Sarah Jane Morris is a singer-songwriter. She has a back-catalogue of fifteen solo albums since establishing herself as a lead vocalist in the 1980s with bands such as The Republic, Happy End and The Communards. Her duet with Jimmy Sommerville on Don’t Leave Me This Way was a worldwide hit in 1986. She now lives in St Leonards, and here, writing exclusively for HIP, tells us how we can all help with her latest project.
The Sisterhood is about ten female singer-songwriters who have influenced me the most: Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Ricky Lee Jones, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush.
A whole world of music is reflected in the art of these ten women, and I have written a song to tell each singer’s story, using words and musical form to build sound pictures.
Live music has been my business ever since I was young. The pandemic took away virtually all work opportunities so The Sisterhood began as my way of filling the void. All ten of the women are indispensable to me, but these five have very personal resonances:
Nina Simone became my example and taught me how to ramp up the power of lyrics till they make the audience shudder with their truth. And she knew how to make every song she sang her own. She was a great mentor to me.
Miriam Makeba, alas, I never saw in person, though we had many musical friends in common. Eventually I would work with Hugh Masekela, who was once Miriam’s husband. The connection I feel with Miriam is profound, through recognition of her commitment to the Freedom Struggle in South Africa, in which cause my own politics were founded in the 1980s.
Janis Joplin found black music and took it on a journey no-one else had. Jerry Ragovoy, who wrote Piece of My Heart for her, once told me that I was the nearest thing to Janis that he had ever heard, which remains one of the compliments I treasure the most.
Joni Mitchell’s album Blue (1971) was part of the essential soundtrack of my youth; her wonderful collaboration with Charles Mingus (1979) demonstrated her refusal to be categorised, and the artist’s freedom to reinvent herself. And she remains unbowed.
Annie Lennox: I sang some backing vocals for the Eurythmics first album: In the Garden (1981). Over two decades later and for some years, I shared a guitarist (Tony Rémy) with Annie. Tony remains the fulcrum of my band and is my co-writer and musical co-producer in the current project. Annie’s focus on women’s rights worldwide continues as an inspirational example.
Already, the recording process is well progressed. My world-class musicians have devised the arrangements. I have supplied the vocal parts and all ten songs have found their shape. But funds have run dry. Without earnings from my normal round of concerts in the UK and abroad, I rely on the donations of generous music-lovers and social radicals everywhere. We need to commission the Soweto Gospel Choir for the African song. The keyboards, percussionists and strings have all to be paid for. Will you support my crowdfunding initiative to help bring about the full excellence of this ground-breaking project? If so, please go directly to https://gofund.me/7455de61
Note also an up-coming opportunity to hear all ten songs from The Sisterhood performed live with the band for the very first time: at Area88 Milton Keynes on Saturday 26 February: exclusive to 80 honoured guests who will pay £100 each for the privilege. Tickets remain! For all details, please visit www.sarahjanemorris.com. Alternatively – or additionally – please contribute anything you can afford in order to be an integral part of this project.
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