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Before her death at age 86 on May 28, Dr. Maya Angelou had signed off on a unique music project she had been actively involved with over the last seven years. Tuesday marked the debut of that project, Caged Bird Songs. Close friend Oprah Winfrey is co-producing a video for one of the tracks, “Harlem Hopscotch,” that will premiere later this month on OWN.
Released by Smooch Music, Caged Bird Songs skillfully pairs the legendary poet’s illuminating commentary about life and social issues with a contemporary fusion of hip-hop, R&B, blues, jazz and more. The 13-track set is the brainchild of Shawn Rivera, a member of R&B group Az Yet (“Last Night”). “Her life story rang a bell with me,” says Rivera, who first met Angelou at her 80th birthday party. “I wanted to bring her message musically to her fans as well as a new generation.”
Produced in Los Angeles and at Angelou’s North Carolina home, Caged Bird Songs uses both pre-recorded vocals and new live recordings of Dr. Angelou, who sings and raps on the album. Rivera, who co-produced the project with RoccStar (Jennifer Lopez, Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson), selected poems he felt fit a musical symmetry. “Four bars, 16 bars … there were certain meters she implied musically in her work,” he explains.
Best known for her poetry and the iconic 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou won three Grammy Awards for her spoken word recordings. During her prolific career, she recorded a calypso album, seven songs for the Ashford & Simpson album Been Found and collaborated with Wynton Marsalis and Roberta Flack, among others.
Grandson Colin Johnson, founder of Caged Bird Legacy, says his grandmother was “tickled by a project she thought was hip and cool. It’s not something I would have said to her, ‘Grandma, you need to put your words to hip-hop.’ But when I heard the tracks, they brought her work full circle naturally, not forced.”
David Helfant and Smooch Music principals Larry and Van Kantor executive produced the project. Caged Bird Songs is available in two versions: the 13-track standard edition and an 18-track deluxe edition. Artwork was created by Alan Aldridge, whose credits include the Beatles, Elton John and The Rolling Stones.
See the full Caged Bird Songs track listing below.
1. Human Family
2. Pow Pow
3. Sepia Fashion Show
4. Harlem Hopscotch
5. Pickin’ Em Up
6. On Aging
7. Ain’t That Bad
8. One More Round
9. Come And Be My Baby
10. The Thirteens
12. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
13. Still I Rise
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.
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