Maya Angelou and her Caribbean musical touch Image

by Contributed

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness,” the former U.S. Poet Laureate, who died Wednesday, May 28th, at age 86, Maya Angelou tersely noted once painting the image of her relationship with music; songwriting in particular..

As much as Angelou's talents heavily revolved poetry and classic tales woven as memoirs, her gifts surpassed the often talked about and goes a step further.

Before her first published writing in the early 1950s, Angelou started out as an aspiring dancer and singer who slowly gained a following from her performances in local San Francisco nightclubs.

And in 1957, at the height of the calypso movement—a style popularized by Harry Belafonte—Angelou recorded her first and only album, Miss Calypso. In it, she covers Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues” and Louis Jordan’s “Run Joe,” using her deep vibrato to create a simmering fusion of jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.

The album even partly inspired her first feature film, Calypso Heat Wave, in which she both starred and sang. Though short-lived, Angelou’s music career also included songwriting credits for the legendary B.B. King on two tracks he recorded for the Quincy Jones-produced soundtrack to Sidney Poitier’s For Love of Ivy.

lineage can also be traced back to Caribbean root “My mother’s father jumped off a ship, in Florida, at the turn of the twentieth century, then, he went back to Trinidad, got his father and then they both jumped ship in Tampa,” she recalled in a 2010 interview with the Trinidad Express. “I learned a lot about Trinidad’s culture from my mom. The food and the recipes. I learned to cook the codfish, the ochroes, and the greens. And my best friend, the famous writer Paule Marshall, is also West Indian.”

As we reflect on Angelou’s life and her words, it’s worth taking a few minutes at least to get acquainted with the music she left us with as well.

Check out the clips below:

Spotted at Slate

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