Music has always been a constant in my life. During the ups and downs (and all that lies between), music has served as an extension of my moods and emotions. Speaking to me in ways almost like nothing else, the sweet sound of music has inspired me—giving the push I needed to go on. Here’s a list of five inspirational jams that never cease to keep me lifted.
Sounds of Blackness – “I’m Going All the Way” from Africa to America; The Journey of the Drum (1994)
“Now I know better/It’s time to move on/My determination/Is what keeps me strong/Oh I believe in myself/Like never before/Faith is the key/To unlock the door/Whatever it takes to make it/I’m going all the way/I may be down sometimes/But I won’t be down always…”
Africa to America; The Journey of the Drum by Sounds of Blackness, is a moving album with inspiring songs of history, faith, love, and soul. With Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis at the helm, they created inspirational/gospel music without boundaries. Songs like the pulsing, rhythmic single “I’m Going All The Way” proved that inspirational/gospel could be relevant and contemporary without forsaking its message. Fueled by Ann Nesby’s rousing lead vocal, the song channels the reality that life may not always go the way we want it to. But no matter what comes our way, we must go forward. We cannot give up or give on…”We must hold on to [our goals].” We must go all the way.
Mary Mary – “Go Get It” from Go Get It (2012)
“You were made to live a good life and that’s what I believe/So hit the floor say a prayer start working you got to do something/It’s alright to crawl before you walk it’s alright to walk before you run/But if you wanna get what you never got gotta do something that you never done/Go get it, Go Get it, Go get it, Go get it, Go get it/
Go get yo blessing…”
As soon as I heard “Go Get It” on Mary Mary’s We reality series, I was immediately moved by the urgency of its music, vocals, and message. Without a doubt, it’s one of Mary Mary’s best songs. Produced by longtime producer Warryn Campbell, the song tells us that we can’t achieve anything if we do not go after it. We can’t sit around and wait for our lives to change. If we want something we have to make it happen. Count it on faith, if you play your part—the blessings will follow. Whether you’re a Christian believer or not, the message is undeniable.
Whitney Houston – “Step By Step” from The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
“And this old road is rough and ruined/So many dangers along the way/So many burdens might fall upon me/So many troubles that I have to face/Oh, but I won’t let my spirit fail me/Oh, I won’t let my spirit go/Until I get to my destination/I’m gonna take it slowly cuz I’m making it mine/Step By Step (you know I’m taking it), bit by bit (bit by bit, come move),
stone by stone (yeah), brick by brick (brick by brick by brick by brick mmm…).”
“Step By Step” was the second single released from The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack. The album found Houston returning back to her roots. Primarily a Gospel album, The Preacher’s Wife also contained R&B/Soul and Pop tunes of love and inspiration. “Step By Step” is a funky, uptempo tune written by the iconic Annie Lennox. Musically and vocally stellar, the song encourages us to remain faithful, steadfast, and committed while on our journey. We can’t let anything detract or or get to us. We’ve got to keep moving.
Janet Jackson – “Strong Enough” from The Velvet Rope (1997)
“I know that it’s not been easy/Trying to make it in this crazy world/People ’round you try to stop you/Stomp you saying that you don’t belong/…You must remember that/You were born with blood of kings and queens/And can’t be stopped/Stay stronger my brother you can’t be stopped/No, you can’t be stopped/Don’t ever let nobody tell you you ain’t strong enough/Strong enough, don’t let nobody tell you you ain’t/Strong enough, don’t let nobody tell you…”
“Can’t Be Stopped” is the hidden bonus track on Janet Jackson’s critically-acclaimed, artistic triumph, The Velvet Rope. The song is a lush, uplifting jam featuring Ms. Jackson’s assured, layered vocals, socially conscious lyrics, and a soulful sound reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” In this life, we may come up against forces designed to try to keep us complacent, down, and out. If we give in, the negative forces will win. But if we proceed and persist, we will be successful. We will be victorious. We will be unstoppable.
