Miss Calypso: Maya Angelou’s Life in Music

Repeating Islands

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This short piece by Dee Lockett appeared in Slate.

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness,” the revered poet and activist, Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday at age 86, once described her relationship with songwriting. As the former U.S. Poet Laureate and the author of a classic memoir, she’ll likely be remembered most for her writing, but Angelou’s talents extended well beyond the written and spoken word. In fact, in the early 1950s—a decade before her first published writing—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,”…

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