In celebration of National Poetry Month, North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green made a playlist of some of her favorite songs. Find her liner notes - and a link to the Spotify playlist below!
"Salt" by Lizz Wright - This song's earthiness and the lyrics are a daily mantra reminding me that I am the curator of my life.
"Wade in the Water" sung by Lois DeLoatch- This classic song transports me back to my earliest roots in Southern Black churches. The strength of those wooden pews held the sorrows, fears, hopes, prayers, and testimonies of elders. I am reminded when Lois sings in her southern cadence how deeply affected I am by these timeless hymnals.
"Herman's Mambo" by Lou Donaldson - This tune carries the rhythms of Cuba so eloquently, inviting me to dance.
"Four Women" by Nina Simone - This is one of the first songs I ever choreographed to dance. The song was very instructive to my teenage-self wrestling with all the challenges of self-identifies that occupied space in the psyche.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack is a song I whispered into my baby Imani's ears. The song was as hauntingly beautiful as my first born... the life that I was chosen to birth. Hearing it continues to flood my heart.
"Resilient" by Rising Appalachia - A song for our hopes, prayers, and activism. It reminds us to stay vibrantly resilient in our bodies, spirits, and minds as we face the woes of our humanity. This song is prayer, grace, and benediction for me.
"A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane - This song has been my constant companion for years guiding me creatively through long self-imposed writing marathons.
"Collard Greens and Cornbread" by Fantasia Barrino - A sweet nod and homage to unconditional love, iconic southern food, and all the stories that belong to food that feeds the soul and the heart.
"So In Love" by Anthony Hamilton and Jill Scott - My serious jam. Saturday morning house cleaning music. This song provides an invigorating energy as I dance through my chores. It makes me smile about love!
"It's Only a Paper Moon" by Nneena Freelon - It Stretches me into "art making mode." The lyrics for me are all about the poetry of all things.
"Spanish Harlem" by Ben E. King - This was my favorite song to practice the Cha Cha Cha to as a kid. It remains one of my favorite songs sung by the King himself.
"A Lover's Question," "Little Bitty Pretty One," and "Lover Please" by Clyde McPhatter - These were favorite songs played in our home. l have tender memories of dancing around our living room to Little Bitty Pretty Oneand sitting listening in the kitchen to these tunes over lazy Saturday breakfasts. My parents often went to see Clyde McPhatter performing his shows whenever he returned to Durham.
When I was first asked to come up with a playlist of North Carolina women artists, I was concerned that I would not have enough to choose from. Silly me.
With a little help from my friends, I had more artists than I knew what to do with, so I had to set my parameters:
My playlist is all over the place, ranging from 1969 to today, and is not intended to be complete! I have included a few Merge Records artists: H.C. McEntire, also a member of Mount Moriah; the Angels of Epistemology, whose music was some of the earliest we released on Merge; the aforementioned Ashley Stove; and Wye Oak, whose shimmering Jenn Wasner has another project called Flock of Dimes.
North Carolina is or has been home to an incredibly talented and diverse bunch of artists who identify as female.
Happy Women’s History Month.
Laura Ballance is the co-founder of Merge Records and Superchunk. Merge is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and has been home to bands like Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Magnetic Fields, Spoon, Waxahatchee, Lambchop, Versus, King Khan & the Shrines, and the Mountain Goats to name a few. Superchunk has released eleven studio albums, most recently the critically acclaimed What a Time to Be Alive. Laura plays bass guitar in Superchunk but no longer performs live with the band due to hearing problems arising from overexposure to sound at high volumes. This has given her more time to pursue other interests such as political activism, making art, sewing, exploring the racial history of North Carolina, and being a parent. She advises everyone to use earplugs at rock shows.
Nonetheless, I pulled it off as best I could and had to make some reeeeeally difficult Sophie's Choices along the way (apologies in order to my partner in crime Shana Tucker, the late Chuck Brown, and countless others). With that said, here's Fidelity: A North Carolina Love Playlist.
The Foreign Exchange - "Call It Home"
Me and my brother Nicolay wrote this song back in 2013 for our 4th album, Love In Flying Colors. Big shoutout to my girl Jeanne Jolly for singing backgrounds with me on this one. I've traveled the world a few times over, but NC will always be home.
