Two sisters, Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza, stood onstage at a spoken-word event at the DuSable Museum last Friday to give voice to the saga of seven generations of African-American women. The words came from their new collaboration–a book called “Some Sing, Some Cry”–and were interwoven with the music from a quartet of musicians featuring Maggie Brown, a Chicago-based jazz and blues singer.
The sisters have each colored the fields of prose, poetry, and theater with rich works rooted in race and gender issues. Shange’s “choreopoem” and Broadway play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” has now been adapted into a Tyler Perry movie headlined by Whoopi Goldberg and Janet Jackson, among others. Bayeza, who calls Chicago her home, penned the Edgar Award winning play “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” and was the dramaturge and set designer for the original production of “For Colored Girls.”
Shange—Zulu for “she who walks like a lion”–spoke first, beginning the story with its first character, Betty, a freed slave leaving the plantation of her former master and lover, Julius Mayfield. Brown, who voiced a small variety of characters throughout the evening, first joined in here as Betty’s granddaughter Eudora, who struggles to come to terms with her own origins from what she describes as “love and violence… in the same bed.” This story of mixed heritage then passed along from mother to daughter through the generations of Betty’s descendants. Shange’s slightly slurred speechâˆ’a verbal scar from strokes she suffered six years agoâˆ’tragically obscured some of the book’s most beautifully crafted lines. (“There was no one there. Only the density of Betty’s imagination, the palms, some lily o’ the valley and nightshade-snugglin’ magnolia and giant oaks.”)
After Shange’s lion-hearted effort, her sister picked up the plotline, following Betty’s great-granddaughter Lizzie Mayfield Turner from her arrival in New York to her search for a job in the limelight. Bayeza’s lighthearted style elicited several chuckles from the audience, and at times she would accompany Maggie Brown singing in a sort of free-form musical style true to the book’s own lyricism. As the evening came to a close and the mood swung into the tapping of feet and nodding of heads, it became clear that the authors of “Some Sing, Some Cry,” are making a rich contribution to the story they tell. (Bonnie Fan)