Charenée Wade brings the work of Gil Scott-Heron to the Kelly-Strayhorn

By February 19, 2019 No Comments

Charenée Wade

One of Gil Scott-Heron’s first poems has become something of a cultural quote: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

The sentiment occasionally gets referenced and updated due to modern media’s willingness to televise anything and everything, but the root of the 1970 poem hit upon something deeper than news coverage. “That was about the fact that the first change that takes place is in your mind,” Scott-Heron once told a filmmaker. “You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move…The thing that’s going to change people is something that no one will be able to capture on film.”

When Scott-Heron first introduced the poem, as a 20-year old sounding wise beyond his years, it was accompanied by minimal but driving conga drums. A few years later, a remake was backed by a funky jazz groove, by which time Scott-Heron was singing as often as reciting, in collaboration with keyboardist Brian Jackson.

This is the period that vocalist Charenée Wade touches on with Offering, the first tribute created by a woman to honor the late poet, who passed away in 2011. Wade’s powerful voice provides a unique setting for the tense lyrics of “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” which gets a punch from Stefon Harris’ vibraphone. Christian McBride, one of the foremost bassists in jazz, lends his voice to the spoken introduction of “Peace Go With You Brother,” which becomes a rich ballad in Wade’s hands.

Charenée Wade entered the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Vocal Competition twice. She placed second in the 2010 run, serving as runner up to Cécile McLorine Salvant. Originally inspired by Sarah Vaughn, she also takes hints from vocalist Betty Carter, who was known for her signature style that dug into the lyrics of a song, making each one a personal statement. Wade’s work has also garnered recognition from Jazz at Lincoln Center, who gave their Millennial Swing Award to her in 2017. When not performing, Wade also teaches at the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York.

Onstage, Wade proves that, for better or worse, the sentiments that Scott-Heron evoked more than 40 years ago still have a strong resonance with the current state of affairs in this country. After all these years, the revolution might not be televised but, as the original poem said, the revolution will be live.  

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