Thursday, February 13, 2020

Playlist Project: Brandy

There are two personally indulgent reasons why Brandy Norwood, born February 11, deserves a Busy Black Woman playlist.

Before I divulge those reasons, take a look at this old picture of me from more than 20 years ago. I am wearing braids, and since I look a little younger than my actual age, I was often told that I was a doppelganger for Brandy. At the time, she was starring on Moesha and she had a budding music career. Our alleged resemblance becomes an important factor in this story:

One summer during an outing in Manhattan, the then-boyfriend (now Hub) and I ended up near Central Park at a Gap. I don't remember why we went into the store, but we were there for about five minutes when I spotted Luther Vandross. Yes, THE Luther Vandross. As this was the era before cell phone cameras and smartphones, it was just my best guess that this tall guy who looked just like Luther was in a Gap with his nephew trying on clothes. Luther freaking Vandross!!!

Meanwhile, he seemed a bit perplexed by our presence, which we assumed was us violating the New York Celebrity Code of noticing, but not drawing attention to someone famous. So we went about the business of fake shopping (because whatever I thought I might have been looking for at that point was irrelevant). We also noticed that the sales people in the store seemed to be acting weird towards us, so I picked something out and asked to be shown to a dressing room in another part of the store.

It was then that the salesman helping me revealed the source of all the nervous energy. Apparently, another sales person thought I was Brandy and she had alerted the others via walkie talkie to that fact. Even Mr. Vandross wondered if I was Brandy, so his stares were part of his attempt to determine what I was shopping for at the Gap with some dude he thought was my body guard. Meanwhile, no one else had noticed that the actual famous person in the store was Luther freaking Vandross buying jeans with his nephew. While we were discussing this, Vandross had left, and all of us (including several other sales associates) shared a laugh at what could have been the plot of a very special mistaken identity episode of Moesha. And to this day, I am amazed that a Brandy look-alike caused a bigger stir than Luther freaking Vandross buying jeans for his nephew.

Whew. I have been waiting to spill that tea for years. That is a 100% true story of how I am always fame-adjacent and reason number one why Brandy gets a playlist. She is my doppelganger imaginary younger sister.

Reason number two: she is one of the few R&B singers from the 90s whose career has managed to survive. Brandy was a legit child star who was also a singer. But not in the way that every other Disney starlet was a wannabe singer, but the real deal. She transitioned into adulthood in spite of the various associated pressures and without the same career-derailing growing pains as some of her peers.

On her birthday, I posted this clip of Impossible, from Cinderella in which she starred alongside her mentor, the great Whitney Houston in 1996. It was in tribute to both of them, as that was the same day that Houston died back in 2011. Even now, there are times when I still see Brandy as this precocious young girl, despite the fact that she and I are only a few years apart in age. Or I look back and marvel at how she held her own singing with another iconic diva, Diana Ross, on Love Is All That Matters in the film Double Platinum (1999). And we've already established that she was the star of her own sitcom, Moesha, for six years.

Brandy also popped up on my radar recently as tributes to Kobe Bryant included the memory of them having gone to the prom together. And that made me think of Brokenhearted (1994), which she sang with Wanya Morris from Boys II Men and that got me to thinking about that crazy story Adina Howard told in her Unsung episode. And that got me to thinking about how Alicia Keys and Boys II Men performed that beautiful impromptu tribute to Bryant at the Grammys, which was soooo much better than their last award show appearance. And just how damn, the 90s...

Brandy was big in the 90s. And for that other young woman pictured above, the 90s was her coming-of-age decade, so any excuse to look back fondly to that uncomplicated time is welcome. Here are a few of my favorite early Brandy hits:

I Wanna Be Down (1994) and the Remix

Baby (1994)

Sitting Up In My Room (1995)

Have You Ever (1998)
 
Almost Doesn't Count (1998)

The Boy Is Mine with Monica (1998)

In the 2000s, life changed for both of us. I got married and Brandy had a child. She had some troubles, but appeared to rebound from them out of the spotlight while her brother became a more ubiquitous presence on reality television (which reminded me a lot of how my parents also made me take my younger brother along with me as boy repellent). She released a couple of albums, but fewer hits:

What About Us (2002)

Full Moon (2002)

Who Is She 2 U (2004)

Because her creative output in the last two decades has been mostly as an actress, I've been thinking of a third reason for Brandy to receive this tribute. Now that she is a fully grown woman, it's time to give her the chance to become a fully realized talent. That doesn't mean that she should walk away from the music business, but maybe she should leave the purgatory of reality television to her less talented brother. It is time for her to be given broader opportunities, in line with her run on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2015 and 2017. She has so much more to offer, and where else would her talents as both an actress and a singer receive the attention she rightfully deserves?

And perhaps maybe we can accidentally run into each other in New York City to see if we still favor. Now that I have shared that Luther Vandross story, I need a better anecdote and pictures.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Playlist Project: Roberta Flack

You know how there are singers that have been in your life for so long that you take them for granted? As in, you know their music and that they had significant influence, but the fact that they have been so familiar for so long means that you know better than to pay tribute to their work with a hasty belated birthday tribute...


