It began, an hour ago, while I was doing everything I could not to think. I’ve been to the doctors, and when folks believed I slipped away, the psychiatrists said, you’re clairaudient. They were respectful enough to acknowledge it, so when I hear opinions, plans, love and complaints of others, I’m likely attuned.
Tonight, I intuited a voice of defense, if not reason; “…She opened doors.” You know, I don’t find any of it to be quite my business. But “she opened doors,” made me think of Betty Carter’s song ‘Open the Door’, causing me to begin searching for this very slow, honey-molasses version that doesn’t seem to be accessible online anymore. The 1970s and 1990 versions from ‘Inside Betty Carter’ and ‘Droppin’ Things’, which I enjoy, weren’t the rare early recordings I thought of. So, I found a 1964 live balck abd white television performance of ‘Once Upon a Summertime’ (the recording on ‘Not About the Melody’ more than 20 years later made me a complete Betty Carter fan) glimmered on my phone, while emotions swirled and ascedened to the ducts of my eyes.
A few weeks ago, I learned of Blossom Dearie, a blonde, soft-voiced early jazz singer active in the 1940’s through the 80s, from accepting an assignment at the New York City Jazz Records. ‘Once Upon a Summertime’ was a song Dearie coined before Carter’s time. So, I viewed and listened to her performance, and somehow came upon Aretha Franklin’s final performance for Carol King’s tribute at Kennedy Center.
That is when I began to cry, and could not stop throughout her performance of Pavarotti’s popular aria, ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the 1998 Grammys when she stepped in moments before he was to go on stage (I remember that moment clearly from when I was 12-years-old, watching the ceremony on television) to her singing ‘Amazing Grace’ for Pope Francis’ visit to the US in 2015.
Within that 9 minute rendition she began to improvise (I paraphrase):
“It wasn’t the fame, connections and profit that brought me safe,
It wasn’t the money that kept me sane…
It was grace.”
I hadn’t learned about grief for artists acutely until I began writing She Raised Her Voice! where I had to stop and cry for Betty and Aretha, and many others. The regret I have of being too young to study jazz vocal when she was teaching (out of my control, but still piercing in my soul) or attend her lectures because her music moves me in ways that are intrinsic, and Aretha…just isn’t here anymore and it’s possible I took her for granted like she’d be here forever, Nina too, and so on. Women who seemed immortal: who kept us, encouraged us, sang the gospel that translated to all.
It was grace.
All the painful things that have been said. My wonderment of why I haven’t passed away, just from that along with the mountains I’ve had to climb from being born a poor black girl, all of it.
God has a reason.
I keep waking up because there must be a purpose, otherwise, I’d align with, and I write this respectfully, with the statistics that reveal the literal and tangible impossibility of my accomplishments.
It was grace.
I grieved my brother as well. I found a little Catholic outreach center while on a walk and thought about having a dad who was clergy. I thought seeing if I could sit down with the priest for an hour the next day. Being committed to one faith is a privilege, I know where I come from, the church, my roots. I thought of losing the luxury of prayer any time of day, a preacher who had nearly birthday and got me. Never a quarrel. I grieved for him and the guidance as well.
AlI I have lost: [I take deep breaths, something I’ve learn to manage within the grief] – my father, two uncles, my grandfather, my mentor, my eldest brother since 2019.
I’ll say their names [breath]:
John Thomas H, Sr, Jr and III
Timothy and Todd M. (Twin brothers)
Gregory Tate (the grandfather of hip hop journalism)
Six human beings who were all kind to me.
Yes, I’ve been a little angry. I had to learn that folks don’t wonder why, they made fun. [Breath].
The way the Black men are treated who are on Earth, who do their best to see the good, and care–I’ve been angry. The pain of anyone thinking I’d hurt them (intentionally or un). No one gets a good star for being kind to Black women, but they should, I believe.
I pray for them each day.
And to all my editors and colleagues (of every background, gender and creed), they’ve done a great portion of emotional labor.
Maybe I was lost until you.
It was grace.