You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
- Maya Angelou, from 'Still I rise'
Five days before her death in 2014, Maya Angelou tweeted, "listen to yourself, and in that quietude, you might hear the voice of God." Whether it be God, spirit, or merely the beautiful harmony of human voices singing together, Angelou's poem, Still I Rise, seems tailor-made to be a selection in WomenSing's spring program, To Give Voice. Angelou is one of our featured women artists as we celebrate our 50thyear of making music.
Understanding the poetry behind the music and lyrics of every song we sing is a key part of our preparation and rehearsal for the final presentation. To understand this song, it is helpful to know a bit of Maya Angelou's roots and background. Angelou was born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She had a difficult upbringing, enduring abuse and discrimination. Maya found strength and support from her brother and her grandmother. Her struggles and her life give both a unique earthiness and a hopefulness to her lyrics.
Most people know Maya Angelou as a poet. But she also had careers in song and dance. Her poetry certainly reflects this artistic background. Angelou was involved in civil rights activism with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and she was commissioned to write poems for both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at their presidential inaugurations. She was a favorite guest of Oprah Winfrey and the NPR program, Fresh Air.
When Angelou died on May 28, 2014, Oprah Winfrey said, "Maya won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken; it's how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace." In other words, life was not easy for her, but still she rose.
This song, Still I Rise, is autobiographical in nature, but it is also every woman's song.