spoken word

Jazmine Steele 9-18-2017

Waltrina Middleton in front of Howard University's Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel in Washington, D.C.

WALTRINA MIDDLETON'S VOICE lifts you to the highest highs with bellows of crisp spoken word. Seamlessly, her croons can plunge you down the rhythm of any blues-laced freedom song. Your heart is gripped with deep, rolling riffs of truth spoken.

Harnessing the power of pain is just one of her many spiritual gifts. Middleton is an ordained minister, activist, and artist with roots in the Gullah Geechee community in South Carolina. A self-professed country girl, she grew up in Hollywood, S.C., on the coastal Gullah Sea Island of Yonges, about 30 minutes outside of Charleston.

“It was beautiful—a swampland with dirt roads, farm, and fields,” she told Sojourners. “I made my grandparents’ hogs my pets before I realized they were actually dinner.”

It’s been a winding road on the path to self-discovery for Middleton, but she says music was there from the very beginning. “Music was central to our family,” she said. “It was an intergenerational medium that brought us together, but also rooted us in our faith.”

Her grandparents had 16 children, and all of them could sing or play an instrument. The family put together a group called the Middleton Gospel Singers that toured the local church community. “Part of the country circuit is to have some kind of gospel group,” she said. “The women in my family were the instrumentalists. I was always with my family when we would be in church all day going to these programs. The whole point was to worship God. It was just something that you did.”

Even when there wasn’t a church function or performance, Middleton says music was a part of her everyday life. “We had this big ol’ barn, and we would be in the barn sitting, rehearsing, and practicing,” she said. “Sometimes there would be a fire; sometimes people would just come, listen, and talk. While they were rehearsing, we would sit out there and eat crab.”

At these family gatherings, her artistic flair began to take shape. She admired her older cousins and says they heavily influenced her style. “They had this depth to them that I couldn’t describe,” she said. “It was very low and lamenting. I found myself trying to imitate their style. It also taught me that worship could also be lamenting.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 7-25-2017

“ONCE UPON A TIME ...” We like that. Four words signal to our colonized brains: “It’s story time!” We’re gonna go on an adventure! We’re gonna meet mice and pumpkins and fairy godmothers and wicked stepmothers and oppressed blonde women wearing baby-blue peasant wear and neat white aprons. And we’re gonna fall in loooooove. Ahhhh ...

July 2003. Rolling across the northern South, I follow a story, from tourist trap to tourist trap along the Cherokee Trail of Tears. “Watch the metanarrative,” says Randy Woodley, our guide on the journey. What do the museums, the plays, the tourist shops want Americans to believe about themselves? “God guided us West.” “It was destiny.” “Those featherheaded people became our friends.” Or: “They were dead before we got here.” Or: “They just left. Sure, they were ‘removed,’ but we had a hoedown for the ones who hid in the hills and stayed.”

The Editors 6-13-2014

Daneil Beaty performs “Knock Knock,” a powerful poem that tells the story of his father’s incarceration.

Matthew Santoro 1-11-2012
Jeff Bethke

Spoken Word poet Jeff Bethke, via Twitter @JeffuhsonBethke.

Are you a Christian who spends a lot of time online? Then perhaps you've heard of Jeff Bethke. Bethke, aka bball1989, is a spoken word poet whose rhymes and videos are capturing the attention of thousands of Christians across the web.

His latest video is going viral among online Christian communities. Provocatively titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” the poem is a unique fusion of prophetic criticism, personal testimony, and a call to action.

Lisa Sharon Harper 8-18-2009
I recently wrote and performed a spoken-word poem for the Transformational Development (TD) Conference at Eastern University, co-sponsored by Eastern and Food for the Hungry.

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