Monday Music: Maya Angelou

I have a confession to make. I’ve only read one of Maya Angelou’s books. But I don’t need to have read all her works to know the world has lost a phenomenal woman.

The lyrics are almost word for word from Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name. I share this version by Olivia Newton John because like me, she is Australian, and to me this shows how Angelou’s wit and wisdom has touched women the world over. There’s also a beautiful version here by Ruthie Foster.

I found the Phenomenal Woman song by chance. I didn’t realise how many songs and singers have been inspired by Angelou’s poetry. Even Hip Hop.

The one book I’ve read is All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes, Angelou’s story of her years in Ghana in the early 1960’s. I wonder what music she would have listened to when she was there. Perhaps Guy Warren?

Warren, also known as Ghanaba, is famous for his fusion of African rhythms and American Jazz, so perhaps Angelou would have connected with the sounds of her past and her present intermingled, as she reflected on her life as a ‘returnee’ to Africa.

As a descendent of people who were captured and enslaved, Maya Angelou didn’t know what part of Africa her ancestors were from, but in Ghana she met a woman who told her she looked Bambara (an ethnic group from Mali and Burkina Faso). Who knows, perhaps she was related to another famous storyteller, Rokia Traoré.

Before she became a writer, Maya Angelou was also a singer. You can read all about her brief calypso career, and check out some more videos — including rare live footage and a sweet interview with Oprah Winfrey — in this tribute. I’m ending this post on my favourite, a spirited attack on domestic violence.

Back in the day when she first sang this song, women had no defence against domestic violence except to fight back and risk the consequences. That times have changed for the better for so many women around the world, is thanks to women like Maya Angelou.

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