“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness,” the revered poet and activist, Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday at age 86, once described her relationship with songwriting. As the former U.S. Poet Laureate and the author of a classic memoir, she’ll likely be remembered most for her writing, but Angelou’s talents extended well beyond the written and spoken word. In fact, in the early 1950s—a decade before her first published writing—Angelou started out as an aspiring dancer and singer who slowly gained a following from her performances in local San Francisco nightclubs.
And in 1957, at the height of the calypso movement—a style popularized by Harry Belafonte—Angelou recorded her first and only album, Miss Calypso. In it, she covers Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues” and Louis Jordan’s “Run Joe,” using her deep vibrato to create a simmering fusion of jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The album even partly inspired her first feature film, Calypso Heat Wave, in which she both starred and sang. Though short-lived, Angelou’s music career also included songwriting credits for the legendary B.B. King on two tracks he recorded for the Quincy Jones-produced soundtrack to Sidney Poitier’s For Love of Ivy.
As we reflect on Angelou’s life and her words, it’s worth taking a few minutes at least to get acquainted with the music she left us with as well.
“Run Joe” (1957, Calypso Heat Wave)
“Stone Cold Dead in the Market” (1957, Miss Calypso)
“Neighbor, Neighbor” (1957, Miss Calypso)
“You Put It on Me” (recorded by B. B. King, written by Angelou, 1968, For Love of Ivy soundtrack)
“The B.B. Jones” (recorded by B. B. King, written by Angelou, 1968, For Love of Ivy soundtrack)
“Sesame Street: My Name”
“Pilgrim of Sorrow” (begins around the 2:00 mark)
TODAY IN SLATE
Meet the New Bosses
How the Republicans would run the Senate.
The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers
Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.
Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.
Why all cracker names sound alike.
Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom
This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059
- Protesters Take to the Streets to Sound Alarm on Climate Change in New York, Across the World
- Knife-Carrying White House Jumper is Vet who Feared “Atmosphere Was Collapsing”
- North Korea: American Sentenced to Hard Labor Wanted to Become “Second Snowden”
- Almost One in Four Americans Support Idea of Splitting From the Union
Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?
A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.