To be clear, Roberta Cleopatra Flack, who was born February 10, 1936, is a different kind of musical diva--not the most prolific or beloved like some of her peers, but definitely not the kind of unsung artist that merits an hour-long documentary. On the contrary, she's one of those musicians that most people are unaware that they know. A lot of her music has been covered by multiple artists, and I think that for a lot of my peers, she is better known for her duets with similarly understated R&B balladeers. To some, her music might be disregarded as the kind of background white noise that one might hear in a department store or in a waiting room, To others, Flack's music is the embodiment of romantic love, a pure and almost naive emotion to build one's career around; yet, in her prime, Roberta Flack sang love songs because once upon a time, people used to fall in love.

Her classic well-known solo hits were all released in the 70s. Often they were covers of previously released songs such as Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (1972). This was one of the first big hits written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, originally performed as a faster-tempo doo-wop song by The Shirelles in 1960. King released it as a ballad on her iconic Tapestry album in 1971, and in 2004 Amy Winehouse released a version that definitely demonstrates her respect for doo-wop, pop, and Flack's soulful version. (If you want an interesting nod to the original, check out Leslie Grace's 2018 release.)

Flack recorded the original version of Feel Like Makin' Love in 1974, but it was also covered several times that same year. I like these two instrumental takes by Roy Ayers and Bob James, as well as this funkier version released by Marlena Shaw. But I have to be honest--this this pop version released by George Benson in 1983 is meh, even though it sounds a lot like something Flack and Donny Hathaway might have recorded as a duet. D'Angelo planned to record a duet with Lauryn Hill that never materialized, but his 2000 neo-soul version is a perfect nod to the original.

It was fascinating to learn that Flack's version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1971), was originally a folk song that had been written in 1957 for Peggy Seegar (yes, she is related to Pete). It was recorded several times, most notably by Peter, Paul and Mary and gospel duo Joe and Eddie (1963). While I can clearly hear those influences, hers has become the definitive cover upon which others are based. Compare these two versions by Isaac Hayes and Johnny Cash, as well as this modern take by Celine Dion.

Finally, Killing Me Softly (1973) is probably her best known hit, a classic ballad that has aged like fine wine. I remember hearing it regularly on the Quiet Storm until this Al B. Sure remake in 1989, which then was remade in 1996 by The Fugees. Both versions are dope, and that is not my nostalgia speaking (okay it is). So color me surprised to learn that Nancy Sinatra (released in 2013) and Perry Cuomo (1992) both recorded this song, which reminded me of the Anne Murray (1973) easy listening version that I recall from 70s AM radio. Also, I was fascinated to learn about this bizarre history of the song's original singer, Lori Lieberman (1971)...

I posted It Might Be You (1994) to the Facebook mini playlist, because I was looking for a more contemporary release. I recall this version from Waiting to Exhale, which referenced the fact that it had been featured in Tootsie (recorded in 1982 by Steve Bishop). Patti Austin's spare version on her 1992 live album is simply beautiful.

And speaking of songs from movies, who remembers Flack's Just When I Needed You from Bustin' Loose (1981)? Or what about the theme song to Valerie/The Hogan Family? Anybody? Just me? Ok...

Duets

I did not include any duets on the Facebook playlist in order to highlight that Flack had been a respectable solo artist in her own right. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that some of her best work was in collaboration with other artists, most notably the late Donny Hathaway (1945-1979). Here are a few gems from their catalog:

You've Got A Friend (1971)

Where Is the Love? (1972)

The Closer I Get To You (1978)

Back Together Again and You Are My Heaven (released in 1980)

After Hathaway's tragic death, Flack teamed up with Peabo Bryson, and they released a few respectable hits in the early 80s, the biggest of which was Tonight, I Celebrate My Love (1983). They also recorded a version of If Only For One Night in 1980, before it became a hit for Luther Vandross in 1985 (which was originally written and recorded by Brenda Russell in 1979).

Speaking of the late Luther Vandross, who worked with Flack and several other artists as a backup singer in the 70s, he wrote You Stopped Loving Me, which appeared on both of their albums in 1981 (her version was included on the Bustin' Loose soundtrack). But can I be honest that I was more excited to find their collaboration on this jingle for Löwenbräu beer? I am SO Eighties right now...

One last thing I wanted to share--while compiling this playlist I learned that Flack was scheduled to be honored at the most recent Grammy Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Since suffering a stroke back in 2016, her public appearances have been rare. However, in preparation for the telecast which aired on February 26, she gave interviews to The Guardian and the New York Post. She was also the subject of this comprehensive feature on NPR's Turning the Tables on her birthday, which offers more insight into her career and her life. I didn't watch the Grammys, but I saw that she appeared on the red carpet, so perhaps it is fortuitous to get this opportunity to honor her work in this moment.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

BBW Tea Party: Bryant, Leslie, King and Associates

This has been an interesting few weeks. On Sunday, January 26 the news came that Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time was killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others. Since then, there have been all kinds of public discussions about the appropriate amount of grief to express (and by whom), as well as the timing of certain discussions about his very public life.


In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, shock and grief were to be expected, so when some opted to hone in on the rape allegation mere hours later, the clapback was swift. A reporter from The Washington Post was suspended for retweeting an old article, and while her colleagues lobbied for her reinstatement, she was criticized by others for what was perceived as insensitivity. My own immediate reaction (as soon as the sad fact that his daughter Gianna died with him), was to write a piece that paid homage to her as a Daddy's Girl. On the Facebook page, I offered a few thoughts, but thought it best not to address the 2003 allegations at that time. Instead, I re-posted a piece I wrote a couple of years ago in the wake of Sen. John McCain's death wherein I called for a cooling off period to allow for mourning before the airing of grievances.

Then the matter of this Gayle King interview with WNBA veteran Lisa Leslie expedited my timetable. I happened to be scrolling through Twitter midweek when I came across this video King posted (here is part 2). Then I saw a clip from the actual interview on Instagram. I only heard about the first Snoop video, which I won't post...

I said my peace, and that would have been the end of it for me until I saw how insane the reactions had become. Before I sat through all nine minutes of this video by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, there was a video posted by comedian Ricky Smiley (20 minutes long) that added to the poop pile dumped by Snoop, who had issued this non-apology clarification. Awesomely Luuvie weighed in while BFF Oprah got emotional on the TODAY show. The fact that Bill effing Cosby felt the need to align himself with Snoop in decrying the system that, in his words, uses "successful Black women to tarnish the image and legacy of successful Black men" should open everyone's eyes to how absurd this has become. But apparently not, since the ADOS (rebranded as Foundational Black Americans) fauxteps rose up on Twitter and other parts of social media to savage another more successful Black woman they love to hate. Once former Ambassador Susan Rice jumped into the fray to clap back, I found myself in utter amazement that y'all are angrier at a journalist for doing her damn J-O-B than you are at the United States Senate for acquitting the DESPOTUS!


However, before I delve any deeper into all of that booshay, I went back to my archives to see what, if anything, I had written about this case when it was headline news back in 2003. I was not yet blogging, so whatever I might have written is on some ancient external disk somewhere or perhaps handwritten in a long forgotten notebook. I most certainly had an opinion about the incident at the time, because I remember enough about it to have become disillusioned by the entire athletic industrial complex and the mistreatment of women. Instead, I found a piece I wrote about the Duke Lacrosse team sexual assault case back in 2006 (in fact, it was a two-parter). I won't link to any of the numerous pieces I have written on this blog about sexual assault and abuse, but I will admit that it has been a hot button topic for me.

I also have a somewhat more nuanced opinion about the case now. I found this article that addresses the matter as well as the statement he issued before the civil settlement. I have also taken note of the public persona he took on since that time. And without rehashing the scenario, I will link to this article that I read two years ago after Bryant won the Oscar for his animated short film and this article written by the same author two weeks ago when he died. Judge for yourself. It is undisputed that something went down that night, and since that time Kobe Bryant suffered limited consequences for his role. And in spite of the #MeToo societal reckoning that felled plenty of equally powerful and beloved public figures, he won an Academy Award before Spike Lee did.

So it was a FAIR question. Somebody had to ask about this, and if not Gayle King or some other Black journalist, then who? Who thinks a white journalist would have been as respectful? Who believes that one of his male peers would have been more forthright about offering a perspective on the incident than Leslie? And how does asking questions that were deftly deflected, in spite of King's prodding, tarnish Bryant's legacy or show disrespect to his family? How was this exchange any more disrespectful than Bryant's family learning about his death as breaking news on TMZ before there was official confirmation?

And when did y'all get so protective of Vanessa Bryant? Need I remind you that when his indiscretion occurred, Kobe Bryant bought his wife a $4 million baby-I-need-you-back ring, and there were debates about whether she deserved such extravagance. Then when they separated back in 2011, she was branded as a gold digger. I must be mis-remembering the chatter I've read over the years...maybe now that's she a widow and lost her child, she's finally earned some respect?

How did y'all pivot from your doting #girldad posts (a hashtag started by Elle Duncan, a Black woman, btw) to canceling Gayle King, and by extension the Oprah? Some of you were so proud of yourselves on social media, so in the real world, how hard are you willing to press for changes so that your daughters will face a more egalitarian society? How strong are you willing to push back against sexist attacks on Black women by petty dudes like 50 Cent and his ilk? And when the hell did Snoop Dogg become the spokesmodel for fake respectability politics disguised as misogyny?

Too many of you profess to love Black women until you don't.

Furthermore, if folks really gave a hot damn about how women were treated...but let's stick to sports. Then WNBA legitimacy would not be dependent on the support of high profile NBA players like Bryant and LeBron James. Their league would be better respected and there never would be a question whether Bryant's basketball legacy could have been carried forth by his daughter instead of a son.

But here is the catch--I'm going to extend some grace so that you can become better men, like you believe Kobe did. I won't dwell on his past conduct, but not because it serves no purpose. I disagree with Lisa Leslie and everyone else who prefers the more convenient version of his life story, where his denial and now his death close the book on that chapter forever. Most of our heroes are/were flawed humans, and death does not change the truth. If he changed after that 2003 incident, then acknowledging that past is his legacy. If that was the catalyst for the greatness you mourn, then include that in his story too. Adoration without reflection is idol worship, and idols are false gods.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Road to Perdition

The current occupant of the White House (whose name shall not be written here), did something last week that was beyond vile, even for him. So I am going to pray for him.

