April 23, 2021

Maya Angelou, a phenomenal woman

The public has been deluged with tributes to the wonderful Maya Angelou at her passing, and that is truly fitting. I had the great good fortune to become acquainted with her at one of my steady music venues. The Ambassador East was the preferred hotel for many authors due to a suite that was decorated as a library. Angelou was a frequent visitor to Chicago, to the Ambassador East and to the Pump Room which was my musical home base for six years.

My first encounter was with her famously mellifluous voice. Maya Angelou and two other people were sitting at a table next to the music stage at the Pump Room. I heard this beautiful speaking voice and she turned to me at the piano, flashing her distinctive smile and I immediately felt the presence of someone truly impressive.

During several of her visits, I found out that she loved the song “Midnight Sun” by Johnny Mercer, Sonny Burke and Lionel Hampton. She had given a biography of Billy Strayhorn to many of her friends one Christmas. She was quite a linguist speaking French, Spanish, Italian and West African Fanti and she gave me a tutorial on how to emulate the shape of a native speaker’s mouth to really get the accent right.
She would frequently dress all in one color such as bright red, pure white, brilliant yellow, rich gray or simply black. I don’t know how tall she was, but her bearing and choice of elegant clothing gave one the sense that she was regal and marvelously tall.

I took to playing “I Could Write a Book” when she would arrive at the restaurant, with her frequently sitting near the piano. The last time I saw her, I sang “Softly, As I Leave You” as she departed in her queenly manner. Of all of the celebrities that I have encountered, Maya Angelou, poet, author, speaker, actress, singer and film director, was one of the most phenomenal of people.


  1. pamela ashima says

    To a phenomenal woman maya angelou, so sad that I don’t get 2 see my vry own role model, am going 2 miss evrytin abt u;. ADIUE maya angelou u will be remember and missed by generation 2 come…..I love u maya…….R.I.P

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