Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir
After singing for years in common pop and R&B bands, Linda Tillery woke up one day while watching a concert on PBS. The program of Negro spirituals shook her; she knew at once what had to be done. The Oakland vocalist quit her star-struck ambitions and began to delve into music of far more substance -- the slave-era folklore of her ancestors. Tillery founded the Cultural Heritage Choir, an a cappella quintet of kindred warrior women, to rediscover the mighty vocal traditions that rose up out of the Mississippi cotton fields, Alabama playgrounds, Georgia prayer meetings, and Texas prisons of the American past. The group's updates on inspirational African-American church songs ("Wade in the Water," "Lift Every Voice and Sing") as well as lesser-known biblical derivatives ("Job, Job," "God's Gonna Set This World on Fire") can reach way back into the old days, deep down into the soul. At times, the songs are almost frightening. Unlike their renowned sistahs-with-voices Sweet Honey in the Rock, the CHC never comes off oh-so-sober and didactic, as if proselytizing about anything other than the music itself. Of course, passing on the dynamic legacy of black culture through song is an intensely political act in itself. And once heard, you may want to open up your ears some more, and maybe even holler in kind.
-- Sam Prestianni
Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir appear with the Bobs and the House Jacks on Monday, Sept. 7, at 2 p.m. at "Vocapalooza," a benefit for Dunsmuir House and Gardens (just off I-580 at 106th Avenue in Oakland). Tickets are $5-37; call (510) 615-5555.