Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely

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About Toshi

Something to think about…


Michael Jackson 1958-2009

The first voice I remember trying to sing like. I still hear him in my singing today.

The first Big concert I ever saw – Jackson 5 Atlanta, Georgia. I think 1970 or 71 (thank you mom). Screaming girls everywhere—it was so frustrating—you couldn’t hear the music.

Michael totally in control of the stage in every way. I have never seen or heard anyone else be so good as a child.

So good a singer, dancer, on stage with 4 brothers and a backing band of grown men and he is the best musician on the stage.

Almost 40 years later he is gone.

I feel like I feel when one of my teachers die. I have the gift of their teachings but I’m never ready to see them leave the planet.

One of the best things about Michael’s music is how well it is known.

An instant gathering on the dance floor—a spontaneous singalong in a stairwell—Grandma and baby sis dancing at the same time to a familiar tune.

A continuous soundtrack for life. A global superstar–Rest In Peace, MJ.

Fierce logoFIERCE

FIERCE is a membership-based organization building the leadership and power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth of color in New York City. We develop politically conscious leaders who are invested in improving ourselves and our communities through youth-led campaigns, leadership development programs, and cultural expression through arts and media. FIERCE is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of social justice movement leaders who are dedicated to ending all forms of oppression.

Harriet Tubman

photo of Harriet TubmanHarriet Tubman may be the greatest example of “anything is possible” I have ever heard of. I live my life with her story in my heart. I share her story with you not only because it is Black History Month but also because in these time we really need to be conscious of where we come from, and what we have dared to do to be good human beings on the planet.

Harriet Tubman is perhaps the most well-known of all the Underground Railroad’s “conductors.” During a ten-year span she made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom. And, as she once proudly pointed out to Frederick Douglass, in all of her journeys she “never lost a single passenger.”

Tubman was born a slave in Maryland’s Dorchester County around 1820. At age five or six, she began to work as a house servant. Seven years later she was sent to work in the fields. While she was still in her early teens, she suffered an injury that would follow her for the rest of her life. Always ready to stand up for someone else, Tubman blocked a doorway to protect another field hand from an angry overseer. The overseer picked up and threw a two-pound weight at the field hand. It fell short, striking Tubman on the head. She never fully recovered from the blow, which subjected her to spells in which she would fall into a deep sleep.

Around 1844 she married a free black named John Tubman and took his last name. (She was born Araminta Ross; she later changed her first name to Harriet, after her mother.) In 1849, in fear that she, along with the other slaves on the plantation, was to be sold, Tubman resolved to run away. She set out one night on foot. With some assistance from a friendly white woman, Tubman was on her way. She followed the North Star by night, making her way to Pennsylvania and soon after to Philadelphia, where she found work and saved her money. The following year she returned to Maryland and escorted her sister and her sister’s two children to freedom. She made the dangerous trip back to the South soon after to rescue her brother and two other men. On her third return, she went after her husband, only to find he had taken another wife. Undeterred, she found other slaves seeking freedom and escorted them to the North.

Tubman returned to the South again and again. She devised clever techniques that helped make her “forays” successful, including using the master’s horse and buggy for the first leg of the journey; leaving on a Saturday night, since runaway notices couldn’t be placed in newspapers until Monday morning; turning about and heading south if she encountered possible slave hunters; and carrying a drug to use on a baby if its crying might put the fugitives in danger. Tubman even carried a gun which she used to threaten the fugitives if they became too tired or decided to turn back, telling them, “You’ll be free or die.”

By 1856, Tubman’s capture would have brought a $40,000 reward from the South. On one occasion, she overheard some men reading her wanted poster, which stated that she was illiterate. She promptly pulled out a book and feigned reading it. The ploy was enough to fool the men.

Tubman had made the perilous trip to slave country 19 times by 1860, including one especially challenging journey in which she rescued her 70-year-old parents. Of the famed heroine, who became known as “Moses,” Frederick Douglass said, “Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman].”

And John Brown, who conferred with “General Tubman” about his plans to raid Harpers Ferry, once said that she was “one of the bravest persons on this continent.”

Becoming friends with the leading abolitionists of the day, Tubman took part in antislavery meetings. On the way to such a meeting in Boston in 1860, in an incident in Troy, New York, she helped a fugitive slave who had been captured.

