Political Bullsh!t

Let us make a musical resolution to lift our voices in harmony in this New Year

When I think about spreading love, I hear the sound of Take 6 in my head. They burst onto the scene with their self-titled first album in 1988 and have never looked back. Once described by Quincy Jones as the “Baddest vocal cats on the planet,” Take 6 is an a cappella powerhouse with the awards to prove it.

Take 6 has come a long way from their days at Huntsville, Alabama’s Oakwood College where Claude McKnight formed the group as The Gentleman’s Estates Quartet in 1980. When tenor Mark Kibble heard the group rehearsing in the dorm, he joined in the harmonies and performed on stage that night. When Mervyn Warren joined shortly afterward, they took the name Alliance. Yet, when they signed to Reprise Records/Warner Bros. in 1987, they found that there was another group with the same name, so they became Take 6. Says McKnight: “Take 6 was all about a democratic process of sitting in a room together and throwing a couple of hundred names at each other and Take 6 was the one that got the most yay votes [laughing.] It pretty much was a play on the Take 5 jazz standard and the fact that there are six of us in the group, so it became Take 6.” Their self-titled debut CD won over jazz and pop critics, scored two 1988 Grammy Awards, landed in the Top Ten Billboard Contemporary Jazz and Contemporary Christian Charts — and they’ve never slowed down.

What makes the music and the group last this long? The answers are direct and simple: faith, friendship, respect, and love of music. The multi-platinum selling sextet says of their longevity, “We are family in the sense that we care deeply about each other, which helps keep us together. We have times when it gets tough, but we pull together because of the love and respect we have for one another.

In 2020, they issued a “Spread Love Challenge.”

Lyrics:

Seems like everything we hear is just a tale
But I’ve got something that will never, ever fail
It’s called love
Spread love, instead of spreading lies
Spread love, the truth needs no disguise
I’ve often said love could open any door
Oh, but I wish we had much more
More love is what we need

Due to COVID-19, Take 6 canceled a 2021 European tour in 2021. Thankfully, we can always listen to the group via their YouTube channel

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In the tradition carved out by the Christian a capella groups that came before them, Kings Return, just like Take 6, was birthed out of a church in Texas; the group was recently featured on NPR.

Back in early 2021, before COVID-19 vaccines were readily available, half of the group tested positive for COVID-19, forcing them to cancel shows and delay recording sessions. Kings Return has continued to delight and uplift listeners with videos of their stairwell performances. Their performance of “Ave Maria” went viral.

In a big surprise for their growing list of followers, Kings Return chose to do a cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” which they elevate to another realm.

Over the years writing about music here, I frequently turn to Sweet Honey in the Rock when I want to share music that combines exquisite harmony with political activism, Black history, and spirituality.

Since its 1973 inception in Washington, DC (founded by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon as part of the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company with Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson and Mie), Sweet Honey In The Rock has continuously evolved into international ambassadors of a cappella vocal and lyrical excellence and musical missionaries of equality, empowerment and education, peace, love, solidarity and nondenominational spirituality. Revered most for their live performances, the ladies have recorded 24 albums, several specifically for children.

Here are current group members, performing Nina Simone’s “Come Ye.”

Come Ye“ lyrics:

Come ye, ye who would have peace. Hear me, what I say now. Come ye, ye who would have peace. It’s time to learn how to pray (How to pray).

Come ye, ye who have no fear. Oh, what tomorrow brings child (Oh no). Let’s work together as we

should. If I have to stay all night. Come ye, you who would have love.

It’s time to take a stand now. (Oh yeah) Don’t mind abuse it must be paid. For the love of your fellow

man (Fellow man)

Come ye. Come ye, who would have hope, who would have peace, who would have love, who would

have peace (Who would have peace).

Come ye. Come ye. Come ye. Come ye. Come ye.

Moving beyond the harmonies of small vocal groups, let’s embrace the strength and power of choirs and choruses. Growing up, I sang in both my church choir and in the magnificent All-City High School Chorus in New York City. One of my fondest memories is thrilling subway riders with impromptu performances in stations on the way to and from rehearsals.

