Known as “America’s Songbird,” Myrna Clayton has performed all over the world, but she’s bringing her sound back to her hometown for a special show at City Winery at Ponce City Market on July 24.
Clayton grew up in a family that sang in church. Her father also played the trumpet and Clayton remembers hearing him in his office, door closed, “wailing to heaven” on his horn. Her dad introduced her to jazz, to Miles Davis and Duke Ellington and to popular music, Marvin Gaye and Minnie Ripperton and to Clayton’s favorite siren of song, Nancy Wilson. Big bands were also part of her father’s musical interests and Clayton loves performing with them, “all those instruments behind me tickle my ears and allow me to bounce with delight.”
Her sobriquet Songbird came from a publicist, but fit like a glove. Clayton claims a special affinity to Tweety Bird and to the the bird in Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow.” She also identifies with the bird in Maya Angelou’s novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” For many years she was the sole caregiver for her mother and could not follow her dream to perform internationally. With the support of her brother she was able to move to Washington, DC and explore the music scene. Her contacts led her to a special program where the US State Department sends American musicians to perform in foreign countries as cultural ambassadors.
Her first international gig was Nigeria which she says was a spiritual experience for her where she experienced a deep sense of unity. She was so moved by her journey there she brought a small vial of soil home. Her next experience was in Russia’s Siberia, in Novosibirsk. She says her audience was initially quite stern participating in the concert only with rhythmic clapping. By the time she was through they were all dancing with each other. Her latest foreign adventure was in Namibia, in Southwest Africa, where again she felt right at home.
Clayton’s international experiences moved her to begin a concert series in Atlanta on the fourth Friday of every month called INTERNATIONAL Sound Series. So far she has featured musicians from Turkey, Emrah Kotan, Brazil, Sander Pinheiro, Choca Costa and Fernanda Noronha, and Japanese jazz whiz Madoca. Her next guest is Nigerian pianist and composer Dapo Dina who will perform July 26th.
Clayton says her City Winery show will feature songs from popular female singers including Anita Baker, Nina Simone, Minnie Ripperton, Jill Scott, Roberta Flack, Beyonce, Chaka Khan and of course, Nancy Wilson. She will be joined by Marcus Williams on drums, Jody Mayfield on keys, Joel Powell on bass and Gary Harris on sax.