What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?
In 1976, the American Folk Life Festival lasted all summer on the mall. My mother (Bernice Johnson Reagon) produced a section called the African Diaspora. There was a church building with open sides; a front porch—Florida Ave Grill prepared the food; a winding lane, like a train of booths; and the booths had chefs cooking food, people doing hair, basket weavers, sculptors, and Flora Molton, the most amazing street singer, had a booth. I saw Black Music from all over the world: blues, jazz, folk, fife and drum, musicians and dancers from Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria, and pop-and-lock contemporary dancers. Sweet Honey In The Rock sang on the front porch. You could see this every day. It was incredible.
It let me know I was incredible. The sky was the limit. I learned the amazing ways people figured out how to live and how to craft a necessary thing—a basket, a stew, a hairstyle, a song, a dance, poetry, clothing—the things we need in our lives. My people created, in a beautiful format, the landscape of life, which made it possible for me to grow up and live. I will always be grateful to my mom and all the people who worked at the American Folk Life Festival that summer. It is a powerful thing for a kid to learn, in such a beautiful way, that the world is more than what you know. And it is a powerful thing to understand that you are a part of that world.
This is one of the most incredible responses I've ever gotten to the "life-changing art" query, and it makes me wish we invested more, as a nation, in arts and culture. Toshi's response illustrates that it would be money well spent. Tonight, she performs at the Creative Alliance with her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, a national treasure and founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Mother's Day weekend.