“Hold Fast to Dreams”
A Moment of Hope from the Newport Jazz Jam Sessions
February 15, 2024
In the summer of 2023, Newport Festivals Foundation announced a new mission statement: To create moments of hope through the power of music and community. Those moments of hope can occur at our Festivals or throughout the rest of the year in our communities. We recently witnessed a moment of hope that we felt compelled to share. It occurred during one of our Newport Jazz Jam Sessions, a bi-weekly event we host at The Blue Room in Cranston, where musicians of all skill levels are encouraged to come together to jam and celebrate jazz music. On this occasion, Grace Adjei Darko, a singer who had never joined us before, took the stage and blew us away. We asked her if she wouldn’t mind telling us about her experience.
What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Grace Adjei Darko. I’m from The Bronx, NY and I currently live in Newport, RI.
How did you learn about the Jam Sessions at The Blue Room?
I learned about the Jam Sessions from my friend Donnie Aikins. I know Donnie from working at Salve Regina University. I reached out to him to find a collective of jazz musicians in Rhode Island, when he let me know about the bi-monthly Jam Sessions at The Blue Room.
So were you excited to get up on stage?
I wasn’t sure, but I was leaning more towards just watching for the night. The only song I had in my head was one I had just heard for the first time some months before, I hadn’t sung for an audience in almost two years, and to top it off, he [Donnie] was the only person I knew going into the event. I didn’t know if anyone else would have known the song to play with me.
But then we heard the music, and we saw the performers. And they were amazing. And then Donnie got on stage. His excitement to play and connect was so palpable, and if I was feeling it from the audience, how could I not join my people? I signed up for two songs: Moanin’ and Lullaby of Birdland.
Tell us about the songs you picked.
Moanin’ was the song that had been stuck in my head for the past few months. A close friend of mine, who was so influential to my artistry, passed away in July 2023, just a month after his 26th birthday. He was the first person I’ve truly ever grieved, so I didn’t know what to expect from myself in this grieving process, and I didn’t know when the hard part would end. And look at the state of our world. People are dying every day. And many who are living are still suffering. I was depressed and anxious and tired all of the time.
The night of the Jam Session was two nights before my birthday, January 12, so it felt like I was celebrating my true birthday at the gathering. I had been reflecting on ‘Dreaming’ because I was working on a speech I was invited to give two weeks later. But every time I thought of dreaming and hoping, I also thought of moaning. As the song says:
Every mornin’ I am moanin’ / ‘Cause of all the trouble I see /
Life’s a losing gamble to me / Every evenin’ I am moanin’ /
Every mornin’ I am moanin’ / I’m alone and crying the blues /
I’m so tired of paying these dues / Every evenin’ I am moanin’ /
Cuz I spent plenty of days and nights alone with my grief /
And I pray, really and truly pray somebody will come and bring me relief
That’s so much emotion to carry with one performance. How did it feel singing those words?
When I got on stage, I was so nervous. But I sang those words and some more. And I grieved for everyone to see. And they heard me, and they held me, and they affirmed me. Isn’t that what grieving looks like? Isn’t that what healing looks like?
‘Hold fast to dreams’ like Langston Hughes. Dreaming is beautiful. Dreaming provides an expectation of the good we can have, but Moanin’ speaks on the dread that exists when we’re living in reality.
That’s a good parallel. Dreaming and Moanin’.
Truly, I tell you, life ain’t easy. Times are hard and dreaming don’t pay the bills. And so, we must acknowledge our reality and grieve for where we are and what we lose. And then, we must pray and let ourselves dream again. Dreaming is necessary, and so is moanin’.
What’s your takeaway from this entire experience?
Having done this Jam session, I’m in awe of myself. I forgot I could do that. What a gift it is to remember who you are. In a loving space. With beautiful people. What a Happy Birthday.
Well, from everyone here at NFF, happy belated birthday! Hope to hear you at the next Jam Session.
Thank you, Newport Festivals Foundation.
Grace on stage at the Jazz Jam performing Moanin’ and Lullaby of Birdland.
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