In the midst of a deeply divided culture, where hatred and violence grow out of individuals’ fears of the racial, economic, and social differences of others, how can communities ever hope to find a path leading to reconciliation and unity? What better way to find common ground in the search for this unity and reconciliation than through music, and The Black Legacy Project, a national project of the nonprofit organization Music in Common, has produced a series of sessions during which Black and white musicians in a variety of different locations around the country met for roundtable discussions and to record reinterpretations of songs central to the Black American experience, as well as four original songs.
The Project delivers a soaring version of Leon Bridges’ “Sweeter,” with the song spiraling higher and higher into an atmospherically yearning plea for remembrance, hope, and love. In sessions recorded in the Ozarks in Arkansas, the gathered musicians lay down a spaciously unfurling blend of space jazz and hip hop on the Jimmy Driftwood classic “What is the Color of the Soul of a Man?” while a session from Los Angeles conveys the haunting and emotionally cathartic mood of Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots),” which memorializes the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999.
Snare drums, accompanied by a rolling banjo, roll into the spare version of “We Shall Overcome,” as the lead singers and chorus trade call and response vocals and create a transportive anthem. The sonic architecture of this version captures the swaying, moving, marching character of the original.
Crunchy guitars lead into and float under the Project’s funky soul version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; the song unfolds slowly but turns into a run-around the pew gospel shouter, moving listeners not only to “lift every voice and sing” but also to raise their arms and dance fervently for the Lord. The album closes with a Memphis soul take on the original “Where I Find Love,” featuring Bobby Rush on vocals.
The Black Legacy Project, Vol. 1 celebrates Black history and offers songs that lie deep with our folk tradition as the background, and the foreground, to our culture’s enduring search for common ground. This is the beginning of the conversation that the Black Legacy Project will continue on a second volume of songs.
The Black Legacy Project, Vol. 1 is available HERE