Maybe it was the audible, irrepressible joy, the mischief, or the heartfelt delivery in every song he sang; qualities that obliterated any pain or doubt, drew me out of my shyness long enough to memorize Man Piaba / Woman Piaba, or Cocoanut Woman. By listening carefully, I could see in my mind’s eye the full detail of whichever character he happened to be singing about.

Was it the percussion alone? Or the playful vocabulary of calypso as a whole? Was it simply the FUN in singing along with “Matilda”, “Scratch Me Back” or “Jump In the Line”? Whatever the ingredients, I have memorized the lyrics, savored the music and danced to it my entire life.

Why am I having such a difficult time expressing what Belafonte’s music means to me? Perhaps because it touches something so fundamental and personal that words simply dissipate. Here is what I am trying to say about Belafonte: long before I became aware of his dedication to the civil rights movement, he provided a healing for my spirit that I didn’t know I needed. That laid the foundation for all his admirable works I was to learn about – and not merely learn about, but attempt to imitate as an adult.

Excavating aspects of the depth, breadth, and width of an artist’s work in 90 minutes or less is an impossible endeavor. But we are going to have a LOT of fun trying…

– René Marie

To talk or not to talk about coronavirus?

Greetings, Friends, Family and Fans…

In my mind, I’ve written this newsletter umpteen times. To talk or not to talk about coronavirus? And if so, how? To be uplifting and positive? Or to confess how social distancing has shone a bright light on my foibles, faults and flaws?

Zetetic though I may be, the answer is still unclear. Here’s what kept coming up for me: Stop me if you’ve heard this quote before: ‘’True happiness comes, not from having what we want, but from wanting what we have.” So, what do we have here that we always say we want? Well, thanks to sheltering in place, the greater majority of us have more time than we used to, and we have more space – at least 6 ft. and then some! Speaking for myself, within a span of 10 days, I watched months of carefully planned and executed engagements on the calendar suddenly melt away, like cotton candy on a hot day at the fair. Just pfffttt! Gone.

B.C. (before coronavirus), I seemed to spend nearly every day running from one thing to the next; packing for a gig, traveling, checking into hotel, lobby call, workshop/outreach, rehearsal, soundcheck, playing, hanging, sleeping, lobby call for the next destination, wash, rinse, repeat until exhausted. THEN…go home, unpack, check in and do for mom, husband, sons, siblings. Cook, laundry, bills, compose, grocers, plant flowers, water plants, and a hundred additional things that require attention. Basically shutting out all the internally needling little thing-lings that I’d become so adept at ignoring or shuffling to the ‘Do This Later’ file in my mind.

Ordinarily, this newsletter would be filled with talk of upcoming gigs. And, yes, there are new engagements listed on my brand new website – and cancelled ones, too. Along with the still-listed engagements is the tacet caveat that they, too, may disappear. The lesson? Life is transient – like a box of chocolates. As my father loved to say, atheist though he was, “The plans are man’s, but the odds are God’s.” Even as children, we all knew what that meant and we’d say to one another even on into adulthood, “Hope for the best; expect the worst.”

I hope to see us all again coming out of our hidey-holes, embracing, supporting and tending to each other. I see us playing live music together again, forgetting our shyness about dancing or singing or crying in public. I see us supporting the arts more than ever: galleries, recitals, concerts, poetry readings, talent shows. I see us volunteering at our favorite charities, remembering how recently we or some loved one may have been recipients of it. I see this shared experience binding us emotionally to each other, forcing us to look past our own reflections in the windows on the now-empty streets, speaking to our neighbors (and, perhaps, strangers) and actually stopping long enough to hear the answer to the question “How are you?”

All said and done, I can honestly say yes, I’m happy. Honestly, deep-down-inside happy wanting what I have right now.

What do I have right now?

Time to be still, to enjoy the strangely peaceful mind-rest that comes from having, through no fault of my own, an empty calendar.

Time to be with and talk to my husband, whether unhurried at home or hand-in-hand during neighborhood sing-alongs and walks.

Time to try out recipes in those Mark Bittman, Joy of Cooking and NY Times Cookbooks.

Time to actually call friends and family; to talk to and listen to them.

Time to clean out closets and basements.

Time to think.

Time to finish those songs…and write new ones.

And time to write this final newsletter to you. Yes, this will be my last newsletter. But don’t worry…I’m not going anywhere! Instead, along with the new website, I’m switching over from a newsletter to a blog. This way I can write about anything and everything, at anytime I want without it having to be “newsy”. More on this later…

In the meantime, take good care. Be extra gentle with yourselves – and others.


“Music keeps playing inside my head over and over and over again, my friend. There’s no end to the music…” ~ Carole King

I googled the lyrics to the above song by Carole King to make sure I had them right. And there – amongst several listings of these lyrics that have always meant so much to me – I found tremulous queries from folks who have this same “affliction” and wanted to know ‘what was wrong with them.’ I shook my head and turned it sideways (my mouth, too!), trying to figure out why anyone who has music running through their head day and night (like I do) would consider that a problem…

I am inspired by many things…but music is my main inspiration and has been ever since I was a very small child. When my little friends and I were at play and a song came on the radio, my mind would take its leave while my playmates heedlessly carried on with their dolls or toys. And whatever the lyrics were, that’s what I was seeing in my childish mind’s eye. Take the Brothers Four and “Greenfields” as an example.

Listening to it, I would suddenly be transported to green fields with white clouds and blue skies above me. I had no idea what a “lover” was – but that minor key and somber tempo evoked a sadness within me that made me long for what I somehow intuited I would someday lose.

The Coasters’ “Three Cool Cats” gave me a better understanding of what took place between my older siblings and their friends.

