Here’s the story: I teach reading to adults in Watts. Two years ago, I was “volunteered” to sing at the Black History Month potluck for faculty and staff. As I occasionally brought my guitar to sing for students, the committee thought I might be game. Oh, and by the way, could I include this spiritual (which I knew) and that 1960s song (which I didn’t). Honored but somewhat daunted by the prospect of being a Jewish white girl helping to represent African-American history, I took a deep breath and said said….”Sure!” And went home to learn the songs.
As I played and pondered, I resisted the fact that sorrow seemed to be the primary note in the selection. I felt the urge to tell a broader story — and one that included women. Then I remembered a song by singer/songwriter Amy Dixon-Kolar, which had gone viral during the 2008 elections. In a moment of “Match, meet Imagination,” I cobbled together bits of five different songs into a six-minute mashup. I practiced like crazy and, on the day of the event, I gave myself dress rehearsals by singing for my students – both classes – and wandering into any other classroom that would have me. That was fun. Good to go.
However, when I arrived at our event center, I realized that I was walking into more than a little lunch. The room had been turned into a mini-museum. Staff members had brought in family and historical memorabilia, beautifully displayed around the perimeter. The program featured special guests like Clarence Huntley, one of the original Red Tail Tuskegee Airmen, James Marshall, director of the Museum of Slavery to Emancipation, and…well…me. When I got up to sing, I could not have anticipated the response.
With Black History celebrations carrying us through this month, a student asked if I would bring my guitar again. “I’m not on the program this year,” I told her. “I meant to sing for us,” she said.
I promised I would. But I also thought it was time to move past my shyness and share the video of that first performance. It is not a great recording, but perhaps friends and former students will enjoy it.
Oh, and I just got drafted to sing it again…this time for the whole student body! Wish me luck!
Songs sampled in the mash up:
I’ll Fly Away is a gospel hymn written by Alfred E. Brumley
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is an old spiritual.
Abraham, Martin and John was written by Dick Holler and first recorded by Dion
We Shall Overcome is an old protest song adopted by the Civil Rights Movement
Rosa Sat by Amy Dixon-Kolar You must hear Amy sing the whole thing. Gorgeous!