July 2008 Newsletter


Voice of My Beautiful Country

What you’re listening to is my love song to America; my latest attempt to express how I feel about living in this country as a person of color. It had its germination over three years ago when, during an interview in Russia, the interviewer referred to me as an American. I started to interrupt her, to tell her she was mistaken. But I caught myself and was extremely surprised and dismayed to discover that I didn’t feel like an American. The rest of the interview I don’t remember because I was too focused on this startling and disturbing discovery.

On the flight from Moscow, I felt anxious to get back home. Yes, ‘home’. And yet, I had nearly corrected the Russian interviewer when she called me American! Why? I didn’t know, but I wanted to find out.

Flying across the Atlantic, I thought about how, from the time I was a very young child, I had always loved singing “America the Beautiful”, “God Bless America” and how my heart always swelled with pride, how I always teared up whenever I heard the beginning strains of the “National Anthem”. I loved these songs, loved singing them. I loved my home – the dirt and the sky and the trees and the grass and bugs of my home. I loved the people in it, the way we walked and talked and interacted. I loved the way things are done here, problematic though they may sometimes be. I tried to imagine living permanently in another country – and couldn’t. I loved this land! So why didn’t I feel like I was an American?

For the next few weeks I puzzled over it, analyzing every little thing I felt. I dug deep. And this is what I came up with:

Beautiful as those songs are, when I learned them as a child, the black community was still living under Jim Crow laws. Seating was segregated at theatres. There were certain stores in town that black folks simply could not enter. My siblings and I went to segregated schools where the books, desks, chairs, tables, lunch trays and playground equipment were never new, always hand-me-downs from the all white schools. My parents taught at those schools and, rather than being bitter, we were raised to be proud, stand tall, speak clearly, look others in the eye and be true & respectful to ourselves and everyone we met, regardless of their color.

Even at such a young age, however, I sensed on a fundamental level that there was a disconnect between the patriotic songs I loved to sing, the Pledge of Allegiance I took pleasure in memorizing and repeating every day and the humiliating, not-quite-a-citizen experiences that black folks were enduring on a daily basis. For instance…

One year, my mother and father, along with about 5 other black couples, attempted to integrate the segregated lunch counters in my hometown, Warrenton, Va. My parents were assigned to Frost’s Diner on the by-pass. On the door of that establishment was a sign that read, “No Dogs. No Niggers”.

In a manner of speaking, my parents were successful that night. They went into the diner, ordered dinner (though they were never served) and left with only verbal insults ringing in their ears as a warning. Later that year, however, as a result of this protest, my father was blacklisted – fired from his job as a teacher and unable to find employment anywhere in the county sufficient enough to support seven children and a wife. And they were considered the lucky ones. This is the kind of unspoken – yet very real – disconnection black families lived with day in and day out.

As children, we are hardly equipped with the verbal skills to express such a disconnection. But the disconnection lingers until one day, whoop! there it is. And you’re left with trying to figure out why you don’t feel the word ‘American’ has ever really applied to you.

We went to church. And there we listened to our pastor try to make sense of the inequality he and his entire congregation was faced with day after day, to instill in us joy and hope where there was adversity and sadness and grief. When the fourth of July fell near a Sunday, we opened our hymnals to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “America the Beautiful” or the “National Anthem” and we sang. We sang loud and long and clear and spirits soared at the prospect of God’s truth marching on. Our eyes misted over to think that God might shed his grace on us and crown his good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea. We adored the sentiments expressed in the National Anthem but felt excluded because the land of the free was not free for us and those in our homes who were brave enough to confront the Jim Crow laws risked their lives or their livelihoods in so doing. So we sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in our churches, too, and at our schools and other community gatherings because that song spoke of our hopes, our situation. It came to be known as the “Black National Anthem”, and for good reason, though it, too, was exclusive in that it validated the daily struggle of black folks and gave us hope and encouragement when, oftentimes, nothing and nobody else would or could.

Music is a second language to me. From as far back as I can remember, when I couldn’t figure out a way to express whatever I was feeling, my emotions could always find their expression in music. So on the flight home, I wondered: Could I take the sentiments of these songs that had meant so much to me – that still mean so much to me – and re-frame them in a musical context that more accurately reflects the America I live in now? The America with which I more honestly identify? The America I love?

I was inspired to write a suite entitled “Voice of My Beautiful Country”, moving from sentiment to sentiment and utilizing American music: Jazz, Blues & Gospel. I use three movements: “America the Beautiful”, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and, the movement that has garnered the most attention and criticism, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” sung to the melody of the “National Anthem”. The title, “Voice of My Beautiful Country”, expresses for me the dichotomy and contradictions of being a person of color in America.

