AUK’s Chain Gang: Nancy Dupree “What do I Have?”

Lucinda Williams, the focus of last week’s Chain Gang released her debut album,‘Ramblin’ on My Mind’ in 1979 for Folkways Records. The label, founded in 1948, recorded an eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional music from across the world including the spoken word. Nancy Dupree was one of the artists recorded on the label, originally from South Carolina, she found herself working as a teacher in Rochester, New York. Her students were encouraged to learn the experience of the African American through such artists as Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone who, Dupree integrated in to her lessons. And there things might have rested, were it not for the fact that in the late 60’s Dupree landed a deal for three albums with Folkways Records. ‘Ghetto Reality’ was the first of these three albums and featured the track described here, ‘What do I Have’? Dupree wrote the music for the entire album, leaving the writing of the lyrics to her school children. There is a freshness and immediacy to, ‘What do I Have’? that transends the intervening years since it was recorded in 1969. The lyrics are proudly affirmative, inclusive and enchanting: “I have a voice and I can sing!, Beethoven was my brother just like BB King, I have feet and I can Dance, I’m so beautiful when I dance that I can put you in a trance”. Behind the recordings on ‘Ghetto Reality’ can be sensed the humility and nurturing instinct of Dupree encouraging hope in her young charges and speaking to the world at a troubled time in America’s history.

About Richard Phillips 56 Articles
From the leaden skies of Manchester to the sunny uplands of Cheshire, my quest is for authentic Americana. Love live music, my acoustic guitar and miss my baby (grand piano).

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