Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (Assembly District 65) was first elected to the State Assembly in 2016 and quickly established herself as an important advocate for labor protections and as a leader in Lower Manhattan’s diverse community. As the chair of the Asian Pacific American task force, she has been a strong voice for under-represented and vulnerable New Yorkers and has been an important partner in the music industry’s efforts to pass legislation to better support music studios in New York City.
What is your favorite type of music? I have very eclectic tastes so can’t really pick one type or style. But I can say that I generally like music with guitar, particularly acoustic guitar.
Do you have a favorite artist or musician? Again, very difficult, but I’ll say Mary J. Blige and Michael Jackson.
Do you have any favorite bands? Smashing Pumpkins and Magnetic Fields.
Do you have a favorite film score? The score from “The Godfather” is iconic. You only need to hear a few measures before you know exactly what you’re hearing.
What are you listening to right now? Dionne Farris’ “Hopeless.” I’m listening to it all the time. Definitely multiple times a day.
If you could have dinner or drinks with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be? Michael Jackson. That’s easy.
Did music play an important part of your childhood growing up? My mom loved music but never had the chance to learn an instrument. She decided that I would have that opportunity. I can remember as a small child hearing a friend take piano lessons. His teacher was named Ms. Wade, and I fell in love with the sound and with music. You better believe that my mom got me piano lessons with Ms. Wade after that. I was very lucky. Looking back, classical music played an enormous part in my life. As I learned the piano and later the violin, I found that I was recognizing classical music in things I heard every day. I was recognizing pieces and composers in the cartoons that I watched, and I thought that was really cool.
What role do you think musicians play in New York’s communities and economy? Musicians and music play a fundamental role in our society. Like math, music is a universal language. Music is a way of communicating that reflects and celebrates our diversity, and our musicians create our cultural identity. It’s why musicians are so important to our neighborhoods and our economy – because our music is part of who we are.
What do you believe are some of the biggest challenges musicians are currently facing? Musicians are facing an affordability crises, to a large extent because people think that music should be free. Audiences don’t appreciate the amount of work, dedication, skill and time that go into performing a musical instrument at a high level. Because of this failure to understand music’s true value, it’s become increasingly difficult for musicians to make a fair living. When taken alongside the rapid gentrification that happens in our neighborhoods, musicians are quickly finding that they can’t afford to live and make music in New York City.
What can our elected leaders do to better support the arts and musicians in New York City? For me, it’s two things. First, we must support the ability of musicians to make a fair living by fighting against the idea that music is a hobby and that “exposure” is payment enough. Second, we must do a better job of ensuring that young children are exposed to the arts. This either will result in more people wanting to become performers, or more people who will fundamentally understand the role that art should play in our day-to-day lives. We know that children with access to the arts do better in school. Music helps people learn to think outside the box and it also helps people see their communities and our society holistically. We must fund the arts in every school and for every child.
If you were a musician, what instrument would you play? I grew up playing the piano and the violin. I’d definitely want to continue playing one of those instruments.
Council Member Corey Johnson represents Council District 4, a district comprising Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Hudson Square, Times Square, the Garment District, Flatiron and parts of the Upper West Side. This district is home to thousands of musicians and many of the most important music venues in the world, and Johnson has been an important partner and advocate for the arts throughout the district. Additionally, he has been a strong and important leader of the LGBTQ community and has established a diverse track record advocating for housing, health and workforce initiatives.
What is your favorite type or style of music? Anyone who knows me or who has worked with me knows that I love music. And for lack of a better term, I guess I am an unabashed pop music fan. I’m a pop queen with a great memory for lyrics. I listen to 103.5 KTU, and I am constantly looking to dance.
Who is your favorite artist or musician of all time? That’s a hard question but I’ve always seen music as an important social tool, especially for the gay rights movement. With that, I think the musician I most relate to and appreciate is Lady Gaga. Right after the 2008 presidential election and before she was a household name and superstar, I interviewed her at the National Equality March. She made clear that she would not tolerate homophobic, misogynistic or bigoted language, action or values in music or society.
What song or artist are you listening to the most right now? Two jump to mind: the acoustic version of “Slow Hands” by Niall Haron, and – I’m a little scared to admit it – Justin Bieber.
What was the most memorable live musical experience of your life? I heard the great Tina Turner perform at Madison Square Garden. Wow, what a musician and performer! She owned the stage that night.
What’s the first album you purchased? The album that I remember buying and wearing out was Third Eye Blind. I listened to “Jumper” every day, many times a day. I was a young man struggling with my identity and sexuality, and that song connected in a very real and personal way with the way I felt.
If you could get dinner or a drink with any musician, living or dead, who would it be? Cher! I love her and her politics. She’s a little crass, very real and an icon who is unafraid to say and stand for what she believes in. I love her.
What role did music play in your life growing up? Growing up, my mother loved music and when we went to school together we’d be singing as loud as we could. My stepfather was a big Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd fan. My childhood was filled with music.
Have you ever been to a Broadway or Off Broadway musical? If so, which was your favorite? Of course! I represent the district! I’ve been to many, and recently I loved “Dear Even Hanson.” I cried through the entire thing.
In your opinion, what is the role that music plays in your district? My district is the home of music in New York City. From Madison Square Garden, Studio 54 and Broadway to the bars and clubs in Greenwich Village, music has fundamentally shaped our district. It’s been home to – or at least a performance location for – probably every important musician of our lives and it is part of our district’s identity.
What is the biggest challenge facing musicians and performers in your district, and what can our elected government be doing to support them? Musicians face fundamental challenges of affordability – both the cost of housing and performance space. Also, wages, access to pension and health care. In this district, we are home to Manhattan Plaza and Westbeth, two of the largest housing developments for artists in the city and country. We need to find ways to replicate those models. We also need to help musicians gain access to pension and healthcare, which is why unions are so important. New York is the most unionized state in the country and we need to preserve the role that our unions play in our communities and economy by ensuring that the protections, care and support they provide remain strong for all New Yorkers, including musicians.
And finally, if you were a musician, what instrument would you play? If I were a musician, I’d play the guitar. The acoustic guitar.