Voice of My Beautiful Country” is my love song to America – the land I love living in. I love singing this suite; it has given me room to feel the full spectrum of emotions I most strongly connect with – joy, pain, love, pride, sentiment, unity, hope – when I think of my family, my country and my national community. It has been a journey toward making peace with the contradictions that still exist within me when I think of my past, a conduit for hope when I think of the future and given me the freedom to finally feel like an American.

July 2007 Newsletter

hello, all…

wow, i should’ve sent this out way before now. because i meant to, i really did

but, you know how it is…you make all these plans to work on your website, but before you get a chance to, you have to record your next CD. so you decide to go ahead and record while simultaneously figuring out how you’re gonna pay for it ’cause you’re not on the maxjazz label anymore. and then, after listening to each take 100 times, you make all the decisions about the CD – what to name it ("experiment In truth"), the colors to use (all of ’em), who’ll do the graphics (todd reid), which photographer to use (fernando aceves), which tunes to put on it (7 originals and 4 covers), figuring out the mechanical license stuff (uh…yeah), proof-reading the copy 100 times (that’s right. 100 times) – yes, once you make all the decisions, well, you gotta go back on the road again, but then, just before you do, you find this house you absolutely love but your realtor says you must move quickly on it before someone else buys it so that means you have to move out of your house while you’re on the road and your husband closes on the new house while you’re on the road, but before you leave to go on the road there are all these boxes you’ve packed and stacked up to the ceiling and then you discover you packed some of the clothes and music you need…

oh. you mean you don’t know about that? well, let me tell you – life’s been full of living. just sweet, sweet living.

and this little letter will be short and sweet, too. because all i want to do is tell you just one thing:


it’s self-produced and, for now, self-released. the only place you can purchase it is at my website. just click the link at the top of this newsletter and you’ll be taken to my e-commerce page where you can order "experiment in truth". while there, you can also order or download the single, "this is (not) a protest song". development of the website is painfully slow and so there are no track samples for "experiment in truth" yet. but they are on the way! however, in lieu of the track samples, below is a brief description of each tune. but first, although thelonius monk has been quoted as saying, "talking about music is like dancing about architecture", i’m going to tell you the story of how "experiment in truth" came to be.


on november 4-6, 2007 kevin bales (piano), rodney jordan (bass), quentin baxter (drums) and i recorded in a circle onstage in the recital hall at the college of charleston in charleston, south carolina without recording booths or other obstacles. the concept behind "experiment in truth" isn’t new; but self-produced and self-released as this album is, it was new to us. we knew with certainty, however, that we wanted a sweet, rich, yearning, kinetic, authentically live sound without stopping and starting countless times to ‘get it right’ as is typically done in a studio. aside from jack mccray, who wrote the liner notes, there was no audience.


you won’t find any botox injected into our music to prevent wrinkles; no makeup to hide what some may consider flaws. what you will find is our truth – or, rather, what we believed our truths to be as a group at the time of this recording. we wanted to keep the ‘truth’ of the sound – its honesty and openness – without processing it and making it sound so ‘teched-out’ that we wouldn’t recognize ourselves anymore.


the process of surrendering to the emotion of a song, becoming vulnerable enough to get to that place, is much like falling in love; it sometimes involves stumbles and fumbles, tender surprises and eye-blinking amazement – a ‘wrong’ note here, a voice crack there, a missed phrase, a missed lyric, a missed chance and then…an open door to discovery. the paramount thing was not to disrupt the process. it was the emotion, the feeling, the truth of the story we wanted to experiment with. i absolutely did not want those ‘blemishes’ taken out, as they are an intimate part of the whole, completing each satisfying, musical lovemaking episode.


also, we tackled some issues that won’t likely make the list of favorite topics put to music. though i have opinions, i don’t have any answers and i don’t have any statements to make. i just wanted to pose the questions, bring up the issues, open the door, turn on the light. if there is one statement being made with this CD, it is this: ask the questions.


what constitutes abuse and rape and force? what is my music hiding from? what is it hiding behind? who am i trying to please? and why? how do i deal with this homeless person’s outstretched hand? can words really be profane? or only our actions? am i enjoying being on the road like this? is this what i truly want? why do i keep letting him/her back into my life? why am i going through all these changes? am i strong enough to weather them all? is there such a thing as too much truth in a song? does my art reflect the social issues i claim to embrace? why or why not? who will take up oscar brown, jr’s torch? who will echo nina simone’s courage? can one vocally recreate within a musical context being in the throes of passion and still have it played on the radio?


WEEKEND an abused wife, an intruder, rope, a blindfold, a…fantasy?

VERTIGO a re-arrangement of my own tune. crazy out. even after listening to it 100 times, i STILL laugh out loud every time i hear it! this is the way ‘vertigo’ should have sounded the first time around, but didn’t. more about that another day…

I AIN’T GONNA LET YOU BREAK MY HEART AGAIN* a gorgeously heartbreaking ballad i learned from a bonnie raitt album. both bonnie and i are scorpios!

