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A professional song selector shares 15 songs of Black women’s empowerment and freedom

American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free tells the inspiring story of how six iconic African American female entertainers – Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier – challenged an entertainment industry deeply complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes, and transformed themselves and their audiences in the process.

We asked NYC-based sound selector Korie Enyard, who specializes in Black music of the diaspora, to share a playlist of empowering music that resonates with her. Her playlist includes songs by the artists featured in the film, songs they may have listened to, and songs by artists who are following in their footsteps today. Below, Enyard gives us some insight into each song selection:

 

Ella’s Song — Sweet Honey in the Rock
“That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives”

“Women of African American descent have always served as the guiding light to freedom.  From Harriet Tubman to Sojourner Truth to Ida B. Wells to Stacey Abrams. We lay our burdens down and carry the weight of the world on our shoulders so everyone can live freely. Honey in the Rock founder, Bernice Johnson Reagan, was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) Freedom Singers.”

 

Driva’ Man – Abbey Lincoln
“Choppin’ cotton don’t be slow/ Better finish out your row”

“This song is a reminder that Black women bore the brunt of the whip just like Black men. Being a woman was irrelevant. Despite being raped, birthing the master’s children, or watching her kids be sold off to other plantations she still had to finish the work and fulfill her quota.”

 

Freedom Day – Abbey Lincoln
“Rumors flyin’/ Must be lyin’/ Can it really be?”

“The Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1, 1863. A number of slaves didn’t get the message until June 19, 1865.  They languished as slaves for more than two years until they got word that the war had ended. Juneteenth is the celebration of Black people becoming free in the US.”

 

If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) – The Staple Singers
“No economical exploitation/ No political domination”

“Simply remove both elements out of society and we can all be free. The Staple Sisters brought their mix of gospel and soul to the Black Freedom Movement during the 1960s and 1970s.”

 

Yes We Can Can – The Pointer Sisters
“We got to make this land a better land/ Than the world in which we live”

“The Founding Fathers, who were slave owners, had a conscience. They left the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slaveholders the responsibility of healing the ills they left behind.”

 

Woman Of The Ghetto – Marlena Shaw

“This is a song about survival and being beholden to an unfair economic system and political system that only sees people as numbers and not human beings.”

 

Obeah Woman – Nina Simone
“To get to satan baby/ You gotta pass through me”

“An Obeah woman is a woman who uses magic ritual to ward off harm. African Americans have been saving America from itself for centuries. It happened again November 2020.”

 

Think (About It) – Lyn Collins

“If it’s not in your vision/ Don’t make no decision”

“Released in 1972, this song serves as a rallying cry for Black women. Intersecting the Black Power movement with the Women’s Liberation Movement, Black women became a force in politics in ways not seen before, as demonstrated by Shirley Chisolm’s run for President that year.”

 

Live In Me – Rufus & Chaka Khan

“Foolin’ ’round/ You got no time to waste”

“Women of African descent in the ’70s began to embrace their beauty. Their hair, their lips, their curves, and their sexuality became something every woman and man wanted.”

 

Coffy Is The Color – Roy Ayers

“Coffy is the color of your skin”

“The theme song to ‘Coffy,’ starring Pam Grier. Blaxplotation films made us love ourselves. Black people finally saw ourselves on the big screen and so did the rest of the world.”

 

Golden – Jill Scott

“I’m taking my freedom/ Pulling it off the shelf/ Putting it on my chain/ Wearing it ’round my neck.”

“This is a Black woman’s anthem.”

 

Everything Is Everything – Lauren Hill

“Let’s love ourselves and we can’t fail/ To make a better situation/
Tomorrow, our seeds will grow/ All we need is dedication.”

“Fast forward to present day and everything is everything. We’ve made progress but progress is slow when economic exploitation and political domination and white supremacy are still so prevalent.”

 

Hurricane — Grace Jones

“‘Hurricane’ by Grace Jones reminds women of the warrior within. She signifies the grand spirit within all girls to overcome adversity and walk with their heads high through any hurricane life throws their way.”

 

Land Of The Free – Esperanza Spalding

“In the tradition of Sweet Honey In The Rock and Nina Simone, Esperanza Spalding sings about injustice in the U.S., specifically about the exoneration of Cornelius Dupree, who served 30 years in jail for crimes he didn’t commit.”

 

Young, Gifted and Black – Aretha Franklin

“Oh but my joy of today/ Is that we can all be proud to say/
To be young, gifted and black/ Is where it’s at.”

“Nuff Said!”

 

Korie Enyard is a sound selector devoted to the exploration of Black music in the diaspora. She was raised between Chicago and Detroit and started as a party promoter in the 1990’s.  She owned and operated an art and music gallery space in downtown Detroit. She has worked with a number of house music luminaries including Theo Parrish and Alton Miller. Enyard started working as a professional DJ in 2001 and has played parties all over the US, including spinning at the Winter Music Conference in Miami and the Electronic music festival in Detroit. She has worked as a music supervisor on “Black Love,” a promotional video for the National Black Justice Coalition and the feature documentary, “The New Black.”

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