By Fern E. Gillespie
“For Girls of Color Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Insufficient” by Ntozake Shange returns to Broadway in April with a new look, style, beat and sound.
“I think the director-choreographer, Camille A. Brown, really wanted to celebrate Ntozake’s work and bring it into the 21st century for younger generations who may not have known about his work,” the singer explained. , composer and musician Martha Redbone, who created the new musical score for For Colored Girls with her husband and collaborator Aaron Whitby. “We caught up with the director to help her work with her creative vision for music. She basically summed up her creative vision in three words – Black Girl Joy.
So, Redbone and Whitby decided to create a mood. They explored musical genres that celebrated African American black women’s music and adapted the musical styles to the poems. “We have covered the African Diaspora of all these genres, from jazz to blues, from R&B to soul and aspects of dance like modern dance and step dance,” she said. “We wanted to showcase the music according to the choreography she created for the piece.”
The couple know For Colored Girls very well. In 2019, they were the composers of the iteration of the choreographic poem of the Public Theater. “We were invited to put some of the poetry into song. To turn into lyrics with songs,” Redbone said. “But the one coming out now is a totally different reimagined show.”
Redbone is an acclaimed singer, songwriter, composer and educator. She is known for her folk, blues and gospel gumbo music from her childhood in Kentucky, growing up with her grandparents who were Native American and African American to her Brooklyn advantage. As a teenager, she moved to Brooklyn and attended Fashion High School. Moving to England, she met Whitby, a London pianist, composer and producer who recorded or performed with George Clinton, Luther Vandross, Natalie Cole, Randy Brecker, Lisa Fischer, David Amram and many others. “I engineered Natalie Cole’s ‘Living for Love’ record, it won a Grammy,” he said. Currently, he is working as an engineer on the “Luther Vandross Legacy Project” featuring several of Vandross’ backing vocalists.
“I remember hearing Luther Vandross’ voice on the speakers when I was in the studio. His voice was big. He filled every part of the studio. He just filled the speakers. His only voice was like an oak tree,” he recalls.
The couple, who reside in Fort Greene, have been together for 29 years. Redbone, who recently performed on NPR’s popular Tiny Desk Concert, gives voice to issues of social justice, bridging traditions, connecting cultures and celebrating the human spirit.
For Redbone, the 2022 Broadway production of For Colored Girls has a fascinating flair. “Camille Brown is a younger woman. And, so, she has a more youthful approach to the overall piece. His interpretation is very original. I thought he was also brave to push the boundaries of Ntozake’s work,” Redbone said. “I think the result is really amazing. He points out that the words Ntozake wrote in the 1970s still hold true. Still fresh. In a lot of ways, you know, through the good and the bad, it shows that we black women today still face a lot of the issues that we faced in the 1970s. So you know that the journey is long and difficult and that the struggle is real. But resilience is even brighter. And I can see it with all the young women on stage. Their strengths make his words even more immortal.
Over the years, Redbone had met Ntozake several times at social events. “I’m a fangirl,” she explained. “Ntozake was a brilliant woman who was more than loved. She was loved.
In next week’s issue, the article “In Support of Girls of Color” features interviews with Don Sutton, Ntozake Shange’s literary administrator, and Paul T. Williams, Jr., Ms. Shange’s brother.