James Taylor - "Sunshine Sunshine"
I was listening to James Taylor for years before I discovered his 1969 debut. "Sunshine Sunshine" floored me, and I kept it on repeat while touring with Little Brother in 2009. Great changes, a killer string arrangement, and James' voice is still just as pure today as it was 50 years ago.
Calvin Richardson - "Put My Money On You"
A smooth cut from an underrated cat who, in my opinion, doesn't get the credit he deserves. When people discuss great soul/gospel singers from NC, Calvin's name should definitely be a part of the conversation.
George Clinton - "New Spaceship"
Parliament/Funkadelic were the Marvel Cinematic Universe of 70's soul, and George Clinton was their Nick Fury. This joint from '96 is as funky and sexy as anything from Motor Booty Affair, complete with Charlie Wilson doing a spot-on Sly Stone impersonation.
Nicolay and The Hot At Nights - "The Current"
My main man Chris Boerner composed this beauty for his jazz trio The Hot At Nights, along with additional production and keyboards by Nicolay. Topped off with some nice woodwind and percussion work by Matt Douglas and Nick Baglio, "The Current" was one of the many times I sat back and thought to myself: "Man, I'm glad these guys are on MY team." Sheesh.
Anthony Hamilton - "I'm A Mess"
I judge the effectiveness of a love song by the number of bad decisions it fuels and drunken texts it informs. By that metric, "I'm A Mess" is a stone cold classic. My man Anthony was deep in his feelings and singing for the last lemon pepper flat.
Sunshine Anderson - "Force Of Nature (Blaze Roots Mix)"
"Heard It All Before" is her biggest hit, but this is the joint that really made me a fan. If a woman says "I love his dirty draws," she ain't goin nowhere.
Roberta Flack - "Oasis"
Even as a 4th grader getting ready for school while my mother played this in the next room, I found "we share our hearts beneath desert moons" to be a particularly gorgeous lyric. I had the honor of meeting Ms. Flack at the GRAMMY's in 2010, and rather than freaking her out with "OH MY GOD OASIS CHANGED MY LIFE!" I opted for a simple, "Thank you for the music." Her early 70's material gets all the love, but this Marcus Miller-produced jam from '88 deserves the same recognition.
BEN FOLDS FIVE - "JANE"
Back in my hometown of Greensboro, NC, one of my favorite hangouts was The Record Exchange (RIP) on Battleground Ave. On one visit, my man Mark was playing this one over the store speakers and I was sold immediately. I knew Ben Folds from "Brick," but his Rhodes playing on "Jane" had a certain soul to it that I hadn't heard from him before. This is easily one of my favorite songs in his catalog, and "it's your life/you can decorate it as you like" has become one of my guiding principles.
JOHN COLTRANE - "CENTRAL PARK WEST"
This song's location is a reference to NYC, but the slow, leisurely spirit of this one always felt like NC. "Central Park West" is the sound of walking with your lover on the first day of fall.
SYLVAN ESSO - "DIE YOUNG"
"I was gonna die young/now I gotta wait for you" is such a pitch perfect expression for what love does to you: Whenever it shows up, all your previous plans go out the window. This is a jam.
JODECI - "PUMP IT BACK"
My love for Jodeci knows no bounds. "Pump It Back" is a Negro spiritual that belongs in the hymnal right between "Amazing Grace" and "His Eye Is On The Sparrow." I'm not debating this.
GRAMMY-nominated Phonte (The Foreign Exchange, The Roots, Drake), and Rapper Big Pooh (Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre) and 9th Wonder (Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child), formed Little Brother on the campus of North Carolina Central University in 2001. The group was widely considered as one of the most influential hip-hop groups of the millennium. They officially disbanded in 2010 but reunited for a surprise show at Durham’s Art of Cool in September 2018 delighted fans.
Get into a weekend groove with the first installment of our Spotify playlist series. Curated by N.C. Arts Council Executive Director Wayne Martin and Music Director Carly Jones, and Come Hear North Carolina Music curator Brendan Greaves, this playlist takes you on a brief chronological journey through North Carolina’s rich musical history.