We’re still celebrating National Black Music Month for the month of June. As stated before, it is my all time favorite national observance, because I am a HUGE music head. In these Wednesday installments, I am taking the time to spotlight some of the key Divine Nine members who have helped mold me into the woman I am today through their musical contributions. Last week, we started with “Ladies First” by covering the incomparable Natalie Cole of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and the Media Mogul Cathey Hughes of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
This week, we continue to highlight the ladies of NPHC by featuring one of the pioneer’s of Hip Hop Culture, MC Lyte and THE best jazz vocalist of all time Sarah Vaughan. Let’s begin, shall we?
2. MC Lyte – Debunk Pretty; Display Character – Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.
One thing my undergrad chapter always told me to do was to “Walk like you have a purpose”. This was then followed by my chapter sisters strutting in a circle, heads lifted to sky and Zkitty signs following suit. That image has always stuck with me. When I reflect on moments like this, I also think of women who have taught me the same thing, but in a different way. When MC Lyte came into my life, she did just that. Her undeniable presence demanded not only attention, but respect.
The first MC Lyte song I heard was “Cold Rock A Party (Bad Boy Remix)”. I was heading to Mississippi for our annual summer visit to see my great grandmother. My Dad is the one who introduced me to hip hop, in turn, introducing me to my first female emcee. I remember waking up from an epic road trip nap to hear ” So what’s yo status…I be the baddest, be to hit the scene with the gangsta lean…I’m all ears…so what you got to say?!” The boldness in her voice, the confidence of her inflections, and her assertive lyrics instantly caught my attention. When we got back home that summer, I headed to the library and immediately looked up this MC Lyte my Daddy had been blasting on repeat. What stood out to me the most was the fact that she was blindingly gorgeous. It was an oxymoron for me because I so used to seeing women in entertainment hyper-sexualized, sensual, and ultra feminine. Seeing as how I was a child, I couldn’t and wouldn’t identify with the first two characteristics. However, I definitely didn’t consider myself a “girly girl” either. Lyte’s tomboyish demeanor in her music appealed and intrigued me. I continued to research her and follow her songs as I got older. When I was in high school, I had the pleasure of meeting her (as well as Nikki Giovanni…#wingirl) at a Women’s Conference. Even though she stood at her booth with a regalness about her, she addressed me as “Young Queen” and offered great words of encouragement.
Over the years I have followed MC Lyte and watched how she has used her audacious presence to open up a plethora of opportunities for herself and others. From voice overs, fashion, movies, mentoring upcoming artists, to her current role on Dillard University’s Board of Trustees, MC Lyte is truly a renaissance woman. I admire the way she has been able to maneuver through various segments of the entertainment industry, leading with her personality and talents above all. In a society that mainly praises women for superficiality, MC Lyte has encouraged me to “debunk pretty” and display my character. When I walk in a room, I hope that my looks are the last thing on people’s mind. I don’t have to use my sexuality to gain someone’s attention. I use my work ethic, passion, skill sets, mind, and my personality to do the seducing. That lesson has gotten me a long way. And I am forever grateful.
1. Sarah “Sassy” Vaughan – Be You, Unapologetically – Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
I remember the first time I heard Sarah Vaughan‘s voice. I needed something to listen to for my daily jog. I was tired of my regular Big Booty Judy rachet music. I was competing with the beat and I was bound to trip over myself like baby fawn. So I searched “Frank Sinatra” on my Slacker Radio app to slow it down a bit. As familiar names and voices found their way to my eardrums, someone pleasantly unfamiliar slipped into my playlist. She wasn’t as sultry as Lena Horne, as animated as Eartha Kitt, as troubled as Etta James, heavy as Billie Holiday nor whimsical as Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice was like red velvet: rich, decadent, comforting, sweet and sassy and zealous. Interesting. Her voice was distinctly captivating. Til this day, the words to define her voice aren’t suffice. Yet for the longest a question lingered in my mind. When I bring up her name to other music lovers, why doesn’t her name pop up with the rest of the Queens of Jazz? It was as if her voice didn’t measure up. As if her voice was less than. To me, Sarah Vaughan’s voice is the most beautiful, luxurious voice I have ever heard. She is my favorite and the best Jazz vocalist period.
As with many greats, Sarah’s singing career was catapulted when she won Amateur night at the legendary Apollo Theater. Sarah soon joined Earl Hine’s orchestra, which included the celebrated trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, who were experimenting and creating a new sound in Jazz, Bebop. Her spunky stage presence earned her the name “Sassy”. Her unique cadences, vibrato-rich delivery, three-octave vocal range and captivating scat technique earned her the title as “The Divine One”. Many people don’t realize that many of the popular jazz vocalist of those days (and today) considered Sarah Vaughan a mentor of sorts because of the intricate ways she manipulated her voice. What makes Sarah’s legacy even more impeccable was her ability to help her fellow peers and still maintain her sense of authenticity, belonging and validation when the pop world (past and current) gave more spotlight to her counterparts.
It’s a well known stereotype within NPHC that Zetas are and can be considered the “Underdogs” of our council. We put in a lot of work, but we are often overlooked. However, I have learned to use this to my advantage. Through Zeta, much like Soror Vaughan, I have been able to create a class of my own. One that can’t easily be defined, people just know there is something is divinely different about me. Honing in, developing and loving my characteristic traits has allowed me to transcend stereotypes, expectations and any boxes anyone has set for me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and I embrace that. I don’t have to waste time trying to be, sound, look or act like everyone else. I don’t need a lot of attention, nor do I need the pressure of popularity. The more I stay true to my authentic self, the more the authentic people are drawn to me and the more we can appreciate the gifts we have to offer to the world.
I hope this installment served as a catalyst of inspiration for you. Stay tuned for Part 3 next week!