During the Civil War Harriet Tubman worked for the Union as a cook, a nurse, and even a spy. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she would spend the rest of her long life. She died in 1913.

photo of Odetta from Library of CongressOdetta

Dear Friends,
Like all of you my heart is sad from hearing of the passing of my dear friend and teacher Odetta.
I would like to share excerpts from a filmed conversation between the two of us after a benefit concert for Clearwater Hudson Revival. She lives on and on and on. —t

Elizabeth Ziff

photo of Elizabeth Ziff Elizabeth is one of my best friends. We grew up together on the DC Music scene.

She is 1/3 of the Power Trio BETTY and you may also know her as a producer, music supervisor, composer and writer for Showtime’s “The L Word”.

Here is a cool article written by Linda Villarosa on

While I am here let me give Linda Villarosa a shout for her new book Passing For Black published by Kensington Books.

Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice

“Astraea is a dynamic global foundation providing critically needed financial support to lesbian-led, trans, LGBTI and progressive organizations. Separated by continents, language and culture, Astraea grantees are seizing opportunities, and laying the groundwork necessary for women and LGBTI people to claim their human rights. Astraea staff, board, members and grantees all share a deep commitment to feminist principles, racial and economic justice and human rights.”
—from the Astrea Foundation website
email |

The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.

is a story of people who have given of themselves as members, as supporters and as volunteers – people who have dreams for a better world and an unwavering belief that, as individuals, we can make a difference in bringing about a cleaner, safer world for ourselves and future generations. Clearwater conducts environmental education, advocacy programs and celebrations. The nucleus of the activities is to protect the Hudson River, its tributaries and related water bodies, and to create public awareness of the estuary’s complex relationship with the coastal zone. A magnificent natural design blending the freshwater streams of the Adirondacks with the salt tides of the Atlantic, the Hudson is a prime example of an estuary’s ecosystem that, as a type, ranks second only to rain forests in biological productivity.”
Contact Clearwater to get involved.

Jacqueline Woodson

Cool person of the month is my best friend and one of my favorite authors, Jacqueline Woodson. Check her out. t

Justice for the Jena 6 exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice. They work to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.

Jena 6

Last fall, when two Black high school students sat under the “white” tree on their campus, white students responded by hanging nooses from the tree. When Black students protested the light punishment for the students who hung the nooses, District Attorney Reed Walters came to the school and told the students he could “take [their] lives away with a stroke of [his] pen.”

The lives of six young black men are being ruined by Jim Crow justice in Jena, Louisiana. The District Attorney has refused to protect the rights of Jena’s Black population and has turned the police and courts into instruments of intimidation and oppression.

We can help turn things around by making it a political liability for the authorities of Jena to continue the racist status quo, and by forcing the Governor of Louisiana to intervene.


This makes me nuts. Please take action now! -t

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn logo Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn

leads a broad-based community coalition fighting for development that will unite our communities instead of dividing and destroying them. DDDB is opposed to Forest City Ratner’s 8.8 million square foot development proposal for an arena and 16 high-rises in Prospect Heights and Park Slope, Brooklyn. The $3.5 billion project would use at least $1.6 billion in public money and would abuse the state's power of eminent domain–taking private property from one owner to give to a private entity for a private use, instead of a public use.

DDDB believes that New York City is always about change, but we ask the question: How do we, the people, want that change to occur? We want smart collaboration that creates decentralized, diverse, exciting urbanscapes that New York and Brooklyn can point to with pride. We do not accept the abuse of eminent domain. And we do not want top down, sweetheart mega-deals that give one real estate developer carte blanche.

I started working with Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn last year. They are trying to bring public attention to and stop a huge development project in downtown Brooklyn, NY (my hometown). This battle features a very important Eminent Domain case.

Is this happening to you? Is your city being run by a billionaire Mayor? Do you get the feeling that he is treating the real estate of the city like it is a part of his own company and selling it off to the lowest bidder in a series of back room deals.

By the time the public hears about these huge giveaways the infrastructure of support has already been finalized in the city and state agencies and you have to raise huge money to get your opposition or questions about the project heard.

—from DDDB website


photo of OdettaOdetta

Odetta received a Grammy nomination in the Traditional Folk Category for her live holiday collection titled Gonna Let It Shine, A Concert For The Holidays. This marks Odetta’s second Grammy nomination in three releases for M.C. Records.

