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    Vocal Activist Melanie DeMore Uses Her Voice as a Weapon of Mass Connection

    Melanie DeMore, featured in this year’s Christmas Revels production La Sirène, goes about as deeply as a singer and musician can, touching others in ways so heartfelt that they remain transformed by the experience. The powerful response mirrors the love and care DeMore pours into her art, which includes being a charter member of The Threshold Choir that brings songs of comfort to those who are in the midst of life’s thresholds, including under hospice care and in their final moments. The singing is offered as a gentle blessing, and not as entertainment.

    This quote from the late great Maya Angelou comes to mind when thinking about DeMore: “There is something more—the spirit, or the soul. I think that quality encourages our courtesy and our minds. And mercy, identity.”

    The aptly named DeMore indeed offers more than the surface level connection many of us have with many commercial artists. As a choral conductor, music director, and educator, she over the years has mentored numerous artists of all ages. She facilitates vocal and stick pounding workshops for professional choirs and community groups. Stick pounding, with origins in Africa and among those who were enslaved in South Carolina’s Sea Islands, became a sonic language during times of great oppression and need. Its relevance has not diminished.

    While recently teaching stick pounding to Christmas Revels cast members, DeMore frequently stopped to allow individuals who were not quite into the groove to better participate and enjoy the moment. She told the San Francisco Bay Times: “One woman came up to me in tears, telling me it was the first time that she had ever truly felt like she belonged. She said that she did not have a close family or community before joining the Revels, and that the stick pounding cracked something open in her that had been missing for her entire life.”

    DeMore added that “sinking into the rhythm and connecting with others is part of the African American tradition that goes back to at least Harriet Tubman; you never leave anyone behind. We will carry you.”

    This could be one of many of what her students have called “Miss DeMore-isms,” or memorable words of wisdom imparted by this exceptional artist.

    She continued, “It is our human nature to want to be connected. So much of our society is based on rugged individualism, but we are all basically tribal. It is in our nature to nurture.”

    We are proud that DeMore is part of our own local LGBTQ tribe, being an out lesbian for as long as we can remember and radiating powerful, unapologetic butch energy with her essence, deep in all respects voice, and always stylish eye-catching suits. Born in the Bronx, DeMore was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, before her family moved to San Antonio, Texas. After finishing school, she moved to New Mexico, where she “kinda got off on being the only Black folk singer in Taos.”

    DeMore then moved to Oakland, where she has been based ever since. Here she met legendary fellow artist Linda Tillery, and with her became a founding member of the Grammy nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir. Since then, she has forged her own unique path as an artist, performing solo; in residency with choirs all over the U.S.; serving as a teaching artist at the University of California, Berkeley; forming an a cappella choir of sixth-graders in the Oakland school district; working with preschoolers to high schoolers, and (yes, here’s that word again) more!

    Just a few days before Thanksgiving this year, she was informed of her third Grammy Award nomination. It is for the groundbreaking ensemble children’s album All One Tribe, highlighting the work of Black composers and performers. Her primary contribution to the album is “We All Live,” which she wrote based on the words of the late civil rights leader John Lewis. We are grateful that this along with her other work continues to gain well-deserved recognition.

    While DeMore’s fame grows, her mission remains unchanged. As mentioned at her website, she will “make sure you unlock the key to experiencing yourself in all your Glory and return home with the very same excitement and passion for living that she herself has. When she comes your way, her energy will charge the very air you breathe like a meteor shower, so get ready to rise up!”

    Even the pandemic failed to slow DeMore down. As she said, “During the pandemic I’ve been singing on Zoom and I’ve been the guest minister for everyone from Baptists to Buddhists.”

    Now, in the Christmas Revels, she plays the Tradition Bearer, a woman from a South Seas island who has written songs in the tradition of the locals. (DeMore actually did write new material for the production.) The character Joseph Johnson, based on a historical figure, meets her during his travels.

    We encourage you to connect with this vibrant spirit on your own travels by attending La Sirène: The 36th Annual Christmas Revels. For more information: https://www.californiarevels.org/the-show.html

    Melanie DeMore’s website is at http://www.melaniedemore.com/

    And we will leave you with one final Miss DeMore-ism that holds especially true when considering her music and during this still very challenging pandemic time: “A song can hold you up when there seems to be no ground beneath you.”

    Published on December 2, 2021