Jazz chanteuse René Marie working on song to honor the Emanuel Nine

Change is a'coming

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The always sultry René Marie
  • The always sultry René Marie


Spoleto Festival USA likes to play favorites, especially when it comes to its musical performers. And we mean that in a good way. 

The noted Lowcountry arts fest routinely asks some performers to return to Spoleto again and again. In recent years  the bedazzled drag singer/ukulele player/spoken worder Taylor Mac has played the festival a few times, as have the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Punch Brothers, and Dianne Reeves.

Enter sultry jazz chanteuse René Marie.

Marie has performed at Spoleto a whopping three times already, with a fourth scheduled for Sun. May 29. While our reviewers have repeatedly shouted her praises — her last Eartha Kitt-centered performance was wickedly good — this year's show is a must-attend for another reason entirely: Marie will unveil a song honoring the Emanuel Nine, "Be the Change."

Like so many of us, Marie was moved by the tragedy, and she responded in the way she knew how, by writing. "I started working on it last year after shooting," she says.

Almost immediately, Marie realized the song in her head wasn't an exact match for her traditional jazz trio. "As I was working on it, I heard instruments that weren't in my trio," she says. Those instruments were horns. It was then that she decided to go with it.

As fate would have it, Spoleto jazz programmer Michael Grofsorean dropped her a line and asked her if she was interested in writing a song commemorating the lives lost. "I just thought, wow," Marie says. "It's quite an honor."

Although she has the core melody, "Be the Change" is still very much a work in progress. She's not only writing for horns for the first time, she's attempting to incorporate some Thai-inspired chants. She also hopes to add a little bit of Gullah flavor, courtesy of Charleston's own Quentin Baxter, the drummer for Marie's trio.

Lyrically, the new composition is something of a rallying cry. "It's about doing more than just talking about change," Marie says. "I don't think it's going to eliminate violence, but I think we underestimate how much power we have."

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