Another Voice: Lara Downes
We reached Lara Downes, a friend of ‘the Classical Voice’. She’s an artist in residence at UC Davis and her most recent album is Exile’s Café, a collection of 19th- and 20th-century solo-piano works written by composers in exile. She is also of mixed race; “Jamaican and Jewish” as she puts it. We wondered about her take on this link between gospel music and Dr. King’s message.
“What a coincidence,” she said. “I’ve just seen a documentary about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the ‘original soul sister’ who combined gospel with rock ‘n roll. When you see her singing in front of a gospel choir and playing an electric guitar you see exactly how Elvis was influenced by African-American music traditions.”
“I think black musicians are so pivotal in the long journey to civil rights,” Downes continued. “You think of Duke Ellington and how he challenged the status quo. And how this music from so many parts of the African-American experience reached white audiences and gradually played a role in integration. Think of the musicians who integrated their bands and played to mixed audiences and at the same time couldn’t really interact with the audiences, but they kept at it.
“People complain that the most important role models for young black men these days are musicians and athletes, forgetting how much they themselves had to struggle and how seeing that struggle would be so important to a young man growing up — if only to understand how to resist oppression. And isn’t it ironic how black musicians have become role models for white kids too. It’s interesting how much power art, and music in particular, has had in affecting change — across the board. Those white kids in the 1950s going to Sunday night meetings in tiny towns, to listen to rockabilly, and then all of a sudden there was Elvis and black musicians faded away. Now look at pop music. It’s come full circle. And I think that’s the new face of American music; it’s no longer black or white.”
Included in: Kids Around the Bay
Mark MacNamara is a journalist who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The Stanford Social Innovation Review and The International Herald Tribune. His website is: macnamband.com.
- Wed May 29, 2013 8:00pm
- Sat June 1, 2013 8:00pm
- Wed June 5, 2013 (All day)