Vesta Williams – “Better Days” from Seven (2013)
“Today it didn’t rain/The sun came out again/The cloudy days seem to be over/It’s like I found a four-leaf clover/And changed misfortunes of mine/Troubles on my heart/Things falling apart/The fight in me was slowly dying/But never did I give up trying/To find my moment to shine/Better days are coming my way/Heaven smiles and I’m still okay/Better times will be yours and mine/And I think it’s going to be just fine…”
“Better Days” is Vesta’s most recent single from her final studio album Seven. The smoothed out groove of the music (straddling the line between R&B/Soul and Contemporary Jazz) and Vesta’s emotive, yet somewhat restrained vocal performance makes this a welcomed addition to any fan’s music collection. Released in the fall of 2012, I was drawn to its message of perseverance and faith through it all. No matter how dark or how long the days get, we must trust and believe that better days are not too far behind. But we must it through the bad days before we can enjoy the fruits of better days.
Music is meant to inspire/To elevate you and to take you higher/Like the prophets spoke words to my soul/Letters of love like silver and gold/…Sign myself to you forever. ~ Teena Marie, “Luv Letter,” Beautiful (2013)
I spent countless days spinning Teena Marie LPs as a child. Funny how not much has changed even as an adult. Her performances on songs like “Cassanova Brown,” “Shadow Boxing,” “Portuguese Love,” “Deja Vu (I’ve Been Here Before)” and “If I Were A Bell” held me captive. Her sophisticated funk on “Square Biz,” “Lovergirl,” “Playboy,” “Midnight Magnet,” “It Must Be Magic,” and “Behind The Groove” rocked me deeply. There was something about her that was so special and unique, that it emanated from every note she wrote, played, and sang. You could feel her soul in each musical thread from 1979′s “Wild and Peaceful” to 2013′s “Beautiful” (her final studio album). These threads wove a beautiful tapestry that will live on beyond her years.
Her artistry is/was amazing. Known as the “Ivory Queen Of Soul,” her music, with its poetic lyricism, encompassed so many genres—R&B/Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Latin, Jazz. It transcended categorization and race. If her mission was to bring people together with her gifts, she accomplished it quite well.
Inspired by Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, “Sarah Vaughan, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni just to name a few,” Lady Tee’s music was as diverse as her inspirations. If you listen to her catalog, you’ll hear that she placed no limits on herself or her music. She went where the spirit moved her. In a career that spanned over 30 years, the progression was astounding.
While Motown was not initially on board with giving Teena Marie complete creative control, they changed their tune after two successful albums produced by Rick James, Wild and Peaceful (1979), and Richard Rudolph, Lady T (1980). Marie wrote, produced, and arranged her third and fourth studio albums, Irons In The Fire (1980) and It Must Be Magic (1981). These albums are regarded as some of her best work, and featured the hit singles “I Need Your Lovin’” (her first top 40 hit), “Young Love,” “Square Biz” (one of the first songs to bring hip-hop to the forefront by melding it with contemporary R&B/Soul music), “It Must Be Magic,” and “Portuguese Love.” Legal disputes with Motown would later hinder Marie from releasing music. A lawsuit ensued, resulting in the creation of “The Brockert Initiative,” which made it illegal for record labels to withhold releasing music from their artists while still under contract.
Marie would later leave Motown for Epic Records, where she would go on to release five studio albums—Robbery (1983), Starchild (1984), Emerald City (1986), Naked to the World (1988), and Ivory (1990). It was with Epic that Marie would achieve her greatest commercial and crossover success, with her platinum-selling Starchild album and its lead single “Lovergirl” (#9 R&B/#4 Pop/#6 Dance). Naked to the World featured her biggest R&B single “Ooh La La La” (#1), a song that would later be sampled on The Fugees’ 1996 hit single “Fu-Gee-La” (from The Score). Her final Epic release Ivory, featured the R&B hits “If I Were A Bell” (#8) and “Here’s Looking At You” (#11).
