Music and memory are undeniably linked. In fact, the non-profit organization aptly named Music and Memory helps to develop music programs and provide resources for those with cognitive impairments to listen to the music of their time to unlock their pasts and rediscover themselves.
In SISTAS: THE MUSICAL, five sisters gather to clean out the attic of their childhood home after the death of their mother. As they rummage through the boxes, their nostalgia for their personal history sweeps in. Writer Dorothy Marcic weaves in popular music from Ma Rainey to Billie Holiday to Mary J. Blige and Beyoncé to tell the story of this family and the evolution of African-American women. The show, now in its seventh year at Off-Broadway’s St. Luke’s Theatre, is the longest-running African-American musical in New York. The production opened October 23, 2011, in a production directed by Kenneth Ferrone and choreographed by Lauren Lim-Jackson, with lighting design by Kia Rogers, sound design by Carl Casella, and costume design by Tricia Barsamian.
In honor of Black History Month, we asked the cast of SISTAS to choose the song from the show that rings true to their personal history and why that track has earned its place in this musical trip down memory lane.
TYLA COLLIER, Tamika
Joined the show: August 5, 2017
“One of the most important moments in the show for Tamika is when she sings Whitney Houston’s ‘I Have Nothing.’ Up to this point, we see her as funny, spunky and resilient—but this moment marks a shift in her. Her walls are momentarily broken down, and she is courageously vulnerable. As the actor playing Tamika, I also feel completely exposed in this moment. As people, we are so conditioned to believe that strength means being ‘tough.’ I think we often forget that there is strength in vulnerability. When I sing this song, I am reminded of the strength, courage and willingness it takes to be vulnerable. When I begin the first verse and hear sounds of recognition from the audience, I feel incredibly honored to sing this iconic song each week.”
ANEESA FOLDS, Gloria
Joined the show: August 5, 2017
“‘You Gotta Be‘ by Des’ree. My earliest memory of this song is getting ready for school and scream-singing it around my house with my mom and my older sister. For me, there’s always been positive energy attached to this song. Every time I hear it I go back to that place, so it’s only fitting it’s one of the last songs of the show. The words in this song are so empowering. They remind the characters on stage that we have to trust in ourselves and our family in order to carry on with this loss. ‘We gotta stick together.’ We sing the lyrics ‘love will save the day’ over and over. Those are some very powerful words and often our audiences will leave the theatre singing them. In the world of today it’s so important to remember. Love can and will save the day. No matter what I’m going through in my personal life, when it gets to this part of the show I listen to myself singing these lyrics and it makes me feel so peaceful. I’m back in my childhood home with the people I love most and I can only hope the audience is on that journey with me.”
KENDRA LYNN LUCAS, Simone
Joined the show: November 11, 2017
“I grew up listening to my grandmother Hazel sing ‘Oh Happy Day’ constantly. Let’s just say she wasn’t exactly given the gift of song, so it was always entertaining. Everyone knew she loved this song. Even as a child I remember her saying, ‘I want you to sing this at my funeral.’ It was a sad time when she did pass away, but I knew immediately I needed to sing this at her services. Having an entire congregation sing along with me in honor of my grandmother was an amazing homegoing celebration for her and now having this song as part of SISTAS is such a beautiful reminder of the time spent with my grandmother and the life lessons she taught me that I hold close to my heart.”
HALEY SWINDAL, Heather
Joined the show: November 12, 2016
“I’m so grateful to Dorothy Marcic for writing Heather into the show and to my castmates for giving me the incredible honor of working with them every night. I feel there is so much I have learned and my perspective and understanding has grown so much by being a part of this show. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but one of my most favorites is when everyone comes together at the end to sing ‘We Are Family’ at Grandma Alice's memorial. Despite the fact that we all have different perspectives and journeys, we come together because at the end of the day we truly love each other. We sing as a unit to honor the matriarch of our family by singing about being together. It's a beautiful moment, really, we are this family because of Grandma Alice and the other incredible people in the family that came before us. I spend a lot of the show trying to understand the journeys of my sisters-in-law and trying to get Roberta to see me as a part of the family. By the end, we are all bonded together in this moment and it is really beautiful.”
NESHA WARD, Roberta
Joined the show: November 15, 2014
“There are so many places that I love to go with Roberta in this show. One of my favorite song moments is when the group sings ‘Just Fine’ by Mary J Blige. That song is about taking back your strength and identity and is a mantra I say to myself every day. The ladies start by singing to Roberta after the intense journey she has gone through during that day. They are telling her, as she is telling herself, that it will all be Just Fine. It’s the blur moment I take for myself along with my character ’cause one can never have too many people giving you that advice.”