Many were saddened this morning by the death of beloved poet and activist Maya Angelou at age 86. The iconic writer was found by her caregiver at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Angelou had reportedly been in poor health for the past few days.
Maya Anglou was born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her tragic early years would be the subject for her first and most famous autobiography I Know Why Caged Birds Sing. Coping with sexual abuse and the prevalent racism of the day, Angelou retreated inward so much she virtually became mute. By discovering music and poetry she found an avenue to open up and find passion in the world around her. In the 60’s she would befriend freedom fighters Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Vusumzi Make and became a large figure in the Civil Rights Movement. In the years after she would continue to write poetry including “On the Pulse of Morning”, the poem for Bill Clinton’s 1992 Inauguration.
Maya Angelou led a life of far too many accomplishments to cram into one article, but perhaps the most unknown is her early music career. Angelou spent most of the 50’s as a dancer and singer in San Francisco and even featured in a European tour of the opera Porgy and Bess where she learned many languages. Later that decade, Angelou would release her own album entitled Miss Calypso where she would show off a surprising vocal range. In addition Angelou won three Grammy Awards for her spoken word albums.
Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton each spoke today in praise of Anglou’s life, with Obama praising her as “one of the brightest lights of our time — a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman” but that “the voice she found help”ed generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves”. Clinton lamented that “America has lost a national treasure;” then recalled a favorite Angelou poem to say “Now she sings the songs the Creator gave to her when the river ‘and the tree and the stone were one.’
She will be sorely missed though her work as a poet, playwright, and musician will live alongside her great civil rights accomplishments for many years to come.