Women musicians celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s
contribution in annual tribute
By Lou Fancher
Women may have been unsung in the past, but that's about to change, says Bay Area vocalist, The Dynamic Ms. Faye Carol.
Women will be "heard" in the 21st century in profound ways, she predicts -- and not just because her blues singing voice is legendary enough to have earned her a moniker with an adjective. Nor is it owing to her being one of the featured musicians at Living Jazz's 13th annual "In the Name of Love" musical tribute honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sunday at the Scottish Rite Center.
Carol, along with singers Gina Breedlove, Linda Tillery and Melanie DeMore will be joined by Tammy Hall (piano), Kofy Brown (bass) and Ruthie Price (drums) in a celebration of this year's Creative Achievements of Bay Area African American Female Musicians.
Women will be heard, Carol insists, "because we've been on the front line of civil rights, all along."
Speaking as a child of the '60s, Carol declines to give her exact age but says she has been teargassed, marched with Black Panthers, sang at rallies and felt the racism and injustice King fought to overcome.
"We all know that Dr. King is the person we're commemorating, and I think we need to remember him," Carol said in an interview last week. "The people around him, too, we need to remember. All of them were putting their lives on the line along with him."
For that reason, Carol has selected for her solo number at the concert "We Remember," written by her daughter, Kito Kamili. She's converted some of the original lyrics recognizing great African-American musicians to include the names of civil rights leaders.
"When I talk to young people about Dr. King, they're foggy. They live with the privileges but aren't into the details of why they can walk into any restaurant they want to," she says.
Women have been kept beneath the surface, Carol suggests -- except those like Belva Davis, Maya Angelou, Mahalia Jackson and a long list of others who she says could not be kept down. She said racism has dampened spirits, but civil rights resistance by people of color has been rekindled by recent events involving white law enforcement officers shooting unarmed black men.
"It looks good out there because we have tree-lined streets," Carol said. "But if we're not voting and having voices heard, if what happened to Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner is going on ... things have gotten apathetic. Our kids are out of control because they're not connected with anything."
The arts will connect an oppressed people through love, she said.
"Let's celebrate beauty, not Wall Street hodgepodge. We were taught to be self-loathing; that if you're white, you're right. We were tricked out of our culture. There are those who see we can try something else. Dr. King awakened so many people."
Breedlove, who refers to her contemporary gospel/folk/blues sound as "folksoul," began singing at age 15 as backup for Phyllis Hyman, before "graduating" at age 19 to tour for years with Harry Belafonte. Moving to the Bay Area four years ago from her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., Breedlove said that "an unfolding" began.
"I deepened my spiritual practice. I didn't understand Belafonte as an activist or Martin Luther King as a human being when I was young. Now, I have a broader understanding: I'm aware of how music aligns with King's (words) about love," she said.
Breedlove will sing the title song from her newest CD, "Language of Light."
"It's a narrative about being devastated, the dark night of the soul," she says. "It wrote itself, after months of learning to let go of grief that I carried. I started to perform it and found it had clarifying spaciousness for others."
Breedlove said the ability to "sing love in the face of someone tearing you down" is the only force powerful enough to turn an enemy into a friend.
"Even rage will peter out," she says.
Modeling love, singing from its overflow, Breedlove admires Oakland's "fiercely committed residents" who are mindful of the horrible greed that she says drives racism. Music, she says, will fill the "hole of hatred" with healing.
Music is medicine -- and women like Carol, Breedlove and others, are its eternal caretakers.