Yep, you read that right. I won't call him out by name because God knows my heart, but I will write his initials at the bottom of my weekly prayer list. From now on, I will whisper a quick #BeBest whenever I encounter his orange scowl glaring back at me. I might even go to the Shrine to buy myself a rosary. Yes, my beloved, he finally did something to earn my sympathy for his wretched and venomous soul--he mocked God. He took to the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast to crow about his acquittal, and then had the temerity to publicly proclaim that Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic mother of five and grandmother of nine, was lying when she said that she prays for him.

And y'all, he didn't drop dead on the spot.

I tweeted about this because his hubris is what my Great Aunt Sarah would have called the living gall. That this man, who sounds like he needs extensive practice in even invoking God without accidentally, on purpose saying who me used the occasion of a prayer breakfast to attack the faith of someone else is contemptible. That this modern-day King Nebuchadnezzar would suggest that he has been through Hell because he was being investigated for doing what he did, and then stacked the deck so that he could get away with it is laughable. That this thin-skinned, gold-plated phony would form his lips to question the faith of others, knowing this his hope is built on nothing less than lies, spray tan, and the fear he riles up in his followers is Machiavellian. The living gall.

I am not a Catholic, but my Dad is a devout Catholic and I went to parochial school for six years. I don't personally know Nancy Pelosi, but I did come into contact with her on a regular basis when I worked on the Hill twenty years ago. Of course I am an admirer, but I can confidently make this observation based other Catholic women I've known, like my Great Aunt Sarah--Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro Pelosi from Baltimore is the real deal. So a man who once had his own beliefs called into doubt by the Pope (and rightfully so in hindsight), is in no position to analyze someone else's faith.

Let me break this down for you--Catholic women, who incidentally are very much like the Black Protestant women I know and have known, pray for everybody. EVERYBODY. The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), which gets a daily recitation by most Catholics in some form or another, includes the line: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. That's not a throwaway phrase. During Mass, the priest makes a point of reminding the congregation that it is the duty of the faithful to forgive even our enemies. Forgiveness is a central component of Catholic dogma.

Thus, every day that Pelosi and every other Christian utters the words of that prayer, we are interceding for him. As far as I am concerned, attacking her like that as she was seated on the dais less than 50 feet away from him was an attack on Catholicism, and by extension Christianity itself. Of course, that isn't even the bottom for this President, who has no respect for anyone or anything. He also attacked Mitt Romney, whose faith I know a lot less about, but am no less convinced of his sincerity. So it should worry everyone that our country is being led by a craven, remorseless, haughty reprobate, and we are headed for much worse than a collapse of the American empire.

We are in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). The question is not whether we will be recovered unscathed or unsinged from the flames. The question is whether this evil king will repent or go mad. We know that he won't repent in the short-term, as his lust for vengeance never quenches. He gleefully destroys norms and lives for sport. He openly mocks and rejects the notion of forgiveness, and that's why we must pray for him. Not for the ill will he deserves, but that a measure of grace might cause him a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion before it is too late and his unending quest for retribution consumes him.

Mind you, praying for our enemies does not mean that we won't fight against them. It is because we pray for them that we have the ability to stand and resist. Praying women like my Great Aunt Sarah, my Black Baptist grandmothers, Speaker Pelosi, and Ann Romney (yeah, I'm including her in the prayer circle too) weren't/aren't easily cowed by the bluff and bluster of megalomania. Some of these women have faced much worse than tough talk and insults--fire hoses, riots, chronic illness, personal tragedy, raising children, etc...

Which is why it is important to note that we end the Lord's Prayer with the plea to deliver us from evil. What that deliverance looks like is entirely up to God, and we accept that it might not come in the manner that we would like, but we continue to make the request. This DESPOTUS might believe that his acquittal was a deliverance of some kind, but that was entirely too easy. And one thing praying women know is that troubles don't last always, and blessings and miracles are worth the wait.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Playlist Project: Sam Cooke

On January 22, I considered it a privilege and an honor to pay tribute to the legendary, incomparable Sam Cooke. Of course, there was a quick tribute posted to the Facebook page, but there is so much more...


I can't say for sure what song it was, or how many years ago it was exactly, but it doesn't matter because Sam Cooke's voice is unmistakable. He could switch effortlessly back and forth between the sacred and the secular, so whenever I hear his lilting wo-o-o-o-o-ah, I am transported back to some memory.

When I hear Sam Cooke on a Sunday morning, it takes me back to one of those Saturday mornings when we didn't get to watch our cartoons. To anyone who didn't grow up with a Grandma or Auntie who spent most of her time going to church, being in church, or recovering from church...allow me to set the scene while you listen to Nearer My God to Thee (1955), one of the classic songs from the old-time gospel radio:


The old mothers of the church are dressed in stiff white uniforms while the old men are dressed in contrasting black suits. I am about eight years old, and that morning I had pancakes and bacon or biscuits and sausage. I am wearing a pair of black patent leather shoes and carrying a little church purse that contains my Gideon New Testament. I am mixed in with a brood of grandchildren ranging in age from 12 to 5, and we are attending some never-ending church basement revival with our Grandma Wheeler. Like our young adult and teenaged cousins who went before us, it is now our turn to participate in the 'Juvenile' auxiliary of the Benevolent Association.

