte, former collaborator of the Fugees, Grammy award nominee, and a former federal prisoner, will speak at Juniata College. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science.

He will play a few songs on acoustic guitar and will discuss his commutation, his career, and what he has learned from his unique experience in the music industry.

Forte has been obsessed with music since childhood: having earned a full scholarship to the prestigious Exeter academy when he was only 13 years old. While there, Forte was introduced to Ben Taylor, son of singers Carly Simon and James Taylor. Forte spent summers with them, and Simon has been quoted, "When John was there, it was always a happier and healthier universe in the house."

Forte's connections in the music industry led him to produce for Public Enemy, the Black Eyed Peas, and the Fugees. For his work with the Fugees, on the album, "The Score," Forte was nominated for a Grammy.

But in 2000, Forte made a wrong turn. To finance a solo album, he took a $10,000 offer from a man who needed two women to move what Forte thought was money from Houston to Newark, N.J. The two women were actually cocaine smugglers.

Simon and her son Ben began advocating for Forte's release, arguing that he did not receive a fair trial.

In 2001, Forte was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of 14 years in federal prison. He spent the majority of his sentence in FCI Loretto, located between Altoona and Johnstown, Pa. During his time in prison, he wrote and recorded music, and tried to maintain hope. "Everyday I wake up and I say, 'You know what? Today is the day that something good is going to happen," he said.

Carly Simon and Forte felt offenders in Forte's circumstances should be sentenced to do community service and teach people about the negative effects of drug use. Simon led efforts to challenge the judicial system's administration of mandatory minimum sentences. In 2008, President George W. Bush commuted Forte's sentence, reducing his time by seven years. His commutation was one of only 11 during Bush's presidency.

Looking back on his prison time, Forte said, "I had to ask myself some really, really difficult questions: questions I had probably avoided asking myself for years. Who am I? What am I doing here? What do I want out of life?"

With this gained self-awareness, Forte has recorded two albums since his release, "Style Free EP" in 2009 and "Water Light Sound" in 2011. His earlier solo records are "Poly Sci" and "I, John." He has toured throughout Russia, collaborating with Russian artists; all proceeds from the final culminating concert went to local orphanages in Russia. His production company, Le Castle, is creating a documentary on the tour.

In addition, Forte has been busy teaching music classes through the Harlem-based program, "In Arms Reach," an education program for children with incarcerated parents. And in terms of activism, Forte is involved in "Music Unites," a program dedicated to bringing the arts to disadvantaged communities, and he is involved in nonprofits working for prison and drug law reform.

Written by Ellen Santa Maria

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.