Sunday, June 21, 2009

Song Yet Sung: McBride's Novel Set to Life in Word & Song

~By guest blogger, Jessica Graae

On June 19, the second floor of Wilmington’s Ameritage Bistro burst alive with the words of James McBride’s Song Yet Sung and the beat of African drums and griot cries. In conjunction with the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival and the celebration of Juneteenth, The Delaware Humanities Forum presented a dramatic reading of McBride’s historically influenced novel set in Dorchester County. The character, Liz Spocott, who has suffered a blow to her head rendering her prophetic, is loosely based on the life of Harriet Tubman.

TS Baynes, an actor with City Theater Company, performed Spocott’s monologue. Baynes’ performance was warm and thoughtful. She made clever use of her performance space, pulling the audience into the pre-Civil War town and its outlying swamps. The steady drumbeat provided by Kamau Ngom helped establish urgency to Spocott’s message of freedom and escape, carrying us back to her African roots at the same time.

In the second portion of the program, Ngom gave an informative performance and lecture on Underground Railroad songs and handmade musical instruments. The audience learned that “Wade in the Water” wasn’t just a song about baptism, but a song slaves would sing to warn others to get to water quickly to throw off the chase of nearby dogs. Ngom reminded us of the powerful influence this early African American music has had on the blues, jazz and popular music.

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