Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Happy Birthday Ms. Billie

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagin 95 years ago today to Sadie a teenage mother there in Baltimore, Md. She took the stage name “Billie Holiday” from a famous actress at the time “Billie Dove ” and the man widely believed to be her father, jazz trumpeter, Clarence Holiday. One of the most influential jazz singers of all time, Billie Holiday had a thriving career for many years before her battles with substance abuse got the better of her.

Men not worth loving, drugs, jail, and the memory of a mother who was always leaving her with other people to raise when she was a little girl. Her 1956 autobiography “Lady Sings the Blues” (title taken from one of her famous songs) would later be adapted into a movie starring Diana Ross and Billie Dee Williams.

Here’s to you, Ms. Billie. Hopefully, you don’t have to sing the blues no more where you are.

That’s “Ms. Mahalia” to You

Thursday, March 18th, 2010


You can never go wrong with Mahalia Jackson.

I chose this video of Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over” because despite its horribly poor quality Mahalia Jackson’s powerful presence and powerful talent as a singer burst through. I love this video because you witness the transformation in Mahalia Jackson as she moves along in the song. Did I say “transformation”? Change that. Watch the performance closely and you can almost pinpoint the moment when the Spirit…the Anointing…heck, the Holy Ghost (as we say in the Pentecostal church) falls and Mahalia Jackson “The Queen of Gospel” loses herself in the song.

Mildred Falls, Jackson’s longtime accompanist, is at the piano providing Jackson with sure footing each step of the way. The fact that the audience is mixed probably explains why Jackson tries to remain composed and dignified for as long as she does. But, as you can see for yourself, the shouts of the few blacks in the audience who recognize the Spirit when it falls is all Mahalia Jackson needs to loosen up and let it rip. I could be wrong but the mood changes somewhere around the four minute mark. But it’ll take another full minute before Jackson sings with eyes wide open. The initial nervousness is gone. Mahalia Jackson moves from singing and performing to testifying and praising the Lord. The singer merges with the artist who gives way to the Gift.When the Spirit is done, Mildred Falls’ consummate accompaniment on the piano provides Mahalia Jackson with the musical footing she needs to find her way back to herself and to bring the song to a close.

For those of you who don’t know, “How I Got Over” was written by another legendary gospel singer, Ms. Clara Ward.

Don’t be fooled by Jackson’s gospel persona. Mother didn’t play. Some biographies claim Mahalia Jackson would track down  producers and managers who tried stiffing her after a performance by sneaking out the back door without paying her. Such an image about Jackson, of course, run counter we have of her as a sweet gospel singer. But believe. It was track ‘em down and prove that you mean business, or go hungry. “He went thataway, Ms. Mahalia.”

MahaliaMahalia Jackson was born on October 26, 1911 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her nickname was “Halie”. Her earliest memories and influences were the sights and sounds of New Orleans, steamships on the Mississippi, jazz bands playing in the streets, and the music of Bessie Smith. Young Mahalia was to find her greatest inspiration at the local Baptist church. Mahalia Jackson was raised by her aunt after her mother’s death when she was five years old. In 1936 she married a graduate of Fisk University named Isaac Hockenhull. Despite the money offered Mahalia, and the pressure from her husband to sing secular music, she refused. Later in 1941, when she’d had enough of her husband’s gambling ways and pressure on her to turn to secular singing, she divorced Hockenhull. (Remind me to write a blog one day about why marriage often eludes gifted women.) Mahalia Jackson would go on to record in 1946 the hit song, “Move On Up A Little Higher” which would make her a household name.

In the end, Mahalia Jackson would work herself to death. Throughout the 1960’s and into the 1970’s she toured Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, Japan, India, and performed for the President of Liberia. Her last international a concert took place in Germany where she collapsed while on stage. She came home to Chicago with plans to relax, open up a flower shop and beauty salon with the money she earned from her music career. But that was not to be. On January 27, 1972 Mahalia Jackson died of complications from diabetes and heart failure. A compelling contralto voice died when Mahalia Jackson died. But her memory sings on.

Like I said, you can’t go wrong with remembering Mahalia Jackson here during Women’s History Month. Enjoy.

(Pssst. Don’t let the video’s spotty poor quality here and there make you give up and click away. It’s worth sticking with to the end. We have to accept the footage the way we find it when we’re trying to experience some of these classic performances from the past.)

