Arts and Culture

JMU salutes an American icon


 
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SUMMARY: JMU honored the legacy of Maya Angelou in a performance that featured more than 40 performers who read her poetry and excerpts from her memoirs, played and sang music, and performed step, tap, and modern dance.


From Winter 2017 Madison magazine

By Karen Risch-Mott

When reciting poems and telling stories, Maya Angelou (1928–2014) often punctuated them with song, giving equal measure to favorite spirituals, hymn tunes, and bluesy ballads. Her written words, already accessible because of their everyday language and simple style, took on a deeper, more personal resonance when accompanied by her rich contralto voice.

Angelou, not only a singer and writer but also a dancer and civil rights activist, received more than 30 honorary degrees, won a Grammy, and was nominated for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. On Sept. 29, 2016, JMU honored the legacy of this remarkable woman in a performance of "Throw Your Head Back & Sing: A Tribute to Maya Angelou," which featured more than 40 performers who read her poetry and excerpts from her memoirs, played and sang music, and performed step, tap, and modern dance.

After the show received a standing ovation, JMU President Jonathan Alger offered remarks, observing that a light like Angelou's can shine beyond a lifetime. Hers was a voice of truth, beauty, justice, and hope, he said, and "at a time of trouble and uncertainty in the nation and around the globe, her message encourages and inspires the better angels of our nature."

Joanne Gabbin, director, Furious Flower Poetry Center
"We gave [the audience] Maya's presence, her spirit, for one memorable evening," said Joanne Gabbin, executive director, Furious Flower Poetry Center

The program, presented by the Furious Flower Poetry Center in collaboration with the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. "We couldn't capture her incredibly full life in just 90 minutes," emphasizes Dr. Joanne Gabbin, executive director of Furious Flower. "But we did give people an experience of who she was—we gave them Maya's presence, her spirit, for one memorable evening."

Published: Friday, January 6, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, February 27, 2017

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