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What Awaits When We Listen

Originally published on Amani Resources website, August 22, 2012

Welcome to the Amani Resources Blog, where we offer SOUL STORIES to inspire and inform. Through storytelling we harness the power of prose and of poetry to share our personal healing journey. We hope you’ll visit often and share some stories of your own.

This story speaks of a surprise anniversary gift from my husband — a trip to the 2012 Broadway production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” — and a legacy of love spanning four generations. Enjoy. – Panya


Backstage with the cast of Porgy and Bess. Left: My husband Harule, Norm Lewis and me. Top Center: Me and Phillip Boykin. Top Right: Me and Audra McDonald. Bottom Right: Me, David Alan Grier and Harule. Bottom Center: Inside the Richard Rodgers Theater.

Soul Story: What Awaits When We Listen

By Tasneem Grace Tewogbola

Sometimes love leaps about.

Sometimes it flies all over the place, flitting from one seeking heart to the next.

Sometimes it saunters in a straight line, swaying loose-hipped from one giving heart to the next.

And sometimes love leaps high and wide, spreading sweetness all over the place.

May 26, 2012 was celebration night: five years of good loving between husband and wife. What better way to reward time well-spent than with a night on the town and two surprise tickets to a Broadway show?

What better way to honor 1,826 sunrises and sunsets than with an old-time, antiquated love story like Porgy and Bess?

It was there, seated beside her SweetMan in the Richard Rodgers Theater, when she felt the familiar: an urge to honor the Intuition within, the voice telling her to find somebody — any-willing-body — to let her visit the actors backstage.

See, the tall baritone on stage, the one called Norm Lewis, the one with the silvery beard and smiling eyes, the one playing lead, was really playing two roles: Oh, he was Porgy, for sure. But he was also playing Todd Duncan,

The original Porgy,

the opera singer chosen by Gershwin to play Porgy in 1935,

the one who protested Jim Crow and demanded that the National Theatre in D.C. integrate its audiences if they wanted to witness his artistry,

the one that led the cast to be artists, and activists.

the one who is her great-great uncle.

Left: Uncle Todd with Anne Brown, the first Porgy and Bess, 1935. Right: Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, who reprised the roles 77 years later.

See, to everyone else watching all that singing and swirling, and swishing and speeching, on stage this may have been, thee-a-tahh. But to her it signaled deeper pleasure: her husband’s romance and her family’s legacy and Spirit’s nudge to embrace the blessing of it all.

Sometimes love leaps about.

Sometimes it flies all over the place, flitting from one man’s heart to the next.

Love inspires one man to delight his wife and another to liberate his life.

So she rose from her chair and went in search of somebody — any-willing-body — to let her visit the actors backstage. Her gaze was guided toward two people standing near the theater entrance. A white man. And a black woman. One happened to be the show’s producer. Both had the authority to send her backstage to meet the folks singing the songs her Great-Great Uncle Todd sang more than1,800 times.

So she did what came naturally. Guided by Intuition. She shared the love and watched it leap.

“I am Todd Duncan’s great-great niece,” she told the producer. And then love, and legacy, and Spirit, worked its magic.

After the show, she and her SweetMan were escorted backstage into the limelight. The cast, including Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald, flipped the script. She and her husband became the stars.

“Todd Duncan’s niece?” they said. “The Todd Duncan?!”

“If he hadn’t done w hat he did, we wouldn’t be here!” they said.

Cameras clicked. Flashes popped. Smiles erupted. Laughter rang. Hands shook.

Hugs surrounded. Love flowed.

And somehow, they could all feel it: the soul of her ancestor curling his lips, popping his collar, taking a bow, lifting his chin to the music of his name being spoken. His legacy celebrated, his love remembered.

The soul of this story? The power of Intuition and the wisdom in listening; the creative notions of a good-loving man; and the endless performance of love that leaps and flits and flies… all over the place.

Uncle Todd through the years. Left: At the height of his singing career. Right: In his Washington D.C. home, where he taught voice until 1998, the year of his passing at the age of 95.




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