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My Country ‘Tis of Thee

by Chris Heagle, producer

René Marie

This morning I got a gift in my inbox. The talented René Marie responded to my request to use her rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” from her pending release, Voice of My Beautiful Country, in our recent show with Vincent Harding. Her version of this track, which you can listen to above, reinterprets the classic hymn using the uniquely American forms of jazz and gospel.

In an artist statement, Ms. Marie calls this project “her love song to America” and reflects on the difficulty she had embracing these patriotic songs, given that when she learned them she was attending a segregated school in the Jim Crow South. She grew up to feel that the word “American” never really applied to her.

Using her second language of music, as she puts it, by reimagining these songs, she hopes to express the dichotomy and contradictions of being a person of color in America. The energy she and her fantastic band put into this recording is truly contagious. In fact, in an email to me she wrote:

“The last time we performed it, a petite white woman in the front row shot straight up out of her chair and began dancing. I mention her race because, honestly, I wasn’t sure when composing it just who else it would appeal to outside of those who’d grown up in the South listening to, singing, and surrounded by traditional gospel music. We call it ‘getting the spirit!’”

Getting the spirit indeed. Check out our show playlist for all the music used in “Civility, History, and Hope.” There’ll you’ll find songs that came from Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s 2010 documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution. The film tells the story of the music that lifted and sustained a generation of civil rights activists. Featuring remarkable archival footage and recordings, it also brings these songs forward to the present with performances by the likes of John Legend, Wyclef Jean, and The Roots.

The catch? No soundtrack is currently available. We had to get the music we used in the show right from the DVD. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a CD will come out. Such great music deserves to find a wider audience.

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