American Soulbook: Melinda Doolittle Concert 2016

Have you ever gotten choked on something, and you coughed . . and you coughed . . and you coughed until the only thing in the world was your blocked airway?
No sight, no sound, no texture, only the need to breathe.
Now think about the first lungful of fresh air, the way it felt when it went easily, all the way down to your lungs.
The relief, the restart, the renewal of life.
That is my experience with Melinda Doolittle’s “American Soulbook” concert from last night.

For a year, I have been choked, on grief for the loss of my best friend, on worry for this country, on epilepsy, on depression, on sleep disorder, on stress, you name it.
I was so choked, thatI was near blacking out.
Without realizing it, I forgot what it was like to breathe at all, so much so that I stopped fighting for air.
My writing muse flew away. Story ideas dried up like an east Texas riverbed in August. My words changed. Instead of, “I feel good,” I said, “I don’t feel as bad as I did yesterday.”
And I thought that was living.
I forgot!
I forgot what it was like to be the person I’ve been for forty years. I forgot what it was like to enjoy, to feel, to laugh, to love, to hope, to live!
I was so excited for my Mom to finally hear Melinda sing, but I was just hoping to manage a smile for Melinda. I knew the magic wouldn’t be there for me. All the light was gone from the world, all the beauty erased by too much negativity, and bitterness in world events, and no matter how incredible, one voice couldn’t hope to combat all the angst and hate of 2016. For me personally, my unsinkable ship of optimism was looking more and more like the Titanic, as health problem after health problem pulled me down.
It was going to break my heart, to listen to her sing, and realize that the last place where magic and beauty might be left in this world, would be empty of it. But you do things for those you love, and so I would go, and I would smile. I just prayed I could bluff good enough for her, so she wouldn’t feel bad and think it was her fault if I couldn’t love the concert.
Melinda is very much in tune with, and responsive to, her audience, doubly so if she has met you in person. It really will disappoint her if she thinks you aren’t enjoying the show. I wanted to warn her, it’s not you Melinda, it’s me, there is something wrong with me now, there is everything wrong with me now. Instead, I said a quick prayer that whatever was wrong with me would not have any effect on her, and off I went.
And then began the music.
The band grooved on the opening bass line of a Stevie wonder song . Those notes and rhythms beckoned me, but it was like hearing sounds from the depths of sleep, where you have no concept of what it is to be awake. Something was calling to me from that music, something distant and sweetly remembered. I just couldn’t identify what it was. And then . . .
The first breath of air after you thought there would be no more, sweet . . powerful . . life-giving!
It was startling, like the first pain-free moment after an agonizing toothache, when you suddenly remember that there is more to the world than pain.
Had I really been foolish enough to think one voice couldn’t beat back all the bad in this world?
OH YES IT COULD, if it was the voice of Melinda, if it was a voice so full of love for the music and the people, that all else dissolved in the face of its sincerity.
Hopelessness fled, in the face of scorching vocals and a mighty groove. And then I remembered, the thing that beckoned to me was feeling! It was life!
She got the audience into it with us as her backup vocals on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going ON?”
She sang about love with “Try a Little Tenderness.”
She defined soul with “It’s a Man’s World.”
And when she reminded me that no matter the adversity, there was hope, with “A Change is Gonna Come,” I gave her a standing ovation . . . all by myself!
Well, a Melinda show isn’t a Melinda show without a backup, right? In truth, I was trying to get my Mom to stand up, in hopes that since we were in the front row, if everyone saw us standing, they would stand too.
That was my plan.
It didn’t work out that way, but Melinda appreciated it enough that she said hi to me from the stage!
I was clapping for the song, for the power of its lyrics, and certainly above all, for Melinda.
But I was also standing and clapping as a Thank You to her, because finally, after more than a year, there was something that made me want to stand up and cheer. So instead of wanting to do it, I did it! If you know me, you know that my feeling about drawing attention to myself is the same as what flies feel about flypaper.
So this was a double shock in that regard. But artists offer you a piece of their soul when they give you their art. They do so, at risk of criticism and maybe worse, apathy. Well by God, that song made me feel something! It deserved a standing ovation, so that’s what it received!
As if we needed more proof that “girl can SANG”, during “I’m a Woman,” she came down off the stage, walked around, and hugged me, while still singing! How do you sing and hug at the same time? I would fall on my face if I tried it!
There was an intermission, and when Melinda returned to the stage, my Mom told me she had changed into a beautiful blue and gold dress. Mom said it reminded her of something Egyptian, and that gave me some lovely imagery to go along with the sounds.
Now there were silky soul-stirring vocals, ballads like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,”, “Home”, and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” I could literally FEEL the music stripping away all the darkness. It was no cliché!
I floated on that sea of sound, wishing I could stay in it forever. And then she sang “Toxic,” a Postmodern Jukebox torch song that blew me away! Please do yourself a favor, and google “Toxic by Melinda Doolittle, youtube.” It will be well worth the extra step for you to hear the song.
The concert ended with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will survive,” one of my alltime Melinda favorites.
It made me want to dance!
Y’all, I dance like a blind white girl, so it would have been at least a misdemeanor for this to occur in public, but the fact that I even wanted to dance was a miracle.
After the show, Melinda came over, gave me a hug, and took pictures. She was as gracious and humble as always, and this is her most endearing quality, of many. She introduced me to her band, and I left that auditorium a different person than when I walked in.
Thank you, sweet Melinda.
With your songs, you restored me to myself.
You let me breathe, and feel, and hope, and live again.
I will never again doubt the power, or the magic, of your music.


Author: Jena

Hi there. Thanks for stopping by. I am a small-town Southern writer, book hoarder, technology enthusiast, unashamed cat lady, and huge fan of the Outlander series. I have a degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Tyler. I love nothing more than to paint pictures with words, and to make people happy, and if I can do both at the same time, all the better. Gratitude, simple joys, and optimism are the cornerstones of my life philosophy. I am totally blind, and I have non 24 sleep disorder, and temporal lobe epilepsy. These health issues make for some interesting times, but adversity has taught me wisdom I never would have learned otherwise. I hope you will enjoy my writing, and I thank you for taking the time to read it.

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