On Aug. 29, 2014, a black 17-year-old rising high school senior was found hanging from a swing set in a predominantly white trailer park in Bladenboro. The police ruled the death of the young man, Lennon Lacy, as a suicide. Lacy’s family wasn’t so sure.
A couple of weeks later while preparing for his Hopscotch Festival set with the NC Music Love Army (who worked closely with the NAACP at Moral Monday events), Love Army founder and Charlotte singer-songwriter Jon Lindsay saw Lacy’s mother, Claudia, speaking on video about her son’s death.
“She looked like anybody’s mother,” says Lindsay over vegan burgers at Bean. “It cut me to the bone. It became really real at that moment.”
Later that month Lindsay and his fiancé, Erin Coffin, were on their way to the beach when they passed the Bladenboro exit. The first verse of the song that eventually became “The Ballad of Lennon Lacy” began humming through his head. By the drive back, the song was practically fully formed.
Lindsay will release the song Aug. 21, but readers can stream it now. The song features Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens, NCMLA co-founder Caitlin Cary, Eddie Walker, “American Idol” alum Charly Lowry, Dark Water Rising, the Backsliders, Skylar Gudasz, and Brett Harris. The vocalists trade verses a la “We Are the World.”
“I’ve been obsessed with this case,” admits Lindsay, 35. “It’s consuming to do a song like this. You have to feel it in your bones you’re doing the right thing.”
What’s known is no suicide note was found with the body. Although Lacy’s 31-year-old girlfriend had broken up with him recently and he’d buried his great-uncle following a long illness the day before, Lacy’s family and friends can’t imagine him killing himself. He did not have a history of depression or mental illness and Lacy, who had NFL aspirations, was excited about playing in the first home game of the new school year.
When the NAACP got involved, the FBI began its own investigation into Lacy’s death in December. The investigation is ongoing.
From jingles to TV
Lindsay’s family moved to the Charlotte area from his native Oregon in the early 1990s when his father – an Episcopalian minister – transferred to a church here. His family fostered the arts. His father played organ and his mother, a retired schoolteacher, now writes children’s books. He graduated from West Charlotte High School, studied English at Queens University, and received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Since returning home, he’s co-written commercial jingles for companies like Sheetz and Jeep, played in bands the Young Sons and the Catch Fire, toured with Benji Hughes, Nicole Atkins, Amigo, the Motel Beds, and American Aquarium as a support player. He co-founded Machine Theatre, where he composed scores for theater productions.
His songs have also been used in television shows such as SyFy’s “Haven” and “MTV Cribs” as well as in the Dane Cooke film “Employee of the Month.”
‘Dear Mr. McCrory’
Lindsay has spent the bulk of his career writing pop music. He’ll release a new pop album this winter, but he’s spent much of the last two years writing modern-day protest music for the NCMLA, which is made up of Carolina musicians.
It raises funds and awareness and its members frequent Moral Mondays. Lindsay released “Dear Mr. McCrory,” a song addressed to Governor McCrory, and has called out the N.C. General Assembly in song. The activist group is planning a national tour later this year.
His political and social work has become so consuming that he and Coffin just moved to the Triangle area so Lindsay can be closer to the heart of his activist work and many of the musicians he works with.
He says writing protest music has allowed him to focus his solo material in more of a pop direction, but he also wants to spike his protest music with the same qualities fans enjoy in his pop songs.
“I want people to listen because they like it. This doesn’t need to be dressed up as some special-focus socially conscious music. It doesn’t have to be a drag,” he says. “A lot of protest music is message first and musicality takes a backseat. I want to make it as fun and engaging as it can be, in the sense that you want to listen again and get the message.”