In 1994, Marie independently released the fan-favorite Passion Play on her Sarai Records label. Though she continued to perform, she devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose, a singer and songwriter in her own right known as Rose La Beau (featured on Marie’s Sapphire, Congo Square, and Beautiful albums). It would be 10 years before releasing her next studio album.
Marie later signed with the Cash Money Classics label, and released two stellar albums, 2004′s La Dona and 2006′s Sapphire. The gold-selling La Dona was her highest charting album on the Billboard 200 (#6), and featured the Grammy-nominated single “Still In Love” (#23 R&B/#70 Pop) and the sultry, Quiet Storm jam “A Rose By Any Other Name,” featuring the late great Gerald Levert (#53 R&B). Sapphire featured “You Blow Me Away,” a tribute to Rick James, two duets with Smokey Robinson “God Has Created” and “Cruise Control,” a tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims “Resilient (Sapphire),” and the funky, mellow-smooth lead single, “Ooh Wee” (#32 R&B).
Marie’s final studio albums 2009′s Congo Square and 2013′s Beautiful (released posthumously) are arguably two of the finest and most accomplished efforts of her career. Congo Square featured collaborations with George Duke, Howard Hewett, Shirley Murdock, MC Lyte, Faith Evans, and Rose La Beau (to name a few). When discussing Congo Square in an interview with Blues & Soul magazine, Marie said,
I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or some musical giant that I loved. ‘The Pressure’ is dedicated to Rick James; ‘Can’t Last a Day’ is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound – the Philly International sound. Then ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Ear Candy’ are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield – with memories of riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808. While ‘Miss Coretta’ is, of course, dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King. ‘Solder’ is for the soldiers. ‘Congo Square’ is for Congo Square – it’s for the slaves and the great musical geniuses and giants that have come out of new Orleans, and the great Jazz era. And Louis Armstrong…
Beautiful, the album Marie was working on prior to her passing, is everything the its title implies. It’s practically a perfect artistic depiction of who she was—an amazing woman and mother, and a versatile, passionate, soulful, ever-changing, multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and producer. She was a musical genius.
Though she didn’t always get the kudos she deserved from the mainstream, Lady Tee will always be regarded by fans, musicians, and contemporary R&B/soul critics alike as one of the best to ever do it. Here’s to you Teena Marie! The Tee lives on!
Happy Women’s History Month! During the month of March, we honor all women who’ve made (or are making) significant contributions not only to the fabric of our society but also to the world.
The origins of Women’s History Month date back to the very first celebration of International Women’s History Day (which is March 8th) in 1911. In 1981, Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28, which officially recognized the second week of March as Women’s History Week. Congress, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, passed Pub. L. 100-9, which officially recognized March as Women’s History Month. According to the Women’s History Month site, “Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month” between 1988 and 1994. March has been observed annually as “Women’s History Month” in numerous proclamations by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama since 1995.
During Women’s History Month, we reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of women and honor their role in shaping the course of our Nation’s history. Today, women have reached heights their mothers and grandmothers might only have imagined. Women now comprise nearly half of our workforce and the majority of students in our colleges and universities. They scale the skies as astronauts, expand our economy as entrepreneurs and business leaders, and serve our country at the highest levels of government and our Armed Forces. In honor of the pioneering women who came before us, and in recognition of those who will come after us, this month, we recommit to erasing the remaining inequities facing women in our day. ~ President Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation – Women’s History Month, 2011
So let’s take a moment to honor the women past and present who have made tremendous strides for all of us, not just during the month of March, but every day.
Image courtesy of the Black Bird Press News & Review blog.
Where is your fire? I say where is your fire?
Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?
The fire of living. . . . . . Not dying
The fire of loving. . . . . Not killing
The fire of Blackness. . . Not gangster shadows.
~ Sonia Sanchez, “Catch The Fire” (1997)
Sonia Sanchez is a phenomenal writer, poet, playwright, storyteller, educator and activist. Sanchez, one of the most influential poets of the Black Arts Movement, has written nearly 20 books of poetry and prose. Her poetry is rich with imagery, history, culture and emotion. Her words have the ability to incite the mind, warm your heart and touch your soul. And she makes it look so easy.
