BLACK HISTORY MONTH – Chic Streetman’s ‘Syncopation’ uplifting blues

Heidi Stenquist

Heidi Stenquist
City Times

The World Cultures program presented musical ambassador for peace and human rights Chic Streetman in the Saville Theatre on Feb. 13 in recognition of Black History Month and Valentine’s Day.

English professor and co-director of World Cultures, Elizabeth Meehan, says “students often forget the world is larger than their immediate lives.” She introduced Streetman as “a great man who helps people who need to heal.” I sat back, anticipating that much needed healing.

Taking a seat at center stage with two mics, a monitor and music stand, this tall, glowing man sits down with a big grin and asks the audience to warm up our voices and clap our hands; in an exercise he calls “syncopation.” He then says, “How many of you know that you’re beautiful, and I’m talking about the inner beauty?”

He has us turn to our neighbors and tell them their beautiful, he asks us to hold hands and raise our arms in self proclamation. Each song had a story, a connectivity he shares with his audience, an intimacy of meanings, a feel-good interactive therapy session of sorts for “big kiddies” and we all joined in.

Mixing blues with a folksy, old world sound, his songs were punctuated by every pluck of his guitar as he weaved stories of the lives he had touched with his musical healing.

One story was about a woman named “Gladys” who wanted to end her life. A friend told him “Streety, take your guitar along and show her there’s something to be cheerful for.” He did, though later that night she took a bottle of sleeping pills and ended up in the hospital. Chic visited in the hospital and sang “Precious Lord” while she cried the whole time; he then sang it to us.

He said, “I was with her for one song but to her it could have been a lifetime, you never know how you’re going to impact others. Make it positive if you can.” Ironically 20 years later, Gladys’s son whom he had given a harmonica to, came to see him in Portland, Oregon, to tell him he had become a harmonica player and to thank him.

Streetman founded Chic Streetman’s School of Performing Arts, has participated in multiple benefit concerts for The United Nations Human Rights Center in Geneva and Somalia, and was a featured artist at The United Nations Award Celebration honoring indigenous care-givers. He’s written and performed “A Black History of the Blues” for the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., and composed music for the off-Broadway show “Spunk,” earning him multiple NAACP awards.

His upcoming works includes a play he’s written called “Haddie’s Ax” a tribute to his great grandmother, Haddie Beasley Smith, who inspired him as a boy with her love of the blues guitar.

If you were lucky enough to see the show, you gained something. Patrick Williamson, who attended the show and won the door prize, said that he “liked his style, and how it appealed to old and young, and loved his storytelling.”

I had to come home and look it up to know what it meant, and according to Wikipedia, “In music, syncopation is a stress on a normally unstressed beat, or a missing beat where a stressed one would normally be expected.”

In Streetman’s show, every song was a surprise, each one involved participation of some kind and was attached to a message. His message? “All people are beautiful, can you tell ’em? Tell ’em about history, tell ’em about roots, the beauty of diversity, where nobody’s better than anyone else.” He puts emphasis on positive things and sends a positive message, it was an enlightening experience.

If you would like to read more or listen online, go to chicstreetman.com. To find out about upcoming World Cultures events, go to sdcity.edu/worldcultures.