Maya Angelou: The bird no longer caged, but forever singing

Having lived a creative  life as a songwriter and now a member of the band, Runaway Home, has afforded me an abundance of rewards.  Few if any of the rewards have been monetary, but all have in some way, contributed to the great muse.  Some rewards have inspired through frustration and hardship, while others have inspired through moments so confirming that they void any previous struggle.

As artists, no matter what our medium, we cannot’  believe that we invented the wheel.  We just plain didn’t invent it.  We did learn however, how to create the sculpture, the painting, the book and the song about the wheel, from those before us.  Paying homage to those we are inspired by and to those we may inspire, is to truly live the life of the creative arts.  My personal goal though is to make the effort of paying homage before those creative voices grow silent and only speak again through their art.  I am not as lucky to have done so in this case.  Had I been more fortunate, this is what I may have said to the great poet, actress, dancer, activist and singer, Maya Angelou.

Dr. Angelou, it is not that you were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, winning multiple Grammys, a Norman Mailer Lifetime Achievement Award or the hundreds of other well-deserved awards that inspired me.  It was not your inaugural speech, “On the Pulse of Morning,” the National Medal of the Arts award or your Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominations that encouraged me.  It was not even your immeasurable contribution to civil rights and the many causes of peace that you lent your words, voice and blood to that moved my soul.  The element that has inspired me the most about you has been your perfect dedication to your art and to your craft.  Your tireless work ethic and boundless enthusiasm for your art as well as your supportive ear for your creative comrades, seems to me unmatched.  Accolades, awards and even one’s ability to define culture and history are all dependent on at least a near-perfect devotion to one’s art.  You embodied that.

It has been said, and I can’t help but believe that you may have said it yourself, that “it is not enough to call yourself a writer.  To be a writer, you must write.”  That edict is true of any creative art.  There is a maddening level of daily discipline required to fuel even the shortest moments of inspiration.  To find one’s voice, one must be driven by a will so strong that it is only temporarily slowed in the times between sleeping and waking.  In one of your last interviews, you talked about still striving to become the writer that you want to be.  You said, “I still don’t write as well as I want to write.”  Wow, that was amazing to me.  It is a bit scary as a writer myself, that someone of your mastery can feel like your work is in some way, sub-par to its potential.  But in the end, that statement brought me great relief and motivation.  The only creative characteristic I have in common with you or dare to espouse is the desire to be a better writer and to pursue all things undone.

At your request, I will roast a chicken and make a simple salad with olive oil and lemon juice.  I will get some good bread and some good white wine and I will say, “Dr. Maya Angelou tried.” Beyond your modest wishes though, I will also say, “Dr. Maya Angelou succeeded.”  The bird is no longer caged, but is forever singing.  Thank you for your contributions to this world.  You made a difference.

Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“It’s the Music That Makes Us Smile”





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