Matilda

This morning, I sent this text to my siblings:

I’m the oldest of six, so while our parents are both gone, the distribution list is still pretty good sized. We grew up, four of the six of us, in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, a time of extraordinary change (as Kurt Andersen makes evident in a great new book, “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History,” August 2020).

Our mother had the most beautiful soprano voice I have ever heard. Anywhere. Ever. She led the church choir. She sang opera (though not frequently enough). And she exposed all of us to music, before we could crawl or walk, really from the moment we could hear. We always had a piano. She had reams of music that she used to rehearse. Often she was her own accompanist on the piano. But our lives were filled with others who had musical gifts. And eventually each sibling learned to play an instrument, to sing, or to do both.

Mom exposed us to church music, classical music, opera, Broadway musicals, popular music, and folk music. She often directed the church choir in places we lived, and just as often she was a featured soloist — sometimes in Catholic churches, but just as often in Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, and other Protestant churches.

And Matilda? Matilda is the name of a song Harry Belafonte featured on his live at Carnegie hall album from 1959. He’s hamming it up on stage, singing chorus after chorus of a simple folk tune with a latin rhythm, but playing with the audience and the band in ways that reveal what an extraordinary vocalist and entertainer he was. Too long ago for you?

Harry Belafonte

Here, from Wikipedia, is a bit about who this guy was and is:

Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and was a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.. Throughout his career, he has been an advocate for political and humanitarian causes, such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and USA for Africa. Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.[2] He was a vocal critic of the policies of the George W. Bush presidential administrations. Belafonte acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.[3]

Belafonte has won three Grammy Awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), an Emmy Award,[4] and a Tony Award. In 1989, he received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards.[5]

My “Matilda, Matilda, Matilda…” was a call to remember our time together as children, to honor our mother, to hear Harry Belafonte and so many other amazing composers, singers, and musicians in our heads and hearts again – the music that filled our childhood, our homes and our lives then and now.

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