Miami University musicologist Tammy Kernodle will highlight the women who used songs and music to advance freedom and civil rights in her musical program “She Sang Freedom,” presented Thursday night at Baylor University’s Bennett Auditorium.
Kernodle, a dynamic pianist and singer in addition to her work as an academic, said “She Sang Freedom” looks at six black women who worked protest songs, spirituals and social justice numbers into the music they sang.
Her program includes ex-slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who sang spirituals at varying tempos as warnings of danger for slaves escaping to freedom, and jazz singer Billie Holiday, whose rendition of “Strange Fruit” drew attention to racial lynchings in the South. Singers Nina Simone and Roberta Flack worked freedom, anti-war and civil rights songs into their albums and concerts side-by-side with their pop and jazz hits.
The Staple Singers with Mavis Staples provided messages of uplift and empowerment for many in the civil rights movement while Fanny Lou Hamer, known best for her political organizing in Mississippi, also had a background as a song leader in her church, Kernodle said in a recent interview.
Backing Kernodle in her musical program are Tanya Cox on bass and Daniel Brinson on drums.
The scholar, author of “Soul On Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams,” is a specialist in African American music and gender studies at Miami University and was a former scholar-in-residence at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
She covered similar territory as “She Sang Freedom” last fall when she presented “Hope for a New Tomorrow: Transcendence and Resistance in the Gospel Blues of Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and Roberta Flack” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s also a trip back to Baylor for Kernodle, who spoke and performed at “Marching To Zion,” a 2014 Pruit Memorial Symposium on gospel music.
“This will be something people will love,” said Baylor journalism, public relations and new media professor Robert Darden, founder of Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. “She’s not only a top-of-the-line academic . . . but she tore the place up when she was here.”