I don't remember if my Mom or if one of my uncles drove us to this random church, or if Grandma marched us up the street to the bus stop. Our 'parts' have been over and done with for hours, and as my mother demanded, I recited mine from memory even though she was conveniently not there to witness it. The woman who organizes these programs, the one who always called me Yolanda, praises me for doing a good job. Now we're all lined up in a pew seated next to Grandma, who is perched on the aisle. It is hot and stuffy and all of the adults are standing, swaying, moaning, and humming along while someone offers a rambling testimony or calls out for a hymn that drags on forever.

My brother and my cousins are asleep, but I am the curious granddaughter who stays awake to absorb everything. Why Grandma has all of us out so late is unclear (it gets dark early in the dead of winter). I am hungry and tired. There had been food, but kids aren't big fans of chicken salad macaroni seasoned with too much paprika and raw onions served with stale crackers. I can't stand those chalky butter mints, so I don't have a stash hidden away in my little church purse like my cousin does. Ten minutes ago Grandma promised that it would be over soon, so I can't ask her how long soon will be again while her friend, the blind lady with the deep raspy voice, is still praying. 

Any old song from the Gospel According to Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers has that same transportive power:

Peace In the Valley (1951)

I'm So Glad (Trouble Don't Last Always) (1955)

Must Jesus Bear That Cross Alone (1956)

He's So Wonderful (1956)

Touch the Hem of His Garment (1956)

Were You There (1957)

That's Heaven to Me (1960)

The Last Mile of the Way (1964)

Likewise, that same voice on any day other than a Sunday brings to mind another set of cherished memories--particularly of my Mom singing along to one of his secular hits on the oldies station. I recall laughing at her insistence that she had once been a teenager, hanging out with friends, Having A Party (1962), and Twistin the Night Away (1962)...

In spite of having been exposed to Sam Cooke's music at an early age, it was not until college that I was touched by the beauty of his voice. During the climatic buildup to Malcolm X's assassination in the 1991 film, Spike Lee used A Change is Gonna Come (1964) as the prophetic, haunting omen. It was mesmerizing and after listening to that song dozens of times, and perhaps a hundred more times since, it is absolute perfection. That may be my bias, but listen to his golden voice on a few of his other hits, and let me know if I'm just starstruck:

You Send Me (1957)

Wonderful World (1960)

Chain Gang (1960)

Cupid (1961)

It's All Right (1961)

Nothing Can Change This Love (1962)

Bring It Home To Me (1962)

To this very day, it is impossible for me to listen to Sam Cooke without pausing to catch my breath. The man could sing anything. ANYTHING. The same magical quality in his voice that was the perfect balance of the sacred and the secular, also gave it the power to be both timeless and dated, sanctified and sexy, strong and subtle, and eternally unforgettable. I am convinced that's why it has the power to conjure up such vivid and detailed memories from the past. I can clearly see my Grandma standing with her sisters in white, sharing a testimony of God's goodness. My Mom, rendered mostly mute by her advanced Alzheimer's, flashes a smile of recognition upon hearing his voice...and dances along. What more is there to say except to ask Ain't that good news?

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Playlist Project: Civil Rights Movement

On January 15, we acknowledge the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on the Facebook page that day I posted this playlist of songs and other resources that paid homage to his work and legacy. In the midst of a week that also celebrates the founding dates of three Black Greek Lettered Organizations for women (sororities), it presented me with the opportunity to acknowledge his widow, Coretta Scott King as well. She was a member of one of those illustrious organizations, and in my opinion, she is one of the many unsung sheroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Without her tireless work to commemorate her husband's birthday, MLK day would not be a federal holiday.


More significantly, the efforts of so many unsung veterans of the Movement would go unrecognized if it had not been for her push for a federal holiday. Although February is formally designated as African American History Month, there is only so much history that can be taught and illuminated in 28 days... And while the MLK Holiday does center our attention on his life and work, the Civil Rights Movement was never about one man.

Thus, this playlist offers a glimpse into the many ways that music served to sustain the energy and spirit of the protests. I have expanded on what was originally posted on the Facebook page by offering more versions of the selected songs, additional songs, and other resource material. Like every Black History program you recall from school, we start with the  Black (Negro) National Anthem:

Lift Every Voice (1900) - The national anthem that only Black people know (all three verses). The words were written by James Weldon Johnson, the music by his brother J. Rosamund for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900. The traditional arrangement is how most of us learned it, including this memorable collaboration that used to air on public television in the 90s, as well as this inspirational video that was produced for Barack Obama's 2009 Inauguration. In the past ten years, I have heard this stirring anthem version more often, arranged by the great Roland Carter. Here is a performance at the Kennedy Center with the 105 Voice HBCU Choir (which will give you chills).

Celebrating MLK

Happy Birthday (1981) - I'm not sure why we even bother to sing the traditional arrangement of this song since inevitably, Black people will sing the chorus to this Stevie Wonder version by default. I just read this article about how most people were unfamiliar with the origins of the song, so along with a deep sigh and an #OKMillennial eye roll, if you didn't know the back story, now you do.

Pride in the Name of Love (1984) - I sometimes forget about this song because I was raised on urban radio, which doesn't play much U2 (and I admit to not knowing about this other MLK song), but this is kind of why we think of Bono as the Irish Stevie Wonder.

