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Behind the Scenes with Common, Rita Coburn-Whack & Maya Angelou


Rita Coburn-Whack, co-director of American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, originally introduced Maya Angelou and Common, who continued to work together and collaborate as writers and artists.

Funding for Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise is provided by IDP Foundation, Ford Foundation/Just Films, National Endowment for the Arts, National Black Programming Consortium, Anne Ulnick, Michael Metelits, and Loida and Leslie Lewis.


Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.


I introduced the two of them when I was a producer at Oprah Radio.

What I said to Dr. Angelou was that the rappers of today are the poets, and she needed to talk to them. She was reluctant at first because she was very close with Oprah, and Oprah was not putting the rappers on at the time, and what I told her was, 'these are the people that are talking to today.'

And she's always had an affinity to talk to younger people.

And I told her that Common shared your sensibilities. They would do poetry together where she would do one stanza of the poem and then she would say, 'now you do that in your language of hip hop.'

This has never been counterfeit. This has been about more than wit. This is about love. It's about struggle. It's about us getting to the next place. And sometimes they look at us and said, 'ah, that's just a black face.' There in those painted faces I see the auction block, the chains and slavery coffels. The whip, the lash, the stock. He was at her memorial. He was in very many ways whenever there would be something going on he would be there, and he would come on his own because he just really connected with her.


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