TURN THE PAGE* i LOVE bob seger’s music. on this one, it’s just me and the bass. some things all musicians have in common, regardless of the genre.

STRONGER THAN YOU THINK i wrote this song ostensibly for my son when he was in prison. then i realized it applied more to me than to him.

RIM SHOT why do drummers only use the rim shot when an instrumentalist is soloing?? i got sick of that sh*t and wrote a song so all i could hear from quentin was the rim shot and nothin’ but the rim shot, so help me…

CARAVAN* just listen to this female version. the guys really got into it (no pun intended). ’nuff said.

COLORADO RIVER SONG a softshoe feel inspired by my very first weekend river trip after i moved to colorado. didn’t know how to swim, had never been camping, never been in a boat and certainly never in a river. i was so excited at the prospect of all these new adventures, however, that i composed the song in the car on the way to the river before i even got in the water. and the guy i went with? married him last year.

THIS IS (NOT) A PROTEST SONG inspired by my own experience and the experiences of two members of my family. my small way of trying to draw attention to homelessness and DO something about it instead of just walking on by, pretending i don’t see…

SOME OTHER TIME* ah…kevin’s solo breaks my heart every time i hear it. we play this tune near the end of almost every live performance. it’s so lovely…

O NINA! – fifteen years old in 1970 and angry as hell. mama couldn’t get through to me no matter what. then she brought this album home… well, just listen to the story. it’s all true. and it’s my ode to nina, written in an airplane somewhere over minnesota one month after she transitioned.

* the four cover tunes. lyrics to all the original tunes are included on the insert of the CD.

i love this CD. i hope you do, too. if you feel any connection with this music, if it touches you in any significant way, please tell 10 of your friends about it. and please, let me hear from you. i’d love to know what you think…!

be gentle with yourselves,

rene marie

july 2007

February 2007 Newsletter

hello, good people ~

2,500 years ago the philosopher heraclitus said, "nothing endures but change".  i am living proof of that.  and i’m here to tell you every bit of it has been good.  every bit of it is ALWAYS good.

so many of you have been wondering "what’s going on with the renemarie.com website?"  the web pages are outdated, photos are old, you’ve sent emails that have gone unanswered or worse, returned.  maybe some of you even gave up on me.

and now, you can’t get into the website.  not to worry, though.  the reason you can’t get in is because we’re in the process of revamping the entire website.  but i wanted to write you this brief newsletter to read while you await the new format for renemarie.com.

let me just tell you two main things that are happening now:


my group and i went into the studio in november of last year and recorded 20+ songs, half of them originals.  we hope to release a CD of about 10 -12 tunes by the end of march.  one song we recorded – that many of you have already heard –  is entitled "this is (not) a protest song".  most of you don’t know this, but homelessness is an issue that affected my life as a 9-year old girl and the lives of several family members even as i write this.  i decided to release this song as a single prior to the release of the CD itself.  i’m doing this so i can donate 100% of the proceeds of this single to local agencies dedicated to assisting the homeless.  this song will be used as a vehicle to raise awareness of homelessness, and to raise money for agencies assisting the homeless, not just here in denver where i live, but throughout the nation.  the CD has already been completely paid for without having to deduct any production or mailing costs from it’s $5 price. very soon, you’ll be able to download this song (as well as other material) from my website.  again, 100% of the proceeds of "this is (not) a protest song" will be donated to organizations assisting the homeless. if you are connected with people or organizations who can help promote this song so as to 1) raise awareness of homelessness and 2) raise money for agencies assisting the homeless in your area, contact me through the following email address: [email protected]


 i am embarking on a new journey of developing a one-woman show.  i’ve had the idea for 2-3 years, but was never able to spend big chunks of time developing it because of being on the road so much.  and all this time, i’ve been writing, writing, writing.  now, all my writing is done – the spoken word, the songs, and most of the monologue.  all that’s left is to edit it and put it together.  where would i find time to do that, you ask? well,  there was only one way to create the chunk of time i needed and that was to come off the road.  that’s right: stop touring, stop traveling, stop moving around so much.  just stay in one place and git’er done.  so here i sit.  and i’m almost finished….with the first part.  the name of this piece is entitled "slut energy experiment".  sorry, i can’t divulge more than that.  but i wanted you to know that i haven’t fallen off the face of the earth or into a hidey-hole somewhere.

so yeah,  i’m off the road for now, but i ain’t off the map.  just doing local gigs here at home in denver, colorado while i work on these two projects mentioned above that are so near and dear to my heart.

i wish for all of you a surplus of imagination for, as albert einstein said, "imagination is more important than knowledge."

more later,

rene marie