Danielle Ponder Talks Creating the Theme Song For ‘Manhunt’ and Why Quitting Her Law Practice Was The Best Decision She’s Ever Made

The exceptionally gifted musician is poised to make a significant impact on the music industry.

Danielle Ponder is an acclaimed singer/songwriter of the highest order. Combining the blues, R&B, soul, and “trip-hop,” Ponder’s captivating sound has carried her across the globe, and she shows no signs of slowing down. Whether in small clubs or on stages like Lollapalooza, Ponder’s vocal prowess and infectious charisma are undeniable.

After honing her craft for several years, in 2022,  “Some of Us Are Brave,” was released in 2022 to rave reviews.

But her road to success was filled with many twists and turns that she had to navigate, which is the fuel that drives her artistry.

A native of Rochester, New York, Ponder grew up in a musically inclined family rooted in the Black Church, where she first cultivated a love of music. 

“My father is a pastor but plays piano and sings. In my early life, we could only listen to gospel music. But he had seven kids, and I'm six of seven,” Ponder said. “So, at around 60, I think my father got tired of trying to enforce his rules and we started to explore other music [Laughs]. 

Listening to gospel, especially quartet music, led Ponder to turn to the blues

“I think that's why my voice became what it is because of going from quartet gospel, like Big Momma, Koko Taylor, and just falling in love with the blues. Then, I rebelliously fell in love with hip hop.”

When she was 16, Ponder’s brother, whom she was extremely close to, was incarcerated for 20 years for a robbery even though nobody was injured during the incident. The harsh sentence was the result of New York’s mandatory minimum guidelines. She then began to play the guitar as an outlet for self-expression not knowing that it would “set off a new trajectory of my life. She began to use that guitar to write about her brother's incarceration, which would be the impetus for her decision to practice law at the Northeastern University School of Law.

“The guitar really became my refuge and the place to not only write about what was happening with my brother but also other things that were going on in my community,” she said. That was a big reason why I became a lawyer.”

As a public defender, Ponder handled almost 50 cases a day. While she was fulfilled as an advocate, she still felt an undeniable excitement every time she performed on stage.

“In 2018, I was moving up to felonies and I knew it was going to be too hard to juggle both things. I was doing festivals on the weekend, watching all of these young white kids smoking weed, and doing drugs, and then, I would go to court on Monday and watch Black kids be arrested for the same thing. It was quite a trippy experience. That year I left for the first time, but then the pandemic hit. And so I had to go back. But this time when I went back, my former manager, Christa Ritas, discovered me on a playlist, and he changed my life.”

After leaving law for the second time, Ponder hasn’t looked back. She’s been afforded numerous opportunities where her talent has been welcomed with open arms. Without question, she believes that she made the right decision

“I've had an abundance of blessings and an abundance of people who are helping me along the way and I'm just really grateful. You don't know what's on the other side of your fear or getting out of your comfort zone. The things that I wouldn't have experienced like performing in Europe or at Kate Hudson's house for a private party,” she said.

Another touchstone moment in Ponder’s evolving career was when she was selected to create the theme song for Apple TV+'s  '"Manhunt"  a new “conspiracy thriller uncovering the hunt for John Wilkes Booth in the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination.”

“I used to be a professor where I taught history at a local college, so the opportunity to write music with a message was something that attracted me to the project,” Ponder recalled. They told me that they wanted me to create something from scratch that's going to be the main theme song that was right up my alley,” she continued. “I had this guitar riff that I wrote in law school and when they told me what the timeframe was and a little bit more to the story. I immediately knew this riff was perfect for it. I'm really proud of it and I can't wait for people to hear it.’

Initially, Ponder thought she would sing an older song but rose to the challenge when tasked with creating an original composition. She wrote the lyrics and music for the song and finished it with the help of some close friends.

“I played almost everything on that song. My friend Dre played drums and bass actually. It feels really great. I gotta tell you. I cried when I first saw it because I know where I came from and I know how hard I've worked,” Ponder explained. “This is just something that I hope can inspire other people, particularly Black women, particularly people over 40.”

“To me, this is one of the proudest moments in my life. You could not have told me this 10 or 15 years ago but it happened,” she continued.

In addition to her work on “Manhunt,” Ponder is currently working on a new album and plans to release singles later this year. She’ll also be hitting the road this summer on an upcoming tour. Because of her success, she believes that anything is possible.

“I could be an EGOT. I  never thought that before. My sisters used to say to me,” You're going to be one day,” Ponder said. “But I would just say it's made me know that the sky's the limit. There's a gospel song by The Clark Sisters that says, ‘The sky's the limit to what I can have.’ I truly believe that now.”

Episodes of “Manhunt” premiere each Friday on Apple TV+ through April 19, 2024.

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