Imagine growing up during a time when lynching wasn’t illegal– and neither was segregation for that matter– and McCarthyism was rampant. Now, imagine creating– amidst that environment– art that transcended race, bled through inequality and uplifted a nation. In the musical theatrical presentation IN HER WORDS, we meet five transformative African-American creatives who rose above the binds of racial injustice and fed the souls of millions with their art and their message. The production has been touring each year since 2012.
In 2011, playwright Khadijah Ali-Coleman was driving home one night listening to Pacifica radio station WPFW where they were playing an old interview from 1966 with the late Lena Horne with Gene DeAlessi.
“I was floored,” Ali-Coleman says. “Lena Horne, talking about race, ‘the man’ and her father, a number’s runner was so counter this image we’ve always been shown of this beautiful and poised woman. Here I was listening to Lena Horne being political, being conscious. It literally made me perk up.”
Ali-Coleman, who studied African-American Studies and Mass Media at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a student of such luminaries in the field such as Acklyn Lynch and Miriam De Costa-Willis, hungrily went home to research more about Lena Horne and her role in the civil rights movement and was transfixed by learning that Lena Horne was not only the first Black woman to sign to a major movie studio, demanding to never be commissioned to play a maid, but was someone blacklisted during McCarthyism because of her outspoken beliefs and association with the late great Paul Robeson.
Ali-Coleman went on to research the interviews and footage of other great entertainers/writers who inspired her– Nina Simone, Zora Neale Hurston, Billie Holiday, and Lucille Clifton– and decided to do something to honor these women and to highlight, not just their art, but their voices as politically and socially conscious citizens as Black women artists. Living in politically dangerous times when lynching was commonplace, discrimination rampant and Jim Crow still the law of the land, all of these women challenged the status quo in some way, leaving their art as their triumph.
About the Project
“In Her Words” is a theatrical presentation produced by Liberated Muse productions and directed by Khadijah Ali-Coleman showcasing the voices and views of Lucille Clifton, Zora Neale Hurston, Lena Horne, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. Their monologues have been inspired or taken from their own words spoken in interviews and concerts found here.