WATCH: Hurricane Harvey survivors break out in song at an evacuee shelter. pic.twitter.com/w19aF8XVWM
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 31, 2017
You know what these battered and exiled people are not singing? John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
Right there in that moment captured on video is a manifestation of the singular genius of African-American culture: to praise God, to lift the spirit, and to proclaim victory in the face of enormous suffering, bitter oppression, and impossible odds. I was reminded of these passages from Wendell Pierce’s memoir The Wind In The Reeds:
It was hard to characterize [Albert] Murray, who managed to offend white and black people both with The Omni-Americans, the 1970 book that made his reputation. The title referred to African Americans—a term that Murray rejected, by the way, saying, “I am not African; I am American.” In the book, Murray contended that the Negro experience was the quintessential American one. Ours is a pioneer nation, he argued, made by people who had to learn resilience in the face of hardship. Nobody had it harder than the African slaves, and the music that emerged from slavery—the blues, and later, jazz—was the purest expression of the American spirit.
“Frederick Douglass is a better illustration of the American story—the American as self-made man—than the founding fathers,” he wrote. And: “The blues is not the creation of a crush-spirited people. It’s the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people. Jazz is only possible in a climate of freedom.”
… For [playwright] August Wilson, as with Albert Murray, the experience of African people in America is one of a “blues people” marked by resilience in the face of unspeakable odds—and a resilience that produced a culture that ultimately changed, and continues to change, all of America.
The Wind In The Reeds is about black art and culture in general, and specifically how that culture (and art itself) helped New Orleans recover from Katrina. I imagine it will be must reading for a lot of folks in the Houston area going forward from this catastrophe.
I don’t know who that singer is in this clip, but she is a great American who has served her God, her neighbors, and her country with distinction in this time of great need. May God bless and keep her and lift up her mighty voice for the whole world to hear.