King Holiday (1986) - The mid-80s were big for artist collaborations and what I noticed for the first time in all these years of watching this video (which I do every year) is that almost all of the featured artists were young, up-and-coming talents. From the rappers to the boy groups (Menudo y'all) to Whitney Houston getting the coveted feature solo--folks that have most recently been featured on Lifetime biopics and Unsung...and I also just learned that the song is not called Sing Celebrate.

A Dream (2006) - I did not remember this song at all, but it features will.i.am and Common, two artists who would collaborate again on Yes We Can (2008) to support the candidacy of Barack Obama for President. And while this list is supposed to highlight songs about MLK, in these troubling years since Obama left office, we need to be reminded that yes we did and yes we can do it again!

Glory (2015) - From the Selma soundtrack, this song written by John Legend, also featuring Common, will prove that both of these brothers are the Marvin Gaye and Gil Scott Heron of our times.

Movement/Protest Songs

We Shall Overcome - Folk singer Joan Baez sang this at the March on Washington in 1963, and though it was popularized by Pete Seeger, another folk artist, his version is an adaptation of a work song that was based on a hymn written by Rev. Charles Albert Tindley. What is so unique about this song is how it can be a gospel song (as sung by Mahalia Jackson), a folk song (as performed by Bruce Springsteen), but also always a communal protest song. In recent years, the song was at the center of a dispute over its copyright (now resolved), so it is now in the public domain.

We Shall Not Be Moved - This is a 2007 release recorded by Mavis Staples, but it was a well-known protest song. It was performed at the March on Washington in 1963 by the Freedom Singers, a choral group from Albany State University (GA) that included Bernice Johnson Reagon (who later went on to found Sweet Honey in the Rock). It was also recorded by Pete Seeger, as well as an Australian folk group called The Seekers in the late 1960s.

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round - This version was recorded by the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. I found mostly contemporary recordings of this song, such as this clip from the film Selma, Lord, Selma, featuring a young Journee Smollet and this jazzy version recorded by The Roots for the documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution. Finally, here is a gospel version performed by the Mass Choir of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Oh Freedom - People sometimes forget that Harry Belafonte was a singer and an activist who was heavily involved in the Movement, so finding this 1960 recording was a pleasant surprise. I found this 1997 a cappella recording by The Golden Gospel Singers, and several of the comments referenced American Horror Story, so while I try to process that scene...I saw a passing nod to Black folk singer Odetta. Opera singer Shirley Verrett also released a version in 1966.

Eyes on the Prize - I thought this had been a song that was written for the 1987 documentary of the same name, but in fact it was recorded by Pete Seeger during the Movement, and later by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Mavis Staples, Joss Stone, and John Mellencamp.

Woke Up This Morning - That is the voice of activist Fannie Lou Hamer, from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)who is not usually remembered as a singer because she is most commonly known as the woman who declared that she was sick and tired of being sick and tired at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. The Freedom Singers also sang this song, and you can hear Bernice Johnson Reagon's booming voice on this recording with Sweet Honey in the Rock for the film Freedom Song. John Legend offers this soulful version for Soundtrack for the Revolution.

This Land is Your Land - Having mentioned his name in connection to several of the aforementioned protest songs (because he performed and recorded them all), it is only fitting to mention another song that Pete Seeger didn't write, but that he gets credited for popularizing. Woodie Guthrie wrote this anthem in 1940 as a response to Irving Berlin's God Bless America. In some ways, this is an odd choice for inclusion on this playlist, since it is rarely included on most programs that feature Movement music. Yet, whenever it is included, we sometimes get treated to something special, like this upbeat take offered by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

March On Washington (1963)

In my research, I noticed that several of the performances featured white folk singers...so I did some probing and learned that might have been intentional to send the message of interracial unity. The words to some traditional hymns and spirituals were changed to become more ecumenical. Typically, the music provided at most protest marches would have been led by locals or a group like the Freedom Singers, but this March was a huge production. High profile entertainers were brought in such as Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Bob Dylan and folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. This next section will highlight their performances as well as other protest/movement music they recorded.

Marian Anderson (1897-1993), Camilla Williams (1919-2012) and Eva Jessye (1895-1992)
Two classically trained singers lent their voices to serenade the marchers. Marian Anderson sang He's Got the Whole World in His Hands because she arrived too late to sing The National Anthem. Instead Camilla Williams sang the Anthem. The Eva Jessye Choir (chosen by MLK) performed We Shall Overcome and Freedom Is The Thing We're Talking About.

Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)
Mahalia Jackson has been hailed as the greatest gospel singer of all time (so she definitely will be featured in her own #playlistproject). She also receives the great honor and distinction of being the only woman onstage during MLK's Dream speech. In fact, she catches the spirit and shouts at him halfway through to tell the crowd about his dream...and the rest is history. During the March, she sang How I Got Over and I've Been 'Buked and I've Been Scorned. Growing up, I was taught that MLK often asked her to sing If I Can Help Somebody, although at his funeral she sang Precious Lord (and as my Daddy would say, I bet there wasn't a dry eye in the church).

Joan Baez (1941 - ) and Bob Dylan (1941 - )
These two singers are synonymous with 60s era protest music, so it is no surprise that they performed at the MOW. As mentioned earlier, Baez sang We Shall Overcome, but she also sang Oh Freedom. She and Dylan sang When the Ship Comes In but I wasn't able to find any audio or video of that, so here is a duet of them singing Dylan's anthem Blowing in the Wind in 1984. Dylan performed Only A Pawn in Their Game, his song about the murder of Medgar Evers.

