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Thank You, Black Women

I totally missed Black History Month, and we’re well into Women’s History Month. I’d like to (belatedly) celebrate both! Here are just a few Black women that made a lasting impression on me.

Lauryn Hill playing a classical guitar and singing. She's wearing a yellow shirt and bandana, with a blue jean jacket.

1. Lauryn Hill

What is there to say? Miseducation is everything, but I even had a moment with Unplugged. She cuts to the heart with an authority that remains unmatched.

In some tropical locale (probably Jamaica), Michelle Cliff leans against a car, with her hands in her jacket pockets, dark sunglasses on, and big curly hair. It's all in stark black and white, and she looks extremely badass.

2. Michelle Cliff

Her lifelong partner, the brilliant poet Adrienne Rich, is better known, but Cliff is no lesser talent. Her novel No Telephone To Heaven, following the struggles of a light-skinned Jamaican woman (like her), hit me hard in college. The nuanced way it explores identity—both what’s imposed upon us and what we can claim for ourselves—stuck with me.

Nina Simone, wearing gorgeous, dangling earrings, sings with her eyes closed into a microphone, in black and white.

3. Nina Simone

The soul & sheer force of will behind her voice is impossible to ignore. The beauty, the darkness; the rage, the eloquence; she was a whole world unto herself.

Alice Coltrane, in a multi colored shirt, with a lovely afro, playing her harp.

4. Alice Coltrane

Life would be a bit less transcendent without her lush compositions. Alice Coltrane’s expansive range got me interested in the vast possibilities of the harp (someday I will work with a harpist!).

Fatoumata Diarawa, wearing a stunning blue headcovering and matching lipstick, grins, grips her microphone, and holds her guitar.

5. Fatoumata Diarawa

Watching this Malian virtuoso perform, only a few minutes drive from my house, was a precious gift. She’s simply a master of dance, singing, guitar, and transcultural communication. She is joy incarnate, and the sheer generosity she displays toward her audience must be seen to be understood.

June Tyson holds an elaborate, decorative metal object in front of her. It has big circles and lines pointing outward, likely representing some element of the cosmos. She wears a reflective dress and smiles thoughtfully, all in black and white.

6. June Tyson

Sun Ra was a true American genius, but his work was so much richer with Tyson singing along. She made him more accessible and more immediate. His esoteric trips to the cosmos were instantly more inviting with her voice leading the call.

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