Sanchez doesn’t take the past struggles or the current plight of our people lightly. In her poem “Catch The Fire” (written for Bill Cosby), she honors our ancestors and encourages our youth to find themselves, love themselves, go after their dreams and live up to the promise and passion of their “fire.”
Sonia Sanchez originally published “Catch The Fire” in Wounded in the House of a Friend (1997). “Catch The Fire” was also featured in (and inspired the title of) Derrick I. M. Gilbert’s Catch The Fire: A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (1998).
For more information about Sonia Sanchez, please go to: www.soniasanchez.net.
“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” ~ Audre Lorde
In Kevin Powell’s inspiring and motivational speech, he talked about the importance of knowing our history. He said “not knowing your history is like a tree without roots.” Our history helps us gain a better understanding of who we are and where we’re going. Powell noted three imperatives to history: faith (having a belief in something greater than yourself), vision (realizing anything is possible and that you can’t make history without a plan), and love (history must be rooted in love; you hate yourself when you don’t know who you are and when you don’t know your history).
Knowing our history is one of the building blocks to both personal and collective success. Powell said, “Individual success means nothing if the community isn’t doing well.” With a failing educational system, inherent generations of poverty, dire levels of incarceration and unemployment, there’s still much that we need to do to move our community forward. Like Powell, I agree that we need to have spaces to engage in dialogue so that we can address the issues in our community and work to resolve them. Programs like AT&T 28 Days are just one of the ways to fulfill this mission.
Powell closed out his speech by providing a list of six elements that are essential to making history. These elements are as follows:
I firmly believe that our community will be better when we all work to better ourselves both individually and collectively. We must be selfless. We must remember our ancestors and our families, for we’re standing on their shoulders. If it weren’t for their sacrifices and achievements, we wouldn’t be where we are today. For the the sake of those coming after us, we must pay it forward. We have to give our people hope. And as Powell said,”[We can] give hope to people by example.” So let’s be the example!
Black Bloggers Connect 2nd Annual Black History Month Blogging Contest – http://www.blackbloggersconnect.com/articles/173/2-100
The new year is here! And with it comes the chance to start anew. Time for reflection and introspection. The opportunity to take inventory, evaluate, and re-evaluate where you are, where you’re going, where you’d like to be, and what you need to do to get there. It’s goal-setting time or recognition time for goals you’ve achieved.
If it didn’t work in 2012, don’t bring it into 2013. If it created a lot of drama in 2012, abolish it and look for ways to alleviate/avoid it altogether in 2013. If you didn’t like it or wanted to change it in 2012, 2013 is the best time to get started. Instead of making resolutions, commit to life or lifestyle changes. But be realistic. If you’re doing it because it sounds good or because you’re seeking approval from others, you probably won’t be committed to it beyond the first few weeks or months of the year. Let it be something meaningful. Let it be something you truly want to do. If it’s something that benefits the community, environment, or larger society—all the more better.
Looking back on 2012, three of my biggest accomplishments were 1) successfully completing my MBA, 2) my partner and I celebrating our first year of marriage, and 3) publishing my first volume of poetry Prevail: Poems on Life, Love, and Politics. 2012 afforded me the opportunity to form deeper bonds with family and friends. I was able to network, connect, and learn from so many people in various stages of their careers in the arts and other fields. I was able to devote more time to my passions (the arts, cooking/baking, etc.). I got back into my fitness regime and stuck with it for most of the year (at least until my academic life took over in the latter months of the year). While I didn’t reach all of my fitness goals in 2012, I will continue on with them in 2013. Another blessing was hearing the news that my mother, who is a three-time cancer survivor, is 100% cancer free. How relieved we all were to receive this news. We hope and pray mom’s cancer remission.