Peter, Paul and Mary (1961-2009)
The folk trio of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers (1936-2009) performed Blowing in the Wind and If I Had A Hammer at the MOW, a song that was written by Pete Seeger.

Odetta Holmes Gordon (1930-2008)
The Black folk singer known by only her first name, Odetta, sang the spiritual I'm On My Way.

Other Popular Songs 

When I pulled together the original playlist for Facebook, I chose a sampling of songs that also included popular releases that were not specifically connected to MLK, but definitely acknowledge the turbulence of the times:

Let There Be Peace on Earth (1955) - I learned this song as a child, so I wanted to start by sharing this beautiful version sung by the Harlem Boys Choir. I was taught that it was an MLK favorite, so of course that means there is a Mahalia Jackson cover too. Many great artists have interpreted this song, but some stand-outs were Gladys Knight and Wintley Phipps.

Fables of Faubus (1959) - There are two versions of this Charles Mingus protest piece against the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, who was in office at the time of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock. The version with lyrics is, ahem colorful...

Alabama (1963) - This haunting piece was released by jazz saxophonist John Coltrane in response to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, three weeks after the March on Washington. If it reminds you of another Coltrane piece, it is probably A Love Supreme, released the following year.

Birmingham Sunday (1964) - Here is another song that was written in response to the horrific church bombing of September 15, 1963, performed by Joan Baez (written by her brother-in-law Richard Fariña). Rhiannon Giddens also sings a beautiful version.

The Times They Are A-Changin (1964) - Bob Dylan wrote this anthem for the 60s, and it makes sense that it has been recorded by nearly all of his contemporaries--Joan Baez, The Byrds, Nina Simone, Simon & Garfunkel, Keb' Mo', and of course Bruce Springsteen. But even I was not ready for a Burl Ives cover...

A Change Gonna Come (1964) - Let me say at the outset that I always get emotional when I hear this song because Sam Cooke can sing anything. ANYTHING. So when other singers record or perform this song, I need them to bring it, like Otis Redding did and Aretha did and Al Green did. I will accept covers by Anthony Hamilton, Leela James and Seal because those are all solid. But if you can't bring a tear to Denzel's eye like J. Hud did in this mic drop version, then you need to get back in your lane.

Mississippi Goddamn (1964) - The fact that Nina Simone makes only one other appearance on this playlist is a curiosity, until I learned that this was her first political song (and we'll need to do a deeper dive on her #playlistproject). Meanwhile, I'm still trying to decide how I feel about this tribute by Andra Day.

Film Resources

These are both dramatized works and documentary films that offer background and context to frame the events, as well as to introduce some of the ordinary people who participated in the movement:

King (1978) - This miniseries airs every year (all day) and offers the most comprehensive dramatization of MLK's work in the Movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Memphis Labor Strike.

Roots: The Next Generation (1979) - A couple of years ago, I had a chance to watch this ground-breaking miniseries again for the first time in decades. The story in the second series starts after Emancipation and works its way through to the modern era when author Alex Haley begins tracing his family history. Of course, Roots isn't autobiographical as we once were led to believe, but it does offer an engaging dramatized historical narrative that tracks with actual events.

Eyes on the Prize (1987) - This documentary offers the most comprehensive collection of personal accounts offered by various Civil Rights Movement veterans chronicled twenty years after the assassination of MLK. I haven't seen it in quite a few years and now that many of the participants have passed away, it is an invaluable historical resource.

4 Little Girls (1997) - This Spike Lee documentary is unflinching and haunting. On YouTube, you will find several other videos that have a similar title and while they each cover the same event, the common thread among them is how catalyzing this tragedy was in changing the mood of the country. However, with respect to the other works, I am particularly intrigued by this trailer for a dance interpretation of the bombing.

Selma, Lord, Selma (1999) - I've only seen this movie one time, years ago...but it is one of several made-for-TV films that were released in the late 90s and early 00s that offered dramatizations of specific events from the Movement. From what I recall, it was told from the point of view of the young people who participated in the Selma to Montgomery voting rights protests, so it might be a good starting point for introducing these events to children.

Freedom Song (2000) - I have never seen this movie, but as I was doing the research for the playlist, I kept coming across its soundtrack, which features Sweet Honey In the Rock (the song you hear in the trailer is Song of Freedom, written by the phenomenal Carole King).

The Rosa Parks Story (2002) - This is another made-for-TV movie that doesn't air often enough; however, it stars Angela Basset and was directed by Julie Dash, so those are two good reasons to hope that it gets shown again soon. Another reason is that while it dramatizes Rosa Parks' life, it offers more context to dispel the myths that we were taught about her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Soundtrack for a Revolution (2009) - Somehow I missed seeing this documentary about the music of the movement when it was released, even when it aired on PBS in 2011. Most of the artists featured here are the usual suspects like John Legend, Wyclef John, Angie Stone, Anthony Hamilton, and The Roots, and if you've clicked on a few of the links above, you know they brought their A game.

