We are all gifted, that's our inheritance. - Ethel Waters
To close out Black History Month and usher in National Women's History Month, on the last Sunday in February, Inlandia Literary Laureate Nikia Chaney, along with curator Lisa Henry, coordinated a poetry reading at the San Bernardino Garcia Center, in honor of Our Ladies of Blues.
Artist Linda J. Phelps Young's vibrant depictions of blues giants: Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters was infused with an art deco style. You could feel the camaraderie and love of life and entertainment from each framed regal blues lady.
Before the reading, I refreshed my memory with research on their lives and From Billie's rough harsh beginnings, to Bessie literally singing and dancing for her supper, I am in awe of the power and resilience of these five creative warriors. These weren't "nasty women" they were women who could stare nasty in the eye and shame him. Jim Crow's wings were amputated in their presence.
Two Conversations in Blue
Composed of Quotes from the Five Ladies of Blues
If I don't have friends then I ain't got nothin' - Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday: I've never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old.
Ethel Waters: I've never been a child.
Bessie Smith: I ain't good lookin' but I am somebody's angel child.
Josephine Baker: Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest ... beautiful, no. Amusing, yes.
Ella Fitzgerald: What everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved.
Josephine Baker: The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.
* * * * *
Josephine Baker: I was learning the importance of names - having them, making them - but at the same time I sensed the dangers. Recognition was followed by oblivion, a yawning maw whose victims disappeared without a trace.
Bessie Smith: It's a long road, but I know I'm gonna find the end.
Billie Holiday: I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.
Ethel Waters: We miss a lot in life because we don't know when to quit, what to leave out.
Ella Fitzgerald: It isn't where you came from, it's where you're going that counts.
"I plan to present Sirens at the California Association Teachers of English Conference." There was no plan in place at the time, only what seemed like a logical hope.
Working with the editors at Jamii Publishing it was suggested that I put footnotes with the poems. I never expressed it, but internally I felt uncomfortable ...and it was interesting to hear a well-established poet announce her dislike of poetry with footnotes at a writer's workshop... I took note and thought about how at one point I might have agreed, but the Sirens journey requested to be clearly identified - and the answer served well.
One of my colleagues was eager to teach the poems to her class. The footnotes were an opportunity to provide historical background. Invited into her classroom, I saw how the issues addressed were points that could be explored even further....
It was at this point that I was grateful for the footnotes and those footnotes were a springboard to creating unit lesson plans - research - technology and providing my colleague with a myriad of options for teaching some of the concepts. It was more than exciting as she shared the growth and talked about her appreciation of the rigor, the engaging resources and most importantly student learning. Footnotes - technology - website - zoom. With her feedback and conversations with students - that unplanned declaration became a planned presentation.
Sirens and the CATE presentation were a perfect combination that I couldn't have planned in my best dream.