There were many struggles in 2012, but I’m not going to harp on them. I’m leaving them behind but taking the lessons and wisdom forward. I will be more patient. Will place more trust in my intuition and the voice within. I will continue to work to maintain my cool, my calm when situations are heated (approaching these situations with a level-head versus a hot-head is always preferred). I will give myself more credit and kudos for my accomplishments, skills, talents, and abilities (leaving self-doubt in the dust). I will stop forsaking my well-being for the betterment of other things (institutions, organizations) and people (self-neglect doesn’t lead to progression or growth).
In 2013 my (general) goals are: 1) looking for, participating in, and/or creating opportunities to promote my work and myself as an artist (and aspiring renaissance man), prayerfully opportunities that will challenge and strengthen me creatively, socially, mentally, and personally, 2) being proactive and taking the necessary steps for optimal health, 3) doing more to give back to the community, 4) spending more time with family, friends, and godchildren, 5) building stronger connections with fans, followers, peers, and those I admire in the arts, and 6) and hopefully taking a real vacation.
Before closing out, I’d like to take this moment to say from the basement floor of my heart THANK YOU to the readers/followers/supporters/fans for your ongoing love, praise, constructive criticism, and support. For this, I am extremely humbled, grateful, and blessed.
I wish you and your families an amazing 2013! Let it be filled with love, joy, harmony, good health, and prosperity!
Peace, Love, and Many Blessings,
Maya Angelou’s poetry didn’t hit me immediately when my mother and I went to see John Singleton’s Poetic Justice during the summer of 1993. It would be one year later (after seeing the film several times on cable) when Angelou’s poetry moved me in ways that were like revelations. I was 12 then. At that point, I was writing song lyrics mostly. Hadn’t given much thought to writing poetry. But there was something about Angelou’s poetry (in particular the poems featured in Poetic Justice — “Alone,” “Phenomenal Woman,” and “In A Time” to name a few) that spoke to me and gave me an even deeper appreciation for the world of arts and letters. Shortly thereafter, I used my allowance to get a paperback copy of Maya Angelou’s Poems. I committed myself to reading it (and occasionally reciting and memorizing selected poems from it) everyday for months.
Angleou’s poetry speaks about the human condition in a language that is universal. Her work often has a consciousness that is (always) socially, politically, culturally, and historically relevant. The sincerity and candor of her words continue to draw me in. The lighthearted, comedic tone of poems like “Seven Women’s Blessed Assurance” (from I Shall Not Be Moved) consumed me with laughter and delight. With poems like “Still I Rise,” “Amazing Peace,” “On The Pulse of Morning,” “Human Family,” “Mother – A Cradle To Hold Me,” and “Our Grandmothers,” Angelou has left me with a hefty sense of pride and a better understanding, love, and respect for the human race and our shared experiences.
To say that Maya Angelou’s work has been a source of inspiration and influence would be an understatement. Angelou’s writing (along with a few others) fueled my fascination with the human condition and my desire to write about it in a unique yet relatable (and at times, unconventional) way. While it was never my desire to write like or copy Angelou, if my writing can (one day) have the slightest feeling, impact, and influence of her writing—that would truly be amazing.
Check out the following snippets from Poetic Justice featuring Angelou’s “Alone” and “Phenomenal Woman” (as voiced by the character Justice, played by Janet Jackson).
Well grades have been posted. I earned a 4.0 this semester. The MBA is officially done! To say that I’m elated would be an understatement. Traveling down the road that brought me here was far from easy. But I didn’t give up. Further proof of the fruits that faith, determination, diligence, and commitment can can bring you.
Before I move on to the next thing, I’m going to take some to reflect and bask in the glory of this moment. It’s something I’ve often neglected to do after major milestones in my life. I usually just keep it moving… Going forward with little or no breaks. Like a maniac of sorts. But recently, I’ve committed myself to taking it easy and truly living in the moment (especially after major life events like these).
But you know what else it’s time to do? It’s time to CELEBRATE!
Until next time…
Peace, Love, and Many Blessings,