Selma (2014) - This film is Ava DuVernay's powerful dramatization of the story of the pivotal Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches of 1965. The uniqueness of this film is the moment it captures, which is after the celebrated March on Washington and King's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Thus, we find King at the crossroads of his career--an international figure whose involvement in local issues carries greater risks and challenges. Is he an asset or a liability, and how does this portrayal square with King the martyr and icon?

Finale

This project is another example of how the adjunct history professor in me still seeks every opportunity to impart knowledge. I wanted to bring this effort back to where it began with a nod to Coretta Scott King. She was a classically-trained singer when she met MLK, and a crucial yet lesser-known role she played in support of his work was to give concerts to help fund the efforts of the Movement. I found this single clip of Mrs. King performing, but more importantly, I wanted to acknowledge the admonishment their daughter, Rev. Bernice King, issued not to overlook her mother when honoring her father.

Finally, these last clips are sentimental nods to MLK's alma mater, Morehouse College, from where he graduated in 1948. It is tradition that Morehouse men lock arm in arm to sing the words to Dear Old Morehouse at the end of a gathering, so for a project on one of her most prominent sons, I could not omit that hymn. However, my choice to end this playlist is another spiritual (performed with the Cornell University Glee Club) that symbolizes MLK's life and dedication to social justice--Got A Mind To Do Right.

Monday, January 27, 2020

An Ode to Daddy's Girls

I never knew Gianna Marie Onore Bryant (and didn't even know her name until this tragic moment), but I mourn for her today. When we first learned of the crash, in our collective shock we sent up prayers for her father and the four daughters he left behind. Then when we learned that she also perished in the crash, we cried. We've been crying since we learned that seven others were also lost in this tragedy1qw``.

GiGi Bryant at 13, had her whole life ahead of her. So did her famous father, who at 41, could have been my younger brother. One truism about life is that all of us believe we have a lifetime ahead of us, but in reality, we only have the time we get. There is no rhyme or reason to any of this. Death doesn't discriminate.

There will be plenty of tributes offered to the great, but complicated Kobe Bryant in the days and weeks to come, and most will mention his daughter. Of course, she wasn't really famous except for the fact that she was his child; nevertheless, she was a young basketball phemon just like her Dad. She might have been the third coming of the Bryant legacy on the hardwood, begun by his father and her grandfather, Joseph 'Jellybean' Bryant who played in the 70s and 80s. Apparently, Bryant had hoped that would be the case as he was her coach, and they died while en route to a basketball camp.

From every picture that has been posted, it is obvious that Gianna was a Daddy's Girl. Not every little girl has the blessing of having that kind of relationship with her father. As a Daddy's Girl myself, I am a testifying witness that there is nothing like that unconditional love from the first man in your life. NOTHING. Therefore, I will leave it to the obituary writers to properly eulogize Kobe Bryant (warts and all); I will do my best to pay tribute to the little girls like his precious GiGi.

Since I didn't know her, I have to use examples from my own life to frame this. I am a Daddy's Girl, as are my Nieces, and my daughter. I went to school with a bunch of Daddy's Girls, have worked with several in various capacities. As I've grown older, I've learned it isn't something we outgrow. And we are very easy to spot. Usually at some point in a conversation, we will reveal a Dad-specific detail about our upbringing or perhaps, we will mention something that we need to do with or for our Dads. There may be other anecdotal character traits that we all share, but all I know is that we are all unshakable in our love for him.

Our bond is symbolized by that mythical ring that folks say adorn our little finger, and it's true, our Dads are devoted to us. All over Facebook and other social media, I see all of these burly tough guys who are just head over heels in love with their daughters. I see all of these proud peacocks who brag about their baby girls--with toothy grins and chests poked out, they recite all of our accomplishments alongside their dreams and hopes for our bright futures. Our Daddies are our biggest fans.

We are our Daddies Daughters. We tend to like the things that our Daddies like. His favorite music and his favorite sports teams are likely to be our favorites as well. Where our interests diverge, our Daddies' enthusiasm will never betray him. We tend to look like our Daddies, even when we look just like our Mamas; we become chameleons in their presence, sometimes reverting to being little girls, even when we are grown ass women. But we are also fierce Warrior Princesses, so nobody better mess with our Daddies! Because we regard our Daddies as larger than life, no one can compare to him. None of the dudes that we date, not even the ones who convince us to marry them...NOPE. That's why some Daddy's Girls never marry because no other man can measure up.

The Hub and I have had discussions about this over the years, and my retort is now and forever shall be, well now you have a daughter...and it was me thinking about how my world would implode if I ever lost these two that compelled me to write.


So it doesn't surprise me that Gianna Bryant loved basketball and that her father was her coach. It saddens me that they died together, but it is also comforting to know that they were together. That doesn't make this tragedy any less devastating, because there is a mother and three sisters and extended family in mourning right now. Not just for the Bryants, but also for the Altobelli family, the Chester family, Ara Zobayan (the pilot), and the Mauser family.

Last night before he went to bed, I overheard the Hub listening to Dear Theodosia from the Hamilton soundtrack. It is one of the tunes he and the Kid sing to each other, and so if there was ever a moment when I could read someone's mind, that was it. Similarly, I was not surprised to the see my social media timeline flooded with messages from dozens of doting Daddies. My Dad called me this morning just to check in.

Rest well, GiGi. You made your Daddy so proud.