- 1/23 -
Session 1: Everyday Poetry
Camille Yarbrough is an award-winning performance artist, author, and cultural activist. With a career that spans over fifty years, several continents, countless awards and accolades, and a few generations, Nana Camille has earned legendary status. She continues to inspire audiences today via her local, long running television show (Ancestor House), via her popular musical CD (also entitled Ancestor House), and via performances and lectures about poetry, music, Black art and culture.
Most recently, Nana Camille (as she is honorably called) performed at the Poetry Jam of the 2011 Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit in Florida. She is regularly called upon to share her wisdom and life/work, be it Kwanzaa celebrations and Haiti tributes in New York, concerts in California for Maulana Karenga (founder of Kwanzaa), or on the Michael Eric Dyson Radio Show. Regardless of the medium, Nana Camille's life-long vision remains clear. She consistently champions the beauty and greatness of African people wherever they are in the world. Her mission is to raise their glory and in so doing vibrate that thread of humanity that links all.
Yarbrough's vision was nourished and became a creative force in her life when she toured with the pioneer dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company of Dancers, Singers, and Musicians. There Nana Camille honed her performance and producing gifts and immersed herself in independent study of African people throughout the Diaspora.
The world-traveling Chicago native currently resides in New York. In her travels, Nana Camille has made a number of trips to Africa and is enstooled in the Ghanian tradition as Queen Mother to the late educator Dr. John Henry Clarke.
Nana Camille is also an educator at heart and for 12 years was faculty at City College of New York (located in Harlem). She taught African dance and courses on the internationally famous neighborhood. As an accomplished theater actress, she co-starred in Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, as well as James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones and Kwamina. For television and film, her credits include various network specials, soap operas, and the original movie Shaft.
As an extension of her creative and activist self, Yarbrough turned to writing in the 1970's. Her published works have appeared in The New York Times, The Black Collegian Magazine, and The Journal of African Civilization. In 1979 Cornrows, the award-winning, groundbreaking family book that Essence magazine called "a gem," was published and later three more books followed: The Shimmershine Queens, The Little Tree Growing in the Shade, and Tamika and the Wisdom Rings.
In contemporary pop culture circles, Nana Camille is known as the singer whose song and vocals were sampled on the international mega-hit, Praise You, by techno-musician Fatboy Slim. Her first solo musical recording, The Iron Pot Cooker (1975) is where the hit song Praise You originated. Writer and activist Kevin Powell offers this praise of the now classic album:
"Without question, The Iron Pot Cooker is a precursor to Lauryn Hill's best-seller The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill."
A few other high reviews:
Billboard Magazine: "...Yarbrough has stylish traces of Nina Simone and Gil Scott-Heron but her own style of singing and recitation ... are outstanding. Her songs are all thought provoking."
SPIN Magazine called Nana Camille a "hip-hop foremother." And regarding the re-release Iron Pot Cooker, CDNOW said it was the "The most important rediscovery of the year..." When asked about her longevity and unwavering focus, Yarbrough explains: "Being a griot or storyteller is what I was born to do. I come from a kinship line that was re-born to re-tell our story. We must tell it to the young, tell it to the old...everyone grows when our family story is told!" When asked about the relevance of her message for today, she further explains: "The freedom of the African mind depends on us being re-educated about our history and our culture. As a griot, I am charged to do more than share stories but I must preserve the meaning and beauty of our culture. That work, with me as a keeper of our culture, transcends time and space. That's why the themes of my books and my music are not bound to my generation. The ancestors ensure that my work has meaning for all age groups." Here are just a few universal themes found in Nana Camille's vast reservoir of work:Artistic Work Themes /
Art is in every aspect of our lives. For our introductory we will get an introduction to Professor Almustafa's artistic collaborations across the generations. First, we will read the legendary Camille Yarbrough's introduction. Then we will look at some of New York City's brightest young poets.
In this class we will focus on the ways music and poetry shape our daily lives. What role does music play in our daily lives? How do we each use poetry as a teaching tool?
We will read Camille Yarbrough’s foreword in “Growing Up Hip-Hop” by kahlil almustafa and discuss the types of verbal arts we find in our everyday lives. We will discuss professor John Lovell’s seven criteria for the “purpose of the Afro-American spiritual.” For next week’s class each participant will bring in one song that they shared with another person or community with a short reflection about what the song was, why they choose to share it, and what was the response. Also discuss Lovell’s criteria in this reflection.
We will look at poetry written by New York City’s youth and discuss the value of each poem for the author and for their community. Each person reads through the poems in the PAL's annual youth anthology, featuring 30+ poems from authors from grades 1 through 12. Each students reads the poem aloud and states why they chose the poem. The class discusses together what the young person learned from the poem.
Share a piece of music with a person or group, then write a short reflection citing John Lovell's criteria for the African American spiritual.
Write an original poem prompted by one youth poem. Use the same title or remix the title or even use a line from the poem as our title.