Everything To Me

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Haven’t been able lately to post as often as I’d like. New job. Still traveling and writing. Parenting a teenager-who-lives-in-my-house. 5:30am Lenten devotional webcasts. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Grateful to the friend who shared this morning this spiritually moving video of Fred Hammond’s “Everything To Me.”  Blessed my soul. From beginning to end. I can make it today. Yes, I can.

Lord, I’m grateful to discover this morning that I’m not so far from you that I can’t perceive your Presence.

Psalm 151 by Mae Jackson

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Thanks poet-writer Mae Jackson for submitting your poem to the blog as an example of what a modern psalm of lament might sound like.

I wonder who’s gonna be so bold as to
walk up to God and say
“ Brother man,
What’s up with this?”

Who’s gonna call God to the floor
check his agenda for disaster
censor his freedom of speech…
take away his position the way they did Amiri Baraka
out loud
“who blew up america?”

the last I heard
270,000 people of color were
wiped out
just like that

without a word of warning
the ocean opened up its mouth
until it had reached it natural capacity for mass consumption and destruction
sucking out the life of
my sisters
my brothers

our children
can not breath
they can not live
they will not live

Hey you
(I say to God)
What you got against people of color?
What you got against the poor?
What you got against working class folks?

And he replied

who’s gonna accuse God of murder
throw him in jail
like they did mumia?

Hey you
I said to God
sitting high and looking low
where were you when
white america
dummied down demoracy
and threw the last two elections?

God replied
“you talking to me?”
as if he had never
the many prayers I’d uttered for

I’m talking to you -
God Almighty
(I might add)
I don’t like your attitude

where were you God
when the children of South Asia cried out for their mothers and fathers
to protect them from your wrath
their bodies sucked into the nothingness
did they not cry out loud enough for you to hear them?

I speak to God
requesting his presence
“”man up God”, I say
I demand an audience of one with you

A no show
One more time again

…a probability
you were too busy
with George Bush on his Texas ranch
social security &
health care
to notice
the suffering
of the world’s people

a possibility you were
puff daddy’s
Xmas party
for the rich and famous
preoccupied (I suppose)
purchasing diamond watches & rings
costing $100,000 and more…
from men
who went into the bowls of South Africa
stealing everything they now sell
to merchants of death
who go by the name of

AUGUST 28,2005 Hurricane Katrina

Where yawl at”
I ask
“We in the water”
that’s what she said
and where is God?
I ask humbly
She drowned before she could answer me

“Well now, Lawdy, Lawdy Miss Claudie you sure…
I ain’t no singer but I can change the lyrics
“Well now, Lawdy, Lawdy Miss Claudie looks like God has abandoned you
what you gonna do now that you God is gone?

I loved him
I loved him so much
I loved him everyday of my life
I loved him when the rent was due
When the eviction notice was tacked on my door
I loved him when I had no food in my refrigerator
I loved him in the midnight hour
I loved him when the evil wind blew no good

I cried out to him
crawling on my knees
trying to get out of the mess I was in
“help me!”

He did not come then

Later much later
He showed up with three white men
and took Emmett Till to the Tallahatchie River
He showed up in jail and beat Fannie Lou Hammer
He showed up at the assassinations of Malcolm X
And Dr. King
He may not come when you call him
but he’s always on time..
for those who rule the world

like sam cook
“I was born by the river in a little tent…”
I know,
I know
you didn’t see me
but that’s no excuse for not hearing me
when I was floating on a mattress in my kitchen
I reached out to you
“take my hand, precious Lord, take my hand”…

my ole man
reached out to save me
he had to let me go to take the hand of our child…
when I was in the superdome
and the rain was pouring down
“I just want you close…
you and me together through the days and nights”
Alicia Keys sing
“everything is gonna be alright”
nothing was
nothing is

and today
from somewhere I found the strength
to rise again
from the muddy waters of new orleans and Mississippi

they thought I was dead
in the eulogy they wrote ( and sent out all over the world)
they called me
a refugee
they said I was black,
uneducated with the propensity towards criminal intent
I would not be missed…

I came back…
I found ancestors at the bottom of the sea that resuscitated me
and now I am born again
from their love
you have reasons to worry
“there is no easy way to learn how to fly”
today I rise