Briá Robinson thought she was traveling far, far away when she made the 430-mile trip from her hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Earlham College. Turns out she was just getting started. Since graduating, she has traveled a lot further and has lived on both the East and West Coast. She’s based in L.A. now, getting on her feet as a singer-songwriter, teaching theatre arts and working as a TV extra.
Her passion for performance and creativity is no surprise to those who knew her at Earlham, where she was a triple threat—acting, singing and dancing her way to graduating with the Class of 2017 as a theatre arts major and a business management minor. At Earlham, she was part of Black Ladies United and the Black Student Union. She sang with Brimleys a cappella group, Gospel Revelations, and the Jazz Band. She performed in Dance Alloy, Dance Team and two plays, even writing and directing her own play called “The Exit.” She was a resident assistant, found ways to make Earlham even more welcoming during New Student Orientation, and then also spent a semester in New York City with the New York Arts program.
Earlham helped her to both flourish and to focus. “The various activities that I was a part of helped me to gain the confidence in myself as a creative and to not take no for an answer,” she says.
At Earlham, Robinson’s creativity was also matched by a willingness to put in hard work. So, when she graduated and moved to New York City to pursue her goals of being a performer and artist, Robinson was already used to days full of learning and performing.
While in New York City, Robinson did a fellowship at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, stage managed and assistant produced a few shows, and joined a dance company called Legacy. Oh, and she began modeling too.
“All the while I was working with a photographer on different styles of modeling from lifestyle, to editorial, to commercial,” she says. “We were shooting weekly because we wanted to get seen in a magazine or get booked for a major campaign.”
Robinson received feedback that she had a commercial modeling look. “That isn’t big in New York,” she explains. “But it is in California.”
She moved to Los Angeles sight unseen for the opportunities, including commercial modeling. “My family was concerned,” Robinson admits. “But because New York had pushed me to my limits, I knew to read everything and pay attention. I know how to navigate it now.”
The move to Los Angeles was made a little less scary when Robinson and Earlham alumnus James Ezell ’16 decided to be roommates. “We were both moving to California around the same time and decided to just live together since we were already friends in school.”
Soon after Robinson arrived in Los Angeles, she got the opportunity to work with a nonprofit called Upstage Theater School, a year-round arts program that partners with elementary schools.
“I love teaching. The kids really keep me on my toes,” Robinson says. “I truly appreciate the opportunity to teach dance because I feel that a lot of these kids do not get the time to express themselves creatively, and I feel that with me guiding them in the right direction would help to expand that expression.”
“The whole reason I started working there was because they hire creators knowing that this is a source of income for us while we work on our craft,” she says. “There are teachers there who have been on Broadway.”
When she’s not working at Upstage Theater School, Robinson is recording music and working as a background acting artist.
She was an extra in recent seasons of tv shows like the Fox series Lucifer, ABC signature series Black-ish and Grown-ish, Freeform Productions series Good Trouble, CBS Studios series The Neighborhood and NCIS, HBO original series Euphoria, and the Hulu original series Love, Victor. She was also an extra in Entertainment 360’s film Yes Day. She enjoys acting and hopes to get back into dancing soon, but also says, “I really want to make my music a big thing.”
Robinson released her first EP in summer of 2021 under the name of BriaLeon. She and fellow Earlham alumnus, Shiyenne Talley ’17, who goes by JusShy, wrote and released a song called “That Gal” together. She has also released songs with R&B artists like Samuel Green and Rain Bisou. Robinson describes her music as R&B and contemporary.
She keeps making connections and putting in the work, and sometimes serendipity figures into the mix as well. Her neighbors in Los Angeles turned out to be an aspiring rap group who have a recording studio in their home. “They had us over to hang out and listen to each other’s music,” she says. “I played the song I recorded in New York and we knew then we needed to collaborate.”
From there, Robinson met engineers, producers and songwriters. One producer was Grammy nominated Drew Scott, who has worked with artists like The Jonas Brothers and Zendaya.
The closest connection she formed was with songwriter Mike Henderson. “He’s originally from Texas,” Robinson says. “That’s why we bonded so quickly because we’re both from the South.”
They began meeting in the studio every day for six-12 hours. “We were in the studio every day co-writing songs and submitting them to different studios to try to get me work,” Robinson says. “I lost my voice at one point because I was working myself so hard. I was on vocal rest for a month.”
Henderson eventually became Robinson’s manager. “He keeps me sane. He’s the only person who advocates so hard for the music I make. He’s talking me up even when I’m not there.”
Robinson has continued to build out her team, and recently hired a social media marketing agent. “I’m not signed to a label, and I don’t plan to. I want the freedom that comes with being independent,” she says. “A lot of times artists sign with labels and are assigned a manager. But I got to choose my manager.”
Robinson’s studies in business management have helped her navigate business in the performance industry, and she also attributes her networking skills to Earlham. “I feel Earlham has definitely helped me with communicating and connecting with people from all over,” she says. “It’s such a diverse school, and there are people from different walks of life all over this city.”
“I truly feel that Earlham helped me recognize my potential and how far I could take it,” she says. “It taught me to go after what I want while also staying true to myself,” she continues. “Earlham taught me that as long as you have a vision, a dream or a goal you can bring them into reality with faith, determination and a great support system.”
She has started making dreams a reality. Listen for yourself. Robinson’s music can be streamed on Apple Music and Spotify under BriaLeon. Her most recent album is called GEMIN-EYE Untamed.
This story was written by Somer Eckert, Class of 2017.