April 6, 2016
On Monday I participated in the first of three “She Sings the Blues” classes. The emphasis of these three sessions is on the great Blues women of the early 20th century. In the first class we learned a bit about the lives and music of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, two of the most influential of the early blues women. As we listened to their music, we talked about the cultural milieu in which they were making music, touring and performing – the south, only one or two generations after the end of slavery, segregation, lynching, minstrel shows and blackface. They were women in a world dominated by men. They were black in a world controlled by whites. And still their voices rose above the fray. They spoke into their world words of sorrow and loss and also words of courage and truth. They asserted themselves with their larger than life personalities, their refusal to be silenced, their persistence in telling their stories.
I came away from this first class completely inspired by what little I learned of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. I look at them and at so many women throughout history like them – women who against all odds refuse to be silenced – and am deeply grateful for their courage, wisdom and sacrifice. This is the kind of woman I try to be in my own life with varying degrees of success. There are days when it is easier than others. There are days when the words are there and days when they aren’t. There are days when I believe what I have to say matters and deserves to be heard and then there are days when I am convinced no one wants to hear from me.
This is what I mean when I call myself a vocal adventurer. A vocal adventurer is anyone who grapples with voice in an effort to not only be heard but to know deep in her soul that she deserves to be heard – whether she’s angry and critical, happy and celebrating, strong or vulnerable, focused or scattered. A vocal adventurer is one who charts her own course, who speaks her mind and who encourages others to do the same.
Thank you Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey for your courage and wisdom and for the vocal adventures you embarked upon and shared with the world. May I learn from you how to be a vocal adventurer in my own day and time. May I use my voice to speak my own truth, assert my own identity, challenge our world to be better, safer, more just than it is today. May I have the opportunity to inspire and encourage others to do the same in their own lives along the way