'Our Native Daughters' Project Gives Voice to Black Women in American History

From left, Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah. Photo by Terri Fensel.

Sometimes there’s nothing more cutting edge than looking back, bringing voices from the past into into today’s conversation in hopes of a better tomorrow.

That’s the idea behind Song of Our Native Daughters, a new project from Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah coming out in February on Smithsonian Folkways, as part of their African American Legacy Recordings series. The album’s 13 songs delve into the stories of black women throughout American history.

Giddens got the idea for the project as she read historical accounts of slavery in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Many of the songs pull from such records, but they’re also informed by each musician’s own family history.

For example, Russell, half of the duo Birds of Chicago, wrote the track “Quasheba, Quasheba” about an ancestor who was sold into slavery off the coast of Ghana. Lyrics include: “Raped and beaten / Every baby taken / Starved and sold and sold again / But ain’t you a woman / Of love deservin’ / Ain’t it somethin’ you survived.” 

Giddens says in a press release: “Gathering a group of fellow black female artists who had and have a lot to say, made it both highly collaborative and deeply personal to me. It felt like there were things we had been waiting to say our whole lives in our art; and to be able to say them in the presence of our sisters-in-song was sweet, indeed. I see this album as a part of a larger movement to reclaim the black female history of this country.”

You can watch a video of Giddens, McCalla, Russell, Kiah, and producer Dirk Powell discussing “Mama’s Cryin Long,” a track from Songs of Our Native Daughters, at NPR. Look for more coverage of this project from No Depression in the coming weeks.

This sounds like an interesting project but I would think Native Americans might cringe at the title. 

For example: