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A Tribute to Maya Angelou

by Mosi Reeves

A Tribute to Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou, who passed away on May 28 at the age of 86, was America's unofficial poet laureate. She was a renaissance woman whose presence has been felt in civil rights activism, dance, film and, of course, literature, where her 1970 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings stands as a classic tale of a child's life in the Jim Crow South. In music, her name is synonymous with poetic justice and sage intelligence, and she's been referenced in hits like Kanye West's "Hey Mama" and Teena Marie's "Square Biz."

This tribute collects some of those sundry name-drops as well as songs for which she composed lyrics and music, including Ella Jenkins' "That's All Right Julie," B.B. King's "You Put It On Me" and Michael Feinstein's "We Dreamed These Days"; two Herbie Mann numbers on which she contributed backing vocals; and her appearances on Common's "The Dreamer" and Kendrick Lamar's "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst." Then there are the songs inspired by her words, like 2Pac's "Still I Rise," Ruthie Foster's "Phenomenal Woman" and many incarnations of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," from Alicia Keys to Carmen Lundy. Together, they make for a lasting testament to this great American artist.

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