Marian Anderson

The gorgeous ancestor Marian Anderson who found a place to stand and sing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939

On hearing you will sing

©2013 by Alice Walker


It has been told to me that you will be singing as planned in Tel Aviv next month, by someone who thought I would be concerned.  I am concerned, though not perhaps in the way they imagined I would be.  Looking back over four to five hundred years of enslavement and brutal oppression of people of color in the United States, both Indigenous and African, I have been reminded of the incredible musicians, especially singers, who have sung down the centuries in the face of incredible, unimaginable challenges. 

What this means, ultimately, is that I support your right to choose where you will sing, and to whom.  After all, if, after all those centuries of having to sing on demand, or, worse, being refused venues in which to sing,  you cannot raise your voice wherever and for whatever you wish, what has our struggle to be fully autonomous humans been for?  I do not have to support or admire your choice to recognize it is yours.

So sing.  Sing as though every being in your audience represented a repressed or contorted voice that through much suffering and pure love of singing made it through those horrific years.  Sing as if singing to the entire constellation of stars and planets in the firmament.  Sing with the passion passed on to you by generations of gifted artists whose choices were always hard, whose offerings were frequently mocked, almost always stolen, and who were, for centuries, not even paid.

Sometimes I think Ancestors are all we have.  But they are enough, and they are in everything.  So sit under trees as you practice your songs.  Enjoy the breeze on your face.  Swim in the ocean.  Sit with small children.  If you have a dog, you already know a purity of love humans can learn from dogs.  That ready-to-act love might be our aim, as we seek to protect the defenseless and small everywhere.

On a more practical level while you are in the desert climate:  Stay hydrated (eat lots of celery).  Get plenty of rest.  And, finally, do your best.  That is all that can be asked of anyone.

With Love,

P.S. When you have finished your concert and are on your way home, not before, please consider reading two books that have been of great encouragement to me:  one by a Palestinian, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, by Saree Makdisi, and the other by an Israeli:  The General’s Son, Journey Of An Israeli in Palestine, by Miko Peled.  I say not before because these are deeply insightful books and therefore quite disturbing, especially if you are new to almost all of the information.

My own love of music, of singers, is captured here on BBC Radio 4′s Desert Island Discs.  A delightful program in which one shares the music most dear to one’s heart.  In this interview with a charming English sister named Kirsty Young I got to sing the praises of Stevie Wonder, Archie Roach, Jerry Butler, Imee Ooi, Jennifer Berezan, Tracy Chapman, John Lennon and Beethoven.  I regret there was not time to swing into my swooning adoration of B.B. King, Mozart, Eric Bibb and Lester Young, among others!  The only blemish was the Ode to Joy piece which I’d hoped would be soaring and ecstatic instead of jagged and stressed. 

BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs, Alice › Factual › Life Stories‎