Like a kind of osmosis, I could feel the song’s meaning from the perspective of the cool cats AND the cool chicks – even as a little girl. I could see them in their “beat up car”, I could hear the cool cats’ swagger and I could taste the potato chips. It’s still that way today – whatever song pops into my consciousness, I am suddenly there inside the song, and not as a silent observer. On several levels I become a participant in whatever the lyrics are about.

Is this something any of you have experienced? It’s unnerving and frightening to be so completely at the mercy of a song, so involuntarily vulnerable. “What will people think of me for caring about or crying over this song so much? For getting so carried away?” I decided long ago that I would rather be helplessly enthralled by a song, brought to my knees and reduced to tears, than to scarcely notice it.

And this is my aim when composing: to write something that reaches past the day’s dreariness, releases the stiff upper lip and shakes loose the stoic pilings. To write something that puts a swerve in the hips and a smile on the lips. Or makes you taste those potato chips…


I am thrilled to my core to introduce my new website! Charleston, SC native and poet laureate, Marcus Amaker, is also an award-winning graphic designer who utilizes that perfect combination of light, balance, space, function and that certain je ne sais quoi that distinguishes his work from all others.

So take your time perusing it! Check out the touring page to see when we’ll be in your neck of the woods, listen to some music, and if you’re feeling especially philanthropic, please note that if you download “This Is (not) a Protest Song”, 100% of it is donated to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

One of the new things is that my BLOG, “Blessings” will take the place of the newsletter. How I have longed to just jot off a thought-filled (or thoughtless!) missive or two while it’s on my mind. Hey…there’s a lot to be said for stream of consciousness writing! For instance, several months ago I was reading Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s writing about soft vs. strong. Here is what he wrote: “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

And here is what I was inspired to write:
The rock is hard. The water is soft. Which most changes the other?
Water changes the shape of the rock; Rock changes the path of the water
I decided I would rather be water than rock. How about you?

Well, I wanted to share this immediately in a thoughtful way on some forum other than Facebook or Instagram. Now that I have a blog, I can share brief thoughts without obligating myself to pages of writing.

And if you miss a blog post, fear not. It will be archived where you can access it with the touch of a finger. There are new pics, a newer updated bio, etc., etc. Enjoy!

There are so many new things going on in my life and so many things I can’t wait to share with you in the weeks and months to come…and I want you to share some of your self with me and the rest of the world. More on that later…


Our group, Experiment in Truth, is working on its most ambitious project to date! It is inspired by what I call an Emotional Equation that is colored and shaped by solitary and shared experience.

I ain’t gon’ lie – pain hurts! But trying to avoid pain, aside from being futile, merely extends the hard lessons which we sometimes repeat on an endless loop until that aha! moment when, lesson learned, we can move on. Not until that lesson is learned – and learned well under various situations – may we move on the next painful lesson…and the next…until we are brought to…

Wisdom is acquired through these painful uninterrupted lessons. And when wisdom arrives, it makes its home beneath our skin, past tendon and muscle, down to the bone of potency. In that potency we are reinvigorated, re-animated into this new thing which we somehow knew was there all along. WISDOM says “You have been through this before. You are on your path and can now help others with theirs. Take the next steps to…

Beauty smiles back at us when we peer into our true tested selves. It focuses on the internal, illuminates the love and light we’ve always had within us but were too busy looking outside ourselves to see. Beauty doesn’t draw attention to itself, waving its hands frantically in the air to be noticed. No. Beauty waits to be seen and appreciated, it steadies us and turns us into grown-ass people.

One Emotional Equation exploring the essence of our humanity, raising more questions than it answers. 30 songs spread over 3 projects in a search for internal illumination.
Among the selections are musical tributes to both Nina Simone AND Bonnie Raitt; two songs inspired by the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (a U.S. poet of the late 1800s whose parents were enslaved); a humorous testimony to the difficulties of motherhood; a dirge to faith; a duet in fist-shaking defiance of conventional religion; an attempt to describe what it’s like to really go home again and the power of “yes”.

Finally, I want to say something about opening doors. Sometimes there are doors that we know will be on our path that we will be required to open. Doors that lead to adulthood, responsibility, jobs, family, etc. Doors that are there just because we are living and growing and figuring things out. And then there are the doors and paths that we don’t see until they are right in front of us, usually put there unexpectedly by someone (or something) else.

One of those doors opened for me recently. My dear friend, Lee Mergner, sees something in me that I cannot see. I am so grateful for his friendship. He frequently asks me to do things outside my comfort zone that I have never done. He believes in me and he knows my answer will almost always be “yes” (see the power of “yes” above). The latest door he put in my path was the opportunity to moderate the Betty Carter panel discussion at Jazz Congress this past January. This may not sound like a big thing but, people, I have never moderated a panel of any kind in my life (as those of you who attended the panel discussion could probably tell). But I have discovered that saying “yes” when life presents new opportunities is how I learn and grow past my preset boundaries, delving into self-discovery and plumbing the depths of my being. And the depths of my being were petrified at the thought of interviewing such luminous jazz panelists as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Kenny Washington, etc. But things are seldom as difficult as we imagine they will be.
The upshot of it? Let’s just say “a good time was had by all!” Thank you, Lee, for the confidence you have in me!

And finally…
My intention this year – and in the years to come – is to be more open to receiving, to be aware of abundance in the universe and be in expectation of receiving that abundance. My intention is to say ‘yes’ when others ask if they can help, to sit my ass down and let someone serve me, give to me, take care of me. My intention is to tell myself ‘it’s okay’ for me to just be still and let the warmth of caring people envelope me.

How about you?