Last week the literary community lost one of its most important ambassadors, Maya Angelou. She was a poet, singer and activist – the type of talent that only comes around once in a generation. She was bold, ambitious, and had a heart as pure as the Moroccan sun, speaking in ways that made you feel like you were the only person in the room.
As an advocate for the arts, Maya was a disciplined and well-rounded performer. In her lifetime she notched three Grammys for Best Spoken Word album, each offering a different shade of her colorful personality. With music in particular she’s been imitated and honored by some of the greatest. If you’ve ever listened to Binary Star or Alicia Keys or even Atmosphere you can find the silhouette of “Caged Bird” close by:
Before she was a nationally recognized poet she was a jazz singer, most people forget that. In 1957 she recorded an album called Miss Calypso. It’s a project that pays homage to her roots and ancestral lineage – equal parts social critique and historical bookmark. She doesn’t bite her tongue either, not one bit. In “Calypso Blues” she shines a light on the discrepancy that money and commodity has in America versus Trinidad:
So many artists across several generations have been inspired by Maya Angelou. She was always educating, reaching back to the youth with profound scriptures of wisdom. She even put the uber-conscious Common on alert. It’s the type of benevolent cross-check you just don’t see much anymore, especially in music.
Everything there is to say about Maya Angelou has already been said. Countless biographies, interviews and sound bites painting a detailed portrait. It’s only in the years to come – by reminding ourselves of the power of verse - that Maya Angelou’s vision will endure. Her poem “Still I Rise” guiding us every step of the way: