by Diamond La’Tia
Singer/Songwriter Ayanna Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory, is also an educator and human rights activist who has set the bar really high for tackling social issues – she’s our modern day freedom fighter. With her dad, Dick Gregory being one of the most influential people of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, Ayanna followed in his footsteps through the use of her music decades after that era ended. With an upbringing that forced Ayanna to critically examine social issues, her use of music is a vehicle to empower the world’s human occupants. It is her hope to change the destructive vibration that she believes can and should be positively altered. One of ten children, Ayanna was born in 1971 to parents intent on playing a major role in not only the changing of oppressive laws but also the hearts and minds of the people whose mindset seemed to remain the same.
“I grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts which was mainly all-white. I can remember things pretty much being the same.”
During this time, Ayanna recalls traveling around the country with her father while he still continued to fight for human rights. With racism still rampant around the across the country, Ayanna knew something needed to be done about these injustices and set on a journey to do so.
“I remember as we traveled the country, my father was arrested a lot. As a little girl, I was still afraid at the thought that my father would be put in jail, but I knew he’d be ok.”
Ayanna tapped into her vocal talent in 1999 and has since released five albums. Her debut album, Beautiful Flower, was released in 2003 followed up four years later by her second, Ballad for My Father: Tribute to Dick Gregory. Continually fueled by her desire to encourage greatness, in 2011, Ayanna released Now which is a powerful healing anthem for fans of her music. To the delight of her fans, the modern day freedom fighter released her much anticipated children’s album titled, I Dream a World in January 2013. This album was her way of motivating the young to be empowered and encouraged. A year later, she released the Mama This One’s for You which included two remixes of her previous songs – “Now” and “U.N.I.T.Y”. You can listen to the lead single, “Mama This One’s for You” by clicking here.
In the last few years, Ayanna has become more publicly vocal her mother, Lillian’s quieter yet instrumental role fighting the inequalities in America during the Civil Rights era. According to her album, Mama This One’s for You‘s notes on CD Baby, “Mrs. Gregory has been a quiet but powerful freedom fighter. From the early 1960’s throughout the 1980’s, she was jailed dozens of times in solidarity with various movements, including the fight against racial inequality in America and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In 1969, she risked her life internationally to help expose coveted footage from the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. Most recently, Mrs. Gregory was seen this past March on TVONE’s Unsung Hollywood, the first TV interview that she’s ever granted.”
During our interview, the Singer/Songwriter recalls the story of how when she was about twelve years old, finding an old JET magazine in the house with her mother on the cover. Shock and astonished, she realized her mother was fighting for the same rights but very low-key about it.
“I had no idea. My mother kept that secret from us for so long. My mother had been arrested as well.”
Ayanna always looked up to her mother as a very strong woman and this discovery made her respect her even more. To publicly express her “thanks” to her mother’s enduring strength, she wrote and dedicated an album titled Mama This One’s for You a 3-track EP released on May 6, 2014. Through the album’s lead single, Ayanna expresses her gratitude of her mother’s sacrifice for their family and world as well as her hope of someday being as strong as her.
As a self-proclaimed modern day activist, Ayanna seems determined to continue seeking ways to tap into the mindset of society and with her powerful vocals, it seems as if it will continue to be through music. And, as such, many songs in her body of work tap into their mindset. Her 2003 album, Beautiful Flower, includes tracks such as “Warriors Rise” which features her father. In an effort to make sure that her music effectively taps into their mindset, Ayanna often ask youth how today’s mainstream music makes them feel. According to her, their responses aren’t at all positive.
“You have eight and nine year-olds saying the music makes me want to kick my sister. It’s crazy.”
A product of the 1970s, Ayanna cites Donny Hathaway, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Prince, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Marvin Gaye as musical influences. With such creative influences guiding the songstress, it is no leap to see why she also expresses herself through her various creative natural hairstyles. She is essentially a walking motivational and empowering billboard.
The young girl who feared for her parents is now standing firmly in her belief to set strong values and release positive energy. She also regularly travels around the world with her dad collaborating on projects. Recently, she has been spiritually moved to create a Musical Tour focusing on sacred spaces and is hopeful to connect with churches, temples, and other places of worship that may be interested in bringing her to do a healing musical offering.
To learn more about Ayanna Gregory, her music, accomplishments, and upcoming events, please visit her website at www.ayannagregory.com