Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bits of History Repeating

February 2011

After a slight prompting of my Mum, I decided to talk a little about my last show.
I was hired by the Prince George Black History Organization to perform as their headliner for the kick off of the month long events for Black History.
An honor for me to be in my home town thinking of this thought provoking event.
I was born in Prince George, a predominately white community and we joke, that growing up in our community in the 70's, there were 3 black families: Morgans Reynolds and Washingtons. Of course there were more, but we were big family's and were easily noticed due to sports, church etc.

Preparing for this show, I wanted to use new repertoire and began to research some songs with my pianist. One song I've always wanted to sing was Strange Fruit, and after hearing Nina Simone's haunting version, I knew hers was the one that I wanted to emulate.

Looking for songs allows you to research and discover the stories behind the music which are interesting and eye opening. To read the struggles of the black musicians in the 20's, 30's, 40's etc. is encouraging yet heartbreaking; to see what these musicians had lived through, sacrificed and struggle throughout their lives just to make it 'big' in the industry, most of them paid improperly and with their lives.

My experience:
Music has a beautiful way of documenting the events, emotions and details of a time and place. Their stories can be clear and concise or can leave room for interpretation. Strange Fruit is a powerful song that needs no interpretation. I realize that this song was written to remind us of what 'was' and what should never be.

As I began to sing the song, Strange Fruit' I had vivid pictures in my mind and I struggled to sing without emotion, this was impossible. A waver here and there, but I pressed on as I felt that this story must be told yet again and especially for those who did not know of how severe the lynchings in the south was.
I came to last line and could go no further to make the statement of my people as "a strange a bitter crop" was too overwhelming for me. I stepped away from the microphone and allowed the pianist to play then shared these words from my heart.
"I am sorry for all of those who lost their lives, and yet, I am thankful for my grandparents and their parents that they had the courage to survive, for had they not, I would not be here today."

It was a sobering thought for me... I am only here because of the courage and strength of my ancestors!

I moved on to Sam Cook's song "A Change is gonna come" it seemed most fitting after Strange Fruits morbid truth, to sing a song of hope, A hope for even now seemed most fitting. I love SEAL'S version of it. A beautiful classic song that has stood the test of time! Once again Sam's life ended early and to this day they really don't know how he was murdered. He wrote the song "A Change is Going to Come, after being inspired by Bob Dylan's song "Blowing in the Wind" It was a risky move on his part to sing boldly about racism, but after hearing Dylan's song he felt a song about racism should be told from a black man's point of view... So he took the risk and to this day we all still feel inspired and thank full by Sam Cooke's song!

The whole night was moving for me, and I felt that I stepped ever so slightly in the inspiring shoes of these gifted song writers and performers from the past. I am humbled by their courage and thankful that these stories are still being told today.

Diva M

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