A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
Linda Tillery, vocalist, speaker, producer,
arranger and teacher, has dedicated much of the last decade of
her artistic life to the research, teaching and performance of
the great African American oral tradition of song, stick and
story, the ancestor of today's American popular song. In the
1970's and 1980's, Ms. Tillery recorded three albums and became
a key figure in women's music as staff musician and producer for
Olivia Records. Her second solo recording, Linda Tillery, won a
Bammy (Bay Area Music Award) for Best Independently Produced
Album and she was twice named Outstanding Female Vocalist at the
Bay Area Jazz Awards. She has appeared on over 50 recordings by
Santana, Boz Scaggs, Kenny Loggins, Sheila E., Holly Near, Andy
Narrell, Mary Watkins, John Santos, Keith Terry, Turtle Island
String Quartet, Oleta Adams, Huey Lewis & the News, Keola
Beamer, Linda Ronstadt and others.
Ms. Tillery performed in Jukebox, a live radio piece with Danny Glover, recorded songs for the Marlon Riggs films Color Adjustment, Fear of Disclosure, and Black Is Black Ain't, and recorded the soundtrack for the play Letters from a New England Negro by poet/novelist Sherley Ann Williams. She narrated the 1993 award-winning Pacifica Radio program A Tribute to Audre Lorde and has cut radio and television commercials for Levis, PermaSoft and the California Lottery. In 1996 she created the oral history project, Keep Them With Us, based upon interviews with elderly African Americans to document traditional African American song.
Ms. Tillery was an original member of the a cappella ensemble Voicestra, directed by Bobby McFerrin. She has performed for and given lecture demonstrations for the Center for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada, the New Spirituals Project in Oakland, California, in Cincinnati, Ohio and at such colleges and universities as Santa Clara University, Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California, and Oakland University in Detroit Michigan.
deeper Linda Tillery pursues her roots, the more her artistry
blossoms. Long regarded as one of the San Francisco Bay Area's
most versatile singers, her powerful and flexible alto has been
a key element in groups ranging from Bobby McFerrin's sublime
Voicestra to the notorious Zazu Pitts Memorial Orchestra.
In the 1990's Tillery has tapped the diverse resources of African-American music, from slave songs to modern jazz, to take command of an even broader repertoire. With a voice that critics have compared to those of Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin, Tillery weaves myriad musical threads and cultural traditions into a stunning single fabric.
"All the music I love and have ever sung is connected," explains the San Francisco native, "and all of it can be tied together by following the migration pattern of any African-American family that started in the South and moved northward to places like Chicago and New York, and had their lives shaped and dominated by certain elements -- slavery, religion and survival.
At nineteen Linda Tillery exchanged her classical training for the role of lead singer in the Loading Zone, a beloved psychedelic-era Berkeley band that defined itself in terms of classic Southern soul music. Later she became a key figure in women's music as staff musician and producer for Olivia Records. Linda Tillery, her second solo recording, won a Bammy (Bay Area Music Award) and she was twice named Outstanding Female Vocalist at the Bay Area Jazz Awards.
Her work in radio includes narrating the award-winning A Burst of Light for Pacifica, and performing with Danny Glover in Jukebox, as well as several commercials. Film and theatrical credits include the soundtrack for Letters from a New England Negro by Sherley Anne Williams and vocals for Marlon Riggs' Color Adjustment, Fear of Disclosure and Black Is Black Ain't. She has also found time to serve on a couple of NEA presenting and commissioning panels.
The Cultural Heritage Choir has led Tillery deeper into African-American musical history. And yet the music is anything but dry. "This is not music that calls for people to sing all the licks they know," she notes. "It's not about anybody's chops. This is about heart and soul." As Tillery explains, the central theme is survival. "It is this music, particularly the spirituals, which has kept black people alive through slavery, night riders and segregation." Putting together the Cultural Heritage Choir is "like putting on a pair of shoes that were made just for you by the best cobbler in the world: they are comfortable, they are one with your foot, and you can walk all over God's heaven."
In 1992, Linda Tillery came across a treasure trove of field recordings of traditional African-American music. Within months, she assembled the Cultural Heritage Choir to perform spirituals, work and play songs, field hollers and other slave tunes in the folk tradition.
"I did not know what I was searching for," she says, "but I knew it would have an historical as well as an educational focus. I also knew that it would enable me to feel more complete as an artist and as a human being. I stumbled upon it and I knew right away that it was right for me."
Today, the Cultural Heritage Choir-featuring Rhonda Benin, Elouise Burrell, Melanie DeMore and Emma Foster-Fiege-is one of the most vital performing groups in its field, bringing traditional forms of African-American culture to the stage. Solidly rooted in the past, all the way back to the Gullah culture of the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands, the Choir has a powerful vision of the future as well. In addition to songs and chants delivered through such stylistic forms as call-and-response, multi-layered harmonies, and repetitive verse, the Choir's repertoire includes intoned sermons, folk tales, polyrhythmic percussion and dance.
A San Francisco native and a pioneer of women's music long heralded for her powerful R&B, jazz, pop and gospel singing, Tillery says that putting together the Cultural Heritage Choir to perform spirituals and other forms of "survival music is like putting on a pair of shoes that were made just for you by the best cobbler in the world: they are comfortable, they are one with your foot, and you can walk all over God's heaven."
Ev'ry Voice and Sing