Called a “postmodernist Bessie Smith” by The Village Voice, composer, vocalist, and cultural worker Imani Uzuri has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists including Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Vijay Iyer, Carrie Mae Weems, and Robert Ashley. Her breakthrough album The Gypsy Diaries was released to critical acclaim. In 2016, Imani made her Lincoln Center American Songbook debut and was a featured performer on Black Girls Rock! on BET. She also composed and co-wrote lyrics for a new musical GIRL Shakes Loose, which was selected for the 2016 O’Neill National Music Theater Conference, and is currently composing a contemporary opera, Hush Arbor. She recently collaborated with The Public Theater on a concert tour of community centers, shelters, and prisons, and is Founder and Artistic Director of Revolutionary Choir.
Freedom songs were anthems of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and a potent catalyst for change. These were songs that were made to be sung together in groups to unify the movement and deliver strong, clear messages of liberation. Musically, they are accessible, direct, and repetitive. They embody a range of emotions—joy, sadness, determination, defiance, hope. Many, including “Oh Freedom,” were originally spirituals, but the lyrics were altered to reflect a renewed purpose.