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Saturday, June 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Singer To Tell The Stories Of Black Women Spokane Woman Combines Music And History

By Virginia De Leon Staff writer

Her name was Nasiira.

At 18, she watched as her husband was murdered on the west coast of Africa.

She was kidnapped, brought to America and forced to work in the cotton fields.

Her story of slavery - one that is shared by thousands of African women of 250 years ago - will be told this weekend by singer Nancy J. Nelson of Spokane.

“My skin is black; my arms are long,” sings Nelson. “My hair is woolly. My back is strong.”

Her performance - a mix of percussion, singing and storytelling - portrays the lives of African American women in history.

The show is based on the classic song “Four Women” sung by Nina Simone. Nelson, however, builds on that foundation by adding her own versions of gospel songs, jazz, rock, African tribal beats and blues.

Her performance will include spirituals such as “Take Me to the Water” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and more recent favorites such as ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”

Nelson “has a fantastic voice and is quite an artist on stage,” says Lee Wade of Spokane, who heard Nelson perform last month at Fairchild Air Force Base. “Everyone was spellbound when she sang.”

An expert in African American history and music, Nelson chose to focus on black women because of the myths surrounding the African American female.

They’ve been depicted as angry and oversexed, she says, and that’s just not true.

“We have the racism to deal with and the history of slavery,” says Nelson, 44. “We’re not just seen as women - we’re black women.”

Her performance Friday will portray various African and African American women throughout U.S. history. There’s Aunt Sarah, formerly Nasiira, who was auctioned off as a slave. She had a daughter, Safronia, a biracial child and the product of rape.

Nelson also will depict Sweet Thing, a prostitute who was the first in her family to learn to read, and Peaches, a militant activist in the late 1960s.

Because African American history isn’t taught in most schools, Nelson had to do her own research for her performance, reading books and black publications such as Ebony and Emerge.

“All our history is documented in music,” says Nelson, who has performed all over Washington state and British Columbia. “As a race, we have a culture.”

She started singing when she was 3 years old. Ten years ago, she combined her two passions: music and African American history.

It was her concern for youths that inspired her to create a bridge between the two subjects, Nelson says.

While working as a teacher in Seattle, she met 16-year-olds who were planning their funerals, kids whose parents were drug addicts, teens who signed away their babies at birth.

“There’s this strength that I felt when I learned about my history,” says Nelson, who plans to offer black history classes at New Hope Baptist Church in Spokane in the fall.

“I felt pride and self-worth. I believe that if kids knew their own history, they would feel this same ancestral belonging.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘FOUR WOMEN’ “Four Women: A Study of African American Women through Song” will be performed by singer Nancy J. Nelson on Friday at Spokane’s East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone. The show, a mix of music and storytelling, will start at 7 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information, call (509) 625-6699.

Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘FOUR WOMEN’ “Four Women: A Study of African American Women through Song” will be performed by singer Nancy J. Nelson on Friday at Spokane’s East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone. The show, a mix of music and storytelling, will start at 7 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information, call (509) 625-6699.

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