I interviewed Maya Angelou on January 7, 1995. She visited Cafe LA as a guest DJ. She was wearing Malian mud cloth slacks. It was an El Niño year and it was pouring buckets outside. I welcomed her to sunny Southern California. The guest mike wasn’t working, there was no engineer on duty to fix it, but I had prepared and was ready. She did correct me, however, when I pronounced her name “Angelou” with the long “u”; she preferred “Angeloh”.
Since she wore so many hats, I asked her how best to describe her. She said it would be as a writer. Given the technical problems with her microphone, we turned to her first choice as guest DJ, “Stormy Weather” by Sarah Vaughan. Maya was a friend and fan. We talked about her trip to Europe as a cast member of Porgy and Bess, her journalistic work in Cairo (she learned Arabic too). It was during the Nasser era of the 1950s, and she sang a song by the great Oum Kalsoum in praise of the Egyptian president. She sang it with perfect diction, right there in the studio!
We talked about her friendship with James Baldwin, the effects of being an African American living abroad and what she learned. Maya then read a poem she wrote for James Baldwin.
She had a commanding voice as she read it. She then picked duet song of Hank Williams, Jr. and Ray Charles. Her love of music was obvious. She even recorded an album of calypso classics back in the 1950s. She then featured the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in a Chopin scherzo. It reminded her of children playing, having fun on a Sunday afternoon. Maya then featured a buoyant, joyous Steve Wonder track.
We lost both the Ellington jazz crooner Herb Jeffries and now Maya Angelou. I have my aircheck cassettes out on my desk and will now proceed to transfer them onto CD for future posts. As I listen again to this aircheck from almost 20 years ago, I am happy we hit it off. My having been a comparative literature major in college and a music fanatic sometimes pays off.