COVID-19 has, of course, turned most in-person performances into virtual ones. Here are the students performing one of the oldest African American spirituals, “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.”

First, a quick look at the history of this song.

“Every time I feel the Spirit” explores the powerful combination of Spirit and prayer as indicated in the key words of the refrain. African American scholar W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963) ascribed three gifts from the African American community that “mingle” with the others who occupy the land now called the United States of America. The first is “the gift of story and song.” The second is “the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire . . .”. The third gift is “the gift of the Spirit” (DuBois, 1903, pp. 189–190).

And now, a stunning performance. Remember: These are teenagers, each performing from a different room.

Though I take great pride in my New York hometown efforts, Chicago has, for 65 years, been home to the Chicago Children’s Choir (CCC). 

Founded in 1956 as a direct response to the Civil Rights Movement, Chicago Children’s Choir is rooted in the belief that music is a vehicle for fostering empathy and respect between young people of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

In this video documenting the choir’s history and impact, CCC parent Steve Bynum gushes, “This is soul food. This choir is soul food.”

As the CCC notes on its YouTube channel:

For 65 years, we have been raising voices for change. Through our programs, we have empowered young people the world over to embrace their potential, express themselves boldly, and to strive for excellence—on stage and off. Over the course of more than six decades, we have inspired and changed more than 50,000 lives. And we’re just getting started.

Here they are performing “Right On Be Free,” with vocal soloist Lisa Fischer and dance soloist Ezra Pruitt. The song was originally recorded by another youth choir, The Voices of East Harlem, back in 1970.

Lyrics:

I wanna go where the northwind blows
I wanna know what the falcon knows
I wanna go where the wild goose goes
High flying bird, high flying bird, fly on…
I want the clouds over my head
I don’t want no store bought bed
I’m gonna live until I’m dead
Mother, mother, mother, mother save your child…
Right on, be free
Right on, be free
Right on, be free
I don’t want no store bought bed
Right on
I want the clouds over my head
Be free
Ain’t no time to be afraid
Mother, mother, mother save your child…
I don’t want no store bought bed
Right on
I want the clouds over my head
Be free
Ain’t no time to be afraid
Mother save your child
I wanna see a rainbow in the sky
I wanna watch the clouds go by
Might make my load a little light
Lord, Lord, lord, where will I be tomorrow night?
Right on, be free
Right on, be free
Right on, be free
Right on, be free…                                                                                                                                       

I’m always amazed by where I find Black choral music; I certainly didn’t expect to find it in Dublin, Ireland, which is home to the African Gospel Choir.

African Gospel Choir Dublin, sometimes colloquially referred to as AGC, is a 15+ member, all volunteer choir from Western Africa. Originally organised in 2007 by Adeniyi Allen-Taylor for a wedding, the choir has since [been] co-ordinated by Tomilola Allen-Taylor.

Here’s the AGC’s uptempo version of “Amazing Grace.”

Last but not least, I’d like to introduce you to Stanford Talisman.

We are Stanford Talisman, a group of singers on Stanford’s campus who since our origins have sung music stemming from Black liberation struggles across the world. Our alumni and current group came together to create a virtual choir of Lift Every Voice and Sing, the Black National Anthem in America. We’ve also been raising funds for organizations contributing to the movement for Black lives in America. You check out pb-resources.com for a list of further resources compiled by Alexis Williams, a 19-year-old Computer Science major at New York University. She is an African American and Latina coder committed to seeing change through action. Her website is a comprehensive source featuring educational resources, petitions to sign, a list of organizations seeking donations, and more.

Enjoy the Stanford Talisman’s performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song that has become known as the Black National Anthem. While I learned it as a little girl in school in the South, it’s reaching a new audience today as the song has been increasingly performed alongside the “Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” lyrics:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Let us all come together this year, to lift our voices in song, to give us the strength and the will to carry on, against COVID-19, against racism, and discrimination in any form it takes.

Yes. Let us march on, and sing on, till victory is won.

Join me in the comments below for more powerful music, and I look forward to hearing the music that lifts your spirits.



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