Hi Friends! February is Black History Month.

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Years (and years) ago, I was lucky to have been introduced by Bill Danoff to a fellow artist songwriter/playwright named Walter Robinson who was, at that time, working on a project that was initially to be a staged musical commemorating the life and work of Jane Pittman.

As many of these types of historically based endeavors are wont to do, its trajectory involved multiple evolutionary transitions on a journey which included several incarnations. At the time of my last involvement the story was oriented around Denmark Vesey, who was a founder of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, SC, which after the Civil War became known as Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the time that I was first involved (as a player and singer of 1 song) it included the song Harriet Tubman, and I was privileged to play and sing it in the studio as well as at fundraisers as well as a PBS "New American Composers" profile series featuring Walter and the song. The circumstances never failed to be adventurous in the best ways, and it was always a profound pleasure to work with him. Since those days, the song "Harriet Tubman (Come On Up)", has been recorded by numerous artists and performing groups (there is an early rendition I performed with a wonderful DC artist Heidi Martyn on the net about of which I've always been proud). The song has found its way and become a canonical cultural emblem of sorts. I've always loved it, and still perform it to this very day.

I've had the desire to do a more current rendition and what better time for that than now, while the Nation (formally) commemorates Black History Month.

So while it still IS February, I give this humbly to honor and sing praise to the African-American historical experience in this Nation, with the vivid images and heartfelt strains of gratitude as expressed in a dream by a worried and forsaken soul who is "brought onboard" the Underground Railroad by the courageous and righteously committed Ms. Tubman. It contains profound multitudes-- spiritually, culturally, societally and as it was ever-- currently. Our National identity-- individually and collectively--is defined by this experience, along with many other of the global diaspora that comprise our multi-origin population. As many distinctly wrought stories as there may be, the African American experience is unique in and unto itself. No other group arrived to this land in the same manner, it should be needless to say. To have an understanding of that history, to gain an affinity with it is not simple, and I for one believe that it is impossible for any of us from anywhere else to gain more than a partial grasp of its manifest forces, meanings, leanings and legacies. We can only honor it, and I hold with great veneration its poignancy as well as its rich and triumphant grace as a cornerstone of the America that I love.

I have lost touch with Walter, and would love to reconnect, if anyone has any clues as to his whereabouts.

 

I hope you enjoy my interpretation of this magical song which has become part of my own musical history. I'm blessed to be able to sing and play it to this day.

 

~JC

 

HARRIET TUBMAN (Come On Up)

(Walter Robinson)

One night I dreamed I was in slavery
'Bout 1850 was the time
Sorrow was the only sign
Nothing around to ease my mind

Out of the night appeared a lady
Leading a distant Pilgrim band
"First mate" she yelled, pointing her hand
"Make room aboard for this young woman"

Singing come on up, (Mmmm)
I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
Come on up, (Mmmm)
I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
She said her name was Harriet Tubman
And she drove for the underground railroad

Hundreds of miles we traveled onward
Gathering slaves from town to town
Seeking every lost and found
Setting those free that once were bound
Somehow my heart was growing weaker
I fell by the wayside's sinking sand
Firmly did this lady stand
She lifted me up and took my hand

Singing come on up, (Mmmmm)
I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
Come on up, (Mmmm)
I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
She said her name was Harriet Tubman
And she drove for the underground railroad

Who are these children dressed in red
They must be the ones that Moses led

Who are these children dressed in red
They must be the ones that Moses led

Singing come on up, (Mmmm)
I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
Come on up, (Mmmm)
I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
She said her name was Harriet Tubman
And she drove for the underground railroad

 

 

"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ” - James Baldwin

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