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Lizz Wright On Mountain Stage

Georgia native Lizz Wright is a rising star of contemporary jazz music, but when she visited Mountain Stage in 2010, Wright took a musical turn to celebrate her gospel roots instead.

Host Larry Groce called Wright one of the greatest vocalists to ever guest on the show. By her second visit in 2010, she had more than 2,000 guests in attendance, including a cast of iconic vocalists from every branch of roots music. Flanked by bassist Nicholas D'Amato, guitarist Robin Macatangay and percussionist Brannen Temple, Wright sat down and slapped out a rhythm on her jeans on "Coming Home," from her fourth album, Fellowship.

The daughter of a preacher and church music director, Wright went on to study music in New York and Vancouver. She proved that she could still find her own way back — to the church and the altar — with a little help from her friends. "Coming Home" was co-written by her good friend and collaborator, powerhouse funky folk songwriter Toshi Reagon, who also co-produced Fellowship and co-wrote tracks on Wright's third album, The Orchard. "That first song was written by myself and my sister Toshi Reagon," Wright said. "And I am so thankful for that song and for her spirit and what a great effect she has had on my life and my career." The singer also shared "Hit the Ground," another collaboration with Reagon, this time with Jesse Harris in the loop.

The band tore into a smoking acoustic blues rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "In From The Storm." "I just wanted to salute the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. It is the 40th year of his passing and I was with his music and his poetry, studying to make a record for him," Wright said. "And then I ended up realizing I needed to make a gospel record, but that he fit right on in there — at least in my opinion."

A highlight of the set, "I Remember, I Believe" was written by soul gospel pioneer Bernice Johnson Reagon — Toshi's mother and founder of all-female a capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock. Wright notes that "I Remember, I Believe" was the song that set the timbre for her entire record.

"I don't know how my mother walked her trouble down, I don't know how my father stood his ground," Wright sang. "I don't know how my people survived slavery. I do remember, that is why I believe." Guided by light finger-picked guitar and snare brush, Wright's vocals wring out hurt, history and the steadfastness of faith.

This Mountain Stage performance was originally published Oct. 25, 2010.

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Dave Lavender
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