Song lyrics took on new power Tuesday as Natalie Hodge presented her program “Lyrics to My Life” at Patrick Henry Community College.
To four different audiences spaced out throughout the morning, she read poems and songs about significant themes in history.
Hodge said that in planning the program, she and PHCC Coordinator of Campus Life & Fine Arts Devin Pendleton “talked about something cool we could do for Black History Month, a little different” than has been done before.
This program takes advantages of “my love for spoken word … and song lyrics,” she said.
Familiar songs take on much deeper meanings when people listen to their words without the distraction of music, she said.
Among the lyrics she read were poems from her own book, “Metallic Dusty Rose: Poems about Life and Love” (2016).
That started with “Slave Girl.” The narrator says she is a slave girl to myriad aspects of life, including “a slave girl to gossip; a slave girl to truth; a slave girl to conjecture; a slave girl to proof.”
The message of the poem has “a lot of meaning for me,” Hodge told the audience. “Black people arrived here as enslaved folk. … We continue in some ways to be tied to a history and a present that is oppressive.”
She read the lyrics of “Go Down Moses,” which represents the liberation of the ancient Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
Next she read the words of “Strange Fruit,” written by Abel Meeropol in the 1930s to call attention to the horror of lynching. Billie Holliday and Nina Simone were among the singers who performed it.
“Southern trees bearing strange fruit; blood on the leaves and blood at the roots,” she read. “Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze; strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
There are no new themes under the sun, Hodge said, “So we revisit” familiar ones. Doing that helps people figure out “not just who we are as black people, but who we are as a world community.”
She read “Harvest for the World” by the Isley Brothers: “All babies together, everyone a seed; Half of us are satisfied, half of us in need.”
The Isley Brothers have been singing since 1954. A newer artist Hodge calls one of her “favorites, who has a more conscious message in some of his work” is Nas. Some of his lyrics in Usher’s “Chain” include “I am not prison commodity, not just a body you throw in a cell.”
Then her program took a lighthearted turn as she read two of her poems, “Inquisition of a Single Woman” and “Rebuttal of a Single Woman.”
“Where is the man who completes you?” the narrator of the first poem asks.
“I am joyful. I am grand,” not needing to get to success through a man, the second poem answers.
After the program, Rachel Hodge (no relation), who had been in the audience, said, “I found it to be quite moving and inspirational.”
She had come to the final program, which concluded at about 1 p.m.
“I love the fact it just makes us recall … how far we’ve come” in society. “I appreciate her artistic gift” in the way Natalie Hodge presented the messages, Rachel Hodge said.
Pat Via said Hodge’s program “took me back.
“Black History Month always is a great encounter, because it’s history. It gives me the incentive to think of my grandparents – what they went through.”
They persevered through difficult times “so I could stand not only as a black person but as an individual,” Via said.
“We’re passing the torch of the month of February to give our young people the incentive to be strong and carry our strength,” said Via, who added that young people in general don’t seem to be taking much interest.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.