The insights, conversations and behind-the-scene news of Heather Headley.
Back in January of 2009, my manager called me way too excited. By the tone of his voice, I knew something was up and it was big. In celebration of America, and in honor of the inauguration of the first African American President, HBO was presenting a concert called We Are One, and they were asking ME to be a part of it. There was one problem, however: I whispered to my manager that I had laryngitis and bronchitis and couldn’t sing a note, and he sweetly told me that was too bad because but I WOULD be singing in a week even if he had to drag me on that stage himself! Well, with the help of my voice doctor, some heavy drugs, and a whole lotta’ prayer, I walked onto the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with just enough voice to get through the song, but not enough to scream my amazement at what I was witnessing. There before me was a sea of 750,000 people standing in the freezing cold – – all there to celebrate the greatness of America. I could cry – – but I had to sing, and sing well….
You see I was aware that back on Easter Sunday, in 1939, Marian Anderson, with perseverance and a belief in a greater cause, had already paved a path for me on those steps. Ms. Anderson had been denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall because of her race. Her request to use a white public high school auditorium instead was also declined by the Board of Education in Washington. But with the help of President and First Lady Roosevelt, it was arranged to have Ms. Anderson present her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 75,000 people – – of all races – – stood there to hear her (‘couldn’t fit that many in the school gym – – I guess!)! Ms. Anderson famously began her concert with My Country, Tis of Thee – – the same song I was now going to sing 70 years later. When she walked onto those steps it was amid controversy and segregation. I was walking there as a beneficiary of her fight and the battles won by so many others. So, there, under the gaze of Mr. Lincoln and on the shoulders of Ms. Anderson and so many others, I sang!
When I’m 98 years old and sitting on my porch or wherever our son decides to put me, my great grandchildren will be running around and the conversation will go like this:
“By the way, do you little stinkers know where I was on Sunday, January 18th 2009”?
“Yes Nana, you’ve told us 515 times!”
“Well, I’m getting ready to tell you for the 516thtime. I sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for 900 million (the crowd will get bigger over the years) people – – thanks to Marian Anderson. Now go and get me that left over cake…and some iced tea… and my teeth…. and my wig because now I feel pretty and young again…and…what did you mutter under your breath, child….