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Nana Camille Yarbrough ~ No Matter What

Updated on March 9, 2019

The tag line for Nana Camille Yarbrough's upcoming presentation at the world famous Schomburg Center on February 14th, 2019 in New York reads, "Celebrating Nana Camille's Journey as an Artist and Cultural Custodian". An appropriate phrase describing a lady who is the quintessential Artisan.

Nana Camille Yarbrough has done it all in the arts as a performer, singer~musician, actress on the stage, television and film. She is an acclaimed author and poet, and as a dancer who trained under the legendary Katherine Dunham. You would be hard pressed to find a medium in the arts that Nana Camille Yarbrough has not contributed to in very fervent ways.

Ms. Yarbrough is a living legend whose works have seeped into the fabric of American pop culture, as evidenced in a recent national TV commercial featuring her iconic song Take Yo' Praise released in 1975.

She is a shepherd who preserves African American culture through her artistic endeavors, telling of the struggles and celebrations about the profoundness of a people whose very journey to this country was different from any other culture of people who came here looking for a promise.

When she published her book in 1979, Cornrows, it was one of the very first books to celebrate the artistic patterns of hair braiding while revealing Africa's rich traditions passed on to young girls who would one day become the caretakers of these stories to pass down.

Every design has a name and means something in the powerful past and present richness of the Black tradition. Mama's and Great-Grammaw's gentle fingers weave the design, and their lulling voices weave the tale, as they braid their children's hair into the striking cornrow patterns of Africa. -- Google Books

Cornrows would inspire a whole generation to write books about the traditions of natural hair, and any author who has written such a book will tell you that their inspiration came from Nana Camille Yarbrough's book.

Nana has written songs for the incomparable Nina Simone, many of which were performed live by Nina in concert over many years. A recent broadcast on the BBC called, Nina Simone and Me with Laura Mvula, was broadcast on UK television recently on BBC4, siting the wonderful relationship and collaboration of Nana Camille with Nina Simone.

Nana's iconic song, 'Take Yo' Praise' has been sampled multiple times, and a music reviewer describes her LP, The Iron Pot Cooker, as "the precursor to Lauryn Hill's best-seller 'The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill'."

I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Yarbrough before her upcoming performance at the Schomburg Center in New York as she is the subject of a new documentary to chronicle her life and times.


Q&A with Nana Camille Yarbrough

I want to take this time to say that I am honored that you have allowed me to do this article on you Ms. Yarbrough. I know that our readers are going to be blessed by reading about your life, career, and your impact on the Arts and Artists, and Human-kind.

RW) You are a musician, actress, poet, activist, television producer and author. Tell us which of these passions came first for you, and when did you discover you had that gift?

NCY) My first impulse was to tell the human story. But, Dance was my gateway, the path I took to the stage.


RW) You are from Chicago, IL. What was your early life like as a child coming up? Were you an only child, or do have a large family with brothers and sisters?

NCY) I am one of eight children born to a loving mother and father on the South Side of Chicago.

RW) Who was the person who had an early influence on you, and then who would you say really influenced you going into the Arts?

NCY) The Regal Theater was the place where our great artists performed in Chicago. I watched all of them carefully but, It was Josephine Baker, her excellence and commitment to Justice that gave me the courage to train, study and step on the stage as a performer representing the People of African ancestry.

RCW) If I were to ask you to give me just one name of an artist from each professional genre you are known for, who would you say, and why? So, Who do you admire the most musically? Who in acting? What poet impacted you the most? Which Author?

NCY) Bill Withers, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Aretha, Whitney, Alicia Keys, Ethel Waters, so many. In Dance: Katherine Dunham, Dyane Harvey, The Nicholas Brothers. The poetry of the Negro Spirituals, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Zora Neal, Alice Childress.

RW) While reading about you to do this feature article, I read that you are best known for your song, "Take Yo' Praise" which was sampled on Fatboy Slim's track, "Praise You" in 1998. I understand that this was also a feature in your one-woman stage tour? What is the show's name and why do you feel this particular song has resonated so with people?


NCY) The name of my one woman show was Tales And Tunes Of An African American Griot. It was received very well and when Fat Boy Slim put rhythm to it It became an international hit. but the important last verse was left out.


RW) Your 1979 book, "Cornrows" has been called "ground-breaking" and an "instant classic". Was this your first book, and share a little about the story?

NCY) CORNROWS was my first book for children. It was ground breaking. But, more importantly, it shared the African tradition of attaching adornment to value systems by naming the braided hair for loved ones, respected ones and important events.


RW) There are many untold stories in this country about African Americans who were pioneers in various walks of life, and so I am delighted to hear that while you have touched many lives over the years through your works, that so many more will now come to know you from a new documentary being done. Can you share a little about how the documentary came about and when we can expect to see it?


NCY) I write mostly about others but, I have been asked to tell more about myself. The documentary does that.


RW) Because you create in so many different mediums in the visual, performing and recording arts, what usually comes first in the creative process; do you get a vision of something you want to share and then say, that's a poem or a book? What's the creative process like for you when deciding how to present it?

NCY) I have a poem that I will read that answers this question:

THIS IS WHAT I DO

If there is animosity in our family or community

I say or sing loving songs of satire or ridicule

As a purge

To ease family pain and sorrow

It is my place, my honor to speak, compose or borrow

A blues lament or

Even a whaling dirge.

In addition to the historical, personal and topical

I say words and sing songs of the religious, the cosmic, the philosophical to rhythms and melodies

we all know.

And, if a situation calls for a story or a song of praise and glory, with your permission

I will recall the past

and tell and sing your heroic

family story.

I am

Na-Nana Camille Yarbrough

I am a storyteller

I am a griot

I am a poet

That is what I do.

