Guest Post: Paula Larke, Honoring Maya Angelou: Reflections and Savorings

On Saturday, February 7, 2015, we hosted the first program in the “Phenomenal Woman: That’s Me” series at Scarritt Bennett Center. “The Caged Bird Sings” was dreamed into being as a way to honor the legacy of Maya Angelou and the countless individuals who are working for change amidst the micro and macro levels of oppression. I was moved beyond words at the pain, passion, heart, and energy that were shared Saturday evening.   There was spirit and empowerment rising in the room that night and it was inspiring. It was a time of healing and community building. I am grateful to all who performed in the program (Paula Larke, Bolanile Ajanaku- Habib, Alaba Mitchum, Iyen Frierson, Ms. Pearl Frierson, and the Young Drummers of Nashville ) and those who attended the program. As our last installment on the “The Caged Bird Sings,” I would like to share a reflection on the program by Paula Larke, the creative director and lead musician. If you missed the first program in the series, be sure to check out our upcoming programs at Scarritt Bennett Center that you can see here. We have several programs in the “Phenomenal Woman: That’s Me” Series as well as other programs focusing on eradicating racism, spiritual renewal, and cross cultural understanding.

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– Chandra Allen, Assistant Director of Education, Programs and Connections

“The Caged Bird Sings” – Honoring Maya Angelou – Reflections and Savorings


By Paula Larke

This was a protest and a victory celebration, as was Maya’s whole life. We spoke to the tragedies and to the resistances, the overcoming and the renewing.

There was a moment when I saw a drummer look at this old school preacher woman with respect and recognition in his wise young smile. The rhythms and harmonies swirled around the room with an energy that pulled all laughter, tears, and righteous indignation together for one shared moment in time. We celebrated community heroes – urban gardeners who teach health, character, and self – accountability to neighborhood youth, childhood games danced to a thunder-funk rhythm that united class and color in joyous self-expression. Mother of Iyen, gardener and teacher Pearl Frierson became the freebird who lit the stage with grace and grit in the dance and welcoming spirit. Her presence and her granddaughter –Iyen’s daughter – Sequieira’s poetry gave vocalist and dancer Iyen Frierson generational bookends that held her life story.

A proud father Habib beamed strength and support from the audience as his four sons and beautiful wife Bolanile lit the stage and the room with joyful, thankful, and fierce rhythms of our cultural roots. Alaba’s son and nephew drummed wings onto her feet with their passion and respect. It was a family celebration; all generations were present.

I saw agnostic heads bopping and smiling to calls for youth to recognize Jesus and come to the welcome table with “their guns off” – saw conservative Christian hands clapping to West African Yoruba ceremonial rhythms and celebrating honorable roots of our African heritage.

I heard my song embraced in spontaneous bird calls by the dancers and drummers as we celebrated and Pearl danced the “caged bird” of Maya’s poetry, and the audience respond warmly, eagerly, when asked to sing.

I felt a resistance to oppression everywhere rise up as the dancers whirled and the drummers pounded, and hugged audience members leaving with tears, smiles, and renewed purpose in their handclasps and in their eyes.

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Communities need cross-culture and class arts and music events. We need to meet cry, cheer and laugh together over real social and spiritual issues as well as over team sports loyalties. Art and music also draw that spiritual nature into communication and activity. We teach each other better through song and dance than debate or competition, in my humble opinion and experience.

Thanks to Scarritt Bennett Center’s education and programs department for providing the facilities and personnel, for opening and expanding its own vision to incorporate those of the greater community.