Woke Up in the COVID Boat! (Still singing’!!)

Dear Music Family,

I hope you are all well and paying attention to keeping yourself safe in this ongoing COVID-19 crisis. My heart is very sad in this moment as cancellations, mis-information, and fears continue to mount. We all find ourselves in a state of uncertainty as we try to adjust to the need for individual, community, and global safety.

Two weeks ago, in my role as co-president of the Living Legacy Project, I led a conference call where our board decided to cancel two Civil Rights Pilgrimages that were scheduled for this month. At that time, we had two bus-loads of excited participants who were looking forward to exploring over 20 sites related to our extraordinary Civil Rights heritage. At that time, it felt like a hard and bold decision to make. Now, in hindsight, it was clearly the reasonable thing to do.

As you know, one of my great joys is leading music on these powerful journeys that connect people not only to the past, but to the critical issues that still plague our nation. Singing with people on the bus is always one of the highlights that sets the tone for the narratives that we must consider, past and present. These songs have stood the test of time, and still inspire activism and action to drive us forward.

Last month I had the chance to celebrate some of these very songs with one of my musical heroes, my brother Josh White, Jr. We sat together on stage in East Lansing and traded songs and stories, and watched our audience “come alive” with the passion and fervor of a mass meeting. There were moments when we could have been in one of those churches in Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, AL, or Jackson, Mississippi, waiting for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or C.T. Vivian to stand and deliver a stirring sermon aimed at firing us up to register to vote. And here in this election cycle, faced with some of the most important challenges our nation has ever faced, we need all the inspiration we can get.

Check out this video: https://vimeo.com/397802933

Like Josh, I come from a long line of committed song leaders who knew the power of song. When they sang “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind (stayed on Freedom)” they were committing themselves to personal action in hopes of changing the world.

Our cancelled journeys will be rescheduled, and as most of us feel trapped in our homes for periods of time, I encourage you to use this opportunity to read, watch, and learn so that when we again have the opportunity to gather, organize, and vote, we will be ready. Two favorite books include The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. You might also watch that movie, or watch the documentary “13th,” a very thought-provoking documentary on our system of justice. An additional reading list is available at https://deeperthantheskin.com/about/bibliography/

In peace, health, and song,