In 1989, Paula Larke, Jo Carson, Linda Parriss-Bailey, Celeste Miller, and I were commissioned by the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans to create a collaborative performance, Five Women From the Southeast: How We Came To Be Here. Our first meeting at Paula’s house in Shelby, NC began with telling our life stories. A theme that emerged in all the stories was the stereotypical images and values associated with black/white, day/night,wrong/right. By the end of the first long day of talk, we all agreed that we needed a walk.
We set off through the pleasant mountain town of Shelby. Paula and I, having the longest legs in the group, were soon many paces ahead. Suddenly we were brought to a standstill by the most brilliantly blooming bush we had ever seen. In the light of almost dusk, it was an intense, vibrant, glow-in-the-dark pink. As we lingered to admire this phenomenon of nature, an elderly woman emerged from the house. She obviously appreciated how much we were marveling at this plant, which she said had been a gift from her “gentleman friend” of many years. Now, since he had passed away (at the age of 83), it was her fond memory of him. Its name, she told us with the delight of remembered sweetness, is the Night Blooming Jasmine. Paula and I exchanged a glance, agreeing wordlessly that it was a perfect metaphor for the images from that day’s storytelling. We knew right then that it would make a great song.
More than a year later, we were still enthusiastic about the idea, but had yet to set pen to paper. Then I received a call from the director of Alternate ROOTS, our organization of Southeastern community artists, asking me to lead singing at the upcoming annual meeting. Could I please initiate the meeting with a song that would set the scene for our week of work dealing with dismantling racism and examining issues of color, discrimination, black/white, dark/light, day/night, wrong/right? The next morning, I awoke hearing Night Blooming Jasmine emerge in full musical splendor. Later that evening, in the mountains of Georgia, it had its first run-through with a 200-voice chorus of Alternate ROOTS artists. Paula helped with some arranging and revision, and since then it has been sung in workshops and meetings all over the country and overseas and is in the repertoire of theThreshold Choir. It seems to glow in the dark.