Odetta was born on New Year’s Eve in 1930 as America entered the second year of the Great Depression, segregation and disfranchisement remained in place, and the droughts of the Dust Bowl forced poor families off the land. As a child in Alabama and then California, she knew difficult times and for a time cleaned houses. But her singing talent was spotted early on and led to formal voice lessons at 14. She joined an ensemble cast headed by Elsa Lancaster at Hollywood’s Turnabout Theatre and then, at age 19, became a member of the chorus for West Coast productions of Finian’s Rainbow and Guys and Dolls.

Odetta found her way into the folk music scene in the early 1950s, singing at the famed Hungry i and the Tin Angel in San Francisco and the Blue Angel in New York City, where her appearances caused Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte to become champions of her remarkable talent. She recorded her first album, appropriately titled Tin Angel in 1954, and subsequently cut many albums including two vastly influential live LPs in the 1960s, Odetta at Carnegie Hall and Odetta at Town Hall, followed by the studio album Odetta Sings Dylan — the first completely dedicated to his songs. The relationship between Odetta and Dylan dates back to 1960 when it is said she advised the young Minnesotan, even before he reached NYC, that if he stayed with music he would most likely succeed.

Gonna Let It Shine is her third M.C. Records project, following the Grammy-nominated Blues Everywhere I Go (1999) and the follow-up Looking for a Home (2001), which received multiple W.C. Handy Award nominations. At White House ceremonies in 1999, President Clinton presented her with the National Medal of Arts & Humanities. In addition, Odetta was among the initial group of select artists to be honored with the first Duke Ellington Fellowship Award from Yale University, she’s a recipient of both the International Folk Alliance and World Folk Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Awards and a holder of honorary doctorates from Bennett College, Johnson C. Smith University and Colby College.

The New York Times once described this great American artist in the following terms: “Odetta’s voice remains a remarkably flexible instrument; capable both of soft-spun timbres and one with a powerful cutting edge, equally convincing in resonant, low tones and scat-like passages way up high.” She is a national treasure.



CBGB’s was one of the first clubs I played in when I moved to NYC in the early 90’s. After a few shows in the main room. I moved next door to CBGB’s gallery. That is where the Toshi Reagon b-day concerts really got going – I played many a benefit in that room and double billed with Lisa Loeb. David Poe was the sound man there when I first started out. Anyway I have gone back a few times over the years and I always have amazing shows. They have always been good to me and they have always lent a helping hand when we needed to raise some quick money for a worthy cause.

Sadly after a long battle the doors will be closing this fall. We played our last show there in September. It will never come again.


Renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act

Equality in voting is fundamental to the American democratic system. Congress must act without delay to renew the Voting Rights Act.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act needs to be renewed and is headed for the Senate, where some republicans will try to run down the clock. Next week, the NAACP is sending 2000 volunteers to Washington to meet with Senators, and we want to arm them with signatures and comments from thousands of supportive Americans. Add your signature.


Other resources: NAACP; Color of Change

See An Inconvenient Truth

With wit, smarts and hope, An Inconvenient Truth ultimately brings home Gore's persuasive argument that we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue – rather, it is the biggest moral challenges facing our global civilization.

—from Climate Crisis


Abolish the N Word

From their website: “As a small group of Brooklynites who grew up during the original old school era of hip hop, we remember when rap songs never used the ‘N’ word or profanity for that matter.”

Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds?

Consumers spend a collective $100 billion every year on bottled water in the belief—often mistaken, as it happens—that this is better for us than what flows from our taps, according to environmental think tank the Earth Policy Institute (EPI).

For a fraction of that sum, everyone on the planet could have safe drinking water and proper sanitation, the Washington, D.C.-based organization said this week.

by Abid Aslam, © 2006

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler has written some of my favorite books. If you have come to my shows you may have heard me speak of her book Parable of The Sower. I cannot say enough about how much that story has shaped my life.

Unfortunately Octavia Butler died this past February. She fell outside of her home in Seattle. It was a shock. I was sure that I would get to read many more of her books. I am so grateful that she wrote the books that she did. She was a pioneer in the field of Science Fiction, but even if that is not your thing you will take a lot of truth and inspiration from her.

Please find her books and read her words. — peace t