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John Forte  

Singer, Songwriter & Producer

Few understand second chances better than John E. Forté. On November 24, 2008, President George W. Bush granted the petition for commutation submitted by 33-year-old Forté, a classically-trained violinist and Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and producer from Brooklyn, New York. Famous for his work with the multi-platinum group “The Fugees,” Forté was the quintessential rising star before landing himself in a federal penitentiary. His was one of only eleven commutations granted by President Bush during his eight years in office – a testament to the dedication of those who tirelessly campaigned on his behalf, including iconic singer Carly Simon and noted conservative Senator Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah.

A brilliant young prodigy and dedicated student, Forté was awarded a full scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy and attended New York University until his career took off in the music industry. While working as an A&R executive for Rawkus Entertainment, Forté met Lauryn Hill and began working closely with “The Fugees.” Forté co-wrote and produced two songs on the multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning album, The Score. He went on to record three solo albums, PolySci (Columbia), I, John (Transparent) which featured industry legends Herbie Hancock, Tricky, Esthero and Carly Simon, and his latest album, StyleFREE the EP.

Forté’s momentous career was uprooted by a crime born out of desperation. He became involved with the wrong crowd – a mistake that resulted in a 14-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Recognizing prison as an opportunity to redeem himself, Forté created a music program, conducted weekly roundtable forums for inmates and began pursuing his degree at the London School of Economics. A prolific writer even in prison, Forté wrote more than four albums worth of new material in addition to his academic work and personal studies.

Released from Fort Dix on December 22, 2008, Forté has resumed his career by starting to record in the studio, writing a book and serving as the subject of a feature-length documentary about his life. Forté is also teaching a music course to students aged 12-15 years old with In Arms Reach, a Harlem-based initiative committed to promoting a positive environment for children of incarcerated parents and at-risk youth. Forté is using music as a therapeutic means of addressing anger, stress and pain, and hopes that the catharsis of song composition will help children deal with the stigma of having a family member who is incarcerated. Forté’s historic commutation has also made him an ardent supporter of prison reform. He argues that a sentence need not be unreasonably long to provide just punishment, deter criminal conduct and protect the public from harm.

At the podium, Forté shares intimate songs while playing acoustic guitar and speaks candidly of the events leading to his imprisonment, his seven years behind bars and his fight against insurmountable odds to seek redemption. His inspirational journey also serves as a cautionary tale for children, and proves that second chances do exist—even in the most unlikely places.

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