With all the talk of respectability politics and bonnet-bashing, both within and outside of our community, Black women all over the world are tasked with finding new and innovative ways to celebrate us. While art in general has served as a longstanding vehicle to express our regality and resilience, music often rings out as a far-reaching battle cry reflective of our collective and current mood. Singer, songwriter and flautist Melanie Charles recently added fuel to the fire of women of color everywhere with her rendition of Marlena Shaw’s 1969 song “Woman Of The Ghetto.” Charles says she chose the timely classic given its lyrical relevance and wanted to “highlight how you can come from the ghetto or from the hood, but present more than just the stereotype of the ghetto.” She explains, “Marlena Shaw was such a classy, refined, educated, well-spoken Black woman, speaking about the hood. And I think when we discuss the hood it’s sort of like a caricature of us. But actually, we’re so dynamic—we’re multifaceted. Where we’re from doesn’t define how we move in the world.”
Charles’ cover serves as the lead single from her forthcoming and aptly titled album, Y'all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women. After the Verve label approached her to create a remix album of their back catalog, she began her search for songs “that spoke to her with the intention of breathing new energy into them.” While the iconic voices of the likes of Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald initially drew her in, the pandemic and social unrest of 2020 gave new meaning and purpose to her creative process. “I was rudely reminded that Black women are and always have been undervalued, uncared for, unprotected and neglected. It was at that point that I decided to focus on songs written and or sung by the Black women who paved the way for me,” she says.
Listen to Melanie Charles’ reinvention of Marlena Shaw’s “Woman Of The Ghetto” below and watch the accompanying AnAkA-directed visual. The vivid capture stars Charles’ mother Maryse Jean-Baptiste and a vibrant cast of dynamic Black women from her community. The full Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women album is set for release on October 22nd and is available for pre-order now.