RW) We are going into our second year post the Obama administration and 8 years with our first African American president having presided over this country's affairs very successfully considering what he had inherited when he became president. First, how did Barack Obama's election into office effect you personally? Did you ever think that this could have been possible in your our lifetime? And then, what do you make of the election of our current president who seems to have a very transparent agenda of turning the clock backwards in time with his "I'm going to make America great again" rhetoric?

NCY) I always believed we would have a Black president. He did not disappoint me. Barack Obama was outstanding. But, what we have in the White House now is a danger to us and to the world.


RW) Do you think we will see another African American president sooner than later; and what of a woman president? Seems like by popular vote, Hilary Clinton won that battle.


NCY) I believe we will have another African American president and a female president. Why not???


RW) If you were giving the commencement speech to the graduating class of 2019 at any university or college in America, what would your message be to those young people?

NCY) Your power, your strong foundation is in your ancestry. It is lit. Your genes are womb woke. Respect and use them. You have it all.

THANK YOU. THIS IS ONLY THE TOP. YOU HONOR ME.


Thank you again Ms. Yarbrough for this interview. I know the readers of this article will be sure to catch the documentary about your life and career, and we will be sure to let our readers know how they can follow you on social media.

Talking about "No Matter What" at her forthcoming performance at the Schomburg on February 14th, 2019

Nana Camille Yarbrough's early days in dance where she trained under the legendary, Katherine Dunham and the Duham Technique.
Nana Camille Yarbrough's early days in dance where she trained under the legendary, Katherine Dunham and the Duham Technique.
(L-R) Voza Rivers, Nana Camille Yarbrough Marko Nobles and Imhotep Gary Byrd (holding award) with the Jeff Foxx Band in (background)
(L-R) Voza Rivers, Nana Camille Yarbrough Marko Nobles and Imhotep Gary Byrd (holding award) with the Jeff Foxx Band in (background)

At age 85, Nana Camille Yarbrough Still Performs and Gives, No Matter What

*Legendary New York radio broadcaster/poet/songwriter/recording artist (“The Crown“) Imhotep Gary Byrd and author/performing artist/educator Nana Camille Yarbrough were recipients of special awards presented by the Langston Hughes Library and Cultura
*Legendary New York radio broadcaster/poet/songwriter/recording artist (“The Crown“) Imhotep Gary Byrd and author/performing artist/educator Nana Camille Yarbrough were recipients of special awards presented by the Langston Hughes Library and Cultura

P.S. 21 – Nana Camille Yarbrough / The BulLion Foundation Special Assembly

(L to R)  P.S. 21 Parent Coordinator Sharona Casterlow, Principal Joyce Coleman, trumpeter Duke Jones, Nana Camille Yarbrough, Sandra Trim-DaCosta (The BulLion Foundation) and Singer/Songwriter, Kirsten Thien
(L to R) P.S. 21 Parent Coordinator Sharona Casterlow, Principal Joyce Coleman, trumpeter Duke Jones, Nana Camille Yarbrough, Sandra Trim-DaCosta (The BulLion Foundation) and Singer/Songwriter, Kirsten Thien
Nana's first book that paved the way for many African American authors to boldly write about our natural hair and it's beauty.
Nana's first book that paved the way for many African American authors to boldly write about our natural hair and it's beauty.

"Without question, 'The Iron Pot Cooker' [Record] is a precursor to Lauryn Hill's best-seller 'The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill'."

-- Kevin Powell, Music journalist

Take Yo' Praise

Take Yo' Praise featured in a Commercial

Nadhege Ptah co-produced and co-directed the NO MATTER WHAT multi-media stage performance with and for the legendary Nana Camille Yarbrough and directed the film documentary montage that was presented at the Schomburg on February 14, 2019.  
Nadhege Ptah co-produced and co-directed the NO MATTER WHAT multi-media stage performance with and for the legendary Nana Camille Yarbrough and directed the film documentary montage that was presented at the Schomburg on February 14, 2019.  

"It has been a huge blessing to work with Nana Camille Yarborough. I learned so much by being on this project. Her journey, her challenges, her struggles that has allowed her to produce such rich songs, stories, and performances. I was fortunate to know and learned beyond what one can Google. So, her ability to allow me to tap into the personal interior of Nana will engage the audience to see beyond her titles and see her soul and the experiences that shaped her. A beautiful and sweet woman despite the challeges..no matter what she was going to do it her way and she did at 85 years old."

--Nadhege Ptah

Sandra Trim-DaCosta of The BulLion Foundation
Sandra Trim-DaCosta of The BulLion Foundation

"Nana Camille Yarbrough is a forever-blooming flower filled with a deep passion and commitment to educate our youth and society about the rich cultural heritage of African-Americans. Through her creative artistry in multiple genres - author, poet, actress, dancer, singer/songwriter, TV and radio personality, educator, social activist, performing artist, et al, Nana Camille has been able to deliver positive messages of love, healing and understanding to a global audience.

As an iconic figure, she exemplifies the power and strength of women and people of color. She is a voice for the voiceless and a wonderful role model for our youth, for whom she continues to mentor, as she strives to instill in them a sense of pride and dignity.

Even now (at 85 years young), Nana Camille Yarbrough is a trailblazer and a trendsetter, who continues to inspire us to love, respect and encourage each other to do great things, No Matter What!!"

--Sandra Trim-DaCosta

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    • profile image

      Sandy Rodgers 

      5 weeks ago

      Such an outstanding article on an amazing Lady. I am pleased to have made her acquaintance through this article. I appreciate the continued Love and Honor to the Ancestors. Nana Camille Yarbrough you are Surely a Class Act and worthy of these accolades, Blessings Nana.

      Thanks Robert for introducing me to yet another Great African American. And what better month than Black History Month.

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