I Care. We Care.: Daughter of the Legendary Dick Gregory Desires to Be Part of a Healing Movement
Singer/Songwriter Ayanna Gregory, daughter of the legendary Dick Gregory, is a fierce force to be reckoned with – her earthly vibrations will ripple through time.
With penetrating depth, since 1999, this songstress has been making audiences truly feel and heal in an era when the global occupants are in critical need of real and responsible art. With a vocal style/sound that has been heavily influenced by the legendary Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin as well as industry peers Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill, Ayanna’s vocal chords maintain an engaging dance with her soul. She desires to musically “connect with other human spirits …inspire people… lighten heavy hearts … encourage someone to get up when they didn’t want to get up… (and/or) make peace with somebody they were holding a grudge against…” Through that desire and with a soulful command of her voice, this songstress is re-energizing masses. Her ignition switch – an inner-self that was born before she was born – during the Civil Rights Movement – when her history-defining activist parents, Dick and Lillian Estelle Gregory, fought inhumane, man-made constructs such as racism and by strategic expansion, fought for other human rights.
In a time when humanity’s moral compass seems flawed – when the numbing of the human race’s collective senses may be at its critical mass, Ayanna’s truth-exposing lyrics serve as a mirror – conveying to the world a beautiful yet consequential of life. Through music, she hopes to be a part of a healing movement and not simply exist as history is created. Her musical contributions to this Healing Movement include a remixed “NOW” on her 3-track EP, entitled Mama This One’s for You (New Moon Recordings) released in May. Considered her current anthem, “NOW” is a candid and revelatory inner journey that weaves a former acceptance of planned mediocrity, insecurities, facing fears, and eventual rise to a place of freedom from herself – where she is now soaring in her life’s calling. Applicable to many of life’s situations, this heartfelt outpouring coaxes the listener’s hidden emotions to a conscious level. Ayanna says that “there are so many layers of vocals on that song that people might not even hear (the) healing sounds like the ahs, ohs, ums…” – carefully embedded with the intent of it being meditative. Fans have confessed to being brought to tears as her back-up vocalists accentuate the anthem with “I know that I want more. What am I waiting for? I think I’m ready now. Forget what they told me. World can’t hold me.”
A second remix, “U.N.I.T.Y”, also found itself on her most recent release. Originally written for her former students performing in a Kwanzaa program, Ayanna’s goal with this song was to pull on the highest form of energy found in youth–hope. With it being such a hit among youth, whom she has an affinity for, the song ended up on her acclaimed children’s album, I Dream of a World. With her recent release’s title track, “Mama This One’s for You”, Ayanna takes a moment to give a long overdue “thanks” to her mom. With accentuating, head bopping trumpet and drum sounds, the songstress tells the world and her “beautiful mama” that she knows how much she sacrificed while supporting her legendary husband and raising their children during the Civil Rights era and afterwards.
Her musical body of work also includes “Warrior Rise” from her first solo project Beautiful Flower. This 2006 collaboration with her famous dad provided the opportunity for the two to musically drop some knowledge and inspire today’s youth to tap into their greatness. “With all the ice and the platinum chains. I guess slavery has a new name. Willie Lynch gets to win again every time we hurt each other for material things.” Holding back no punches, the duo simultaneously address negative stereotypes, self-=worth, and the unhealthy focus on materialism while reminding youth that they have the power to reset the tone and create a new standard. Time seems to stand still as Ayanna, in pride, says “We’re talking about emotional warfare, the spiritual warfare, the biological chemical warfare…all those things that are unseen but are happening in really powerful ways. And, so it was really something to pump up young people…well, really everybody.”
Musical legends such as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Donnie Hathaway, Gladys Knight, Prince and Marvin Gaye have also influence this songstress’ makeup. Jokingly she walks about wanting to inhale Houston’s voice. “Stevie is everybody…my everything…top of the mountain.” Ayanna expands by talking about how the legend’s music played a minor role in her musical and spiritual evolution and was thankfully a critical component while growing up, as she struggled with her identity. “Stevie Wonder’s music helped usher me back into me.” Having him mentor her remains a treasured memory for her and was only topped by him joining her on stage, in Santa Monica, at the Temple Bar in 2004. “He showed up and came on stage with me…of course I thought I was going to lose my mind but I didn’t…I’m still here.”
Of her industry peers, she says Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, India Arie, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo have influenced her style. “We’re just so rich musically,” she says before adding “gospel, soul…I didn’t even grow up in the church, but when I got wind of Gospel music and just the feeling inside of it, the spirit, it’s like ‘whew!’…so like Kim Burrell…” With her incredible vocal range and desire to stretch herself, it is no surprise that she undertook the challenge of covering her old mentor’s “They Won’t Go When I Go”. Considered the most difficult she’s ever recorded, it resulted in “They Won’t Go” for her Beautiful Flower album and showcases her tackling the varying vocal layers and intricately woven harmonies. She jokingly recalls James McKinney, her long-standing co-writer and co-producer encouraging her to “pull deep” and having to “go to a place that was really, really heavy…to record that one properly.”
When asked what genre her music is, she emphatically replies, “SOUL MUSIC BABY!” She continues by saying, “I mean, that’s the just simplest way to put it. You know. It’s R&B. It’s Gospel. It’s Blues. It’s Reggae. It’s Funk. It’s Rock… It’s Soul… it’s Soul… literally and figuratively. It’s soulful music… it’s just kind of…it’s some Folk up in there, it’s some House music up in there, it’s some Go-Go in there….we just travel…and we ain’t done yet.”
Ayanna says that healing is the most recurring theme in her life. “It’s my destiny. Ironically, I found out a few years ago that my middle name, “Nkenge”, means healer. I’ve been running from it yet it still permeates.” As Ayanna Gregory runs from or to herself, she continually heals others and – or – herself. And with that, in 2003, after teaming up with Grammy nominated producer James McKinney, she released her first solo project, Beautiful Flower and in June 2007, her second project, Ballad for My Father: Tribute to Dick Gregory. Her 2011 single release NOW should be everybody’s anthem. In December 2012, she released her much anticipated children’s album I DREAM A WORLD, an upbeat and powerful album that continues to inspire young people everywhere to actualize their greatness and “Live Out Loud!”
On May 9th, the Singer/Songwriter honored Lillian Estelle Gregory, a former Civil Right’s Activist and matriarch of the Gregory legacy – her mom, with the EP release and live musical tribute at iWi Fresh Day Spa during the Castleberry Hill Art Stroll in Atlanta, Georgia and at the Eatonville Restaurant, in Washington, DC. In addition to her music, Ayanna spends much of her time as an educator and motivational speaker, teaching life skills and creative arts to school children and lecturing before diverse audiences worldwide. Her other creations include two powerful One Woman Shows, “Growing Up Gregory” and “Daughter Of The Struggle”. These performances recreate Ayanna’s beautiful and inspiring journey as the daughter of a freedom fighter. To find out more about Ayanna, visit www.ayannagregory.com.
All Photos © 2014 Heather LaShaun Photography & Free Yvette Benjamin