African-American entertainment icons, including Janelle Monae and Kelly Rowland, delivered an impassioned recital of Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise," during the YouTube special "Dear Class of 2020," Sunday, June 7.
In an empowering moment, the performance started with the late Maya Angelou reciting the first stanza from one of her live performances. "You may write me down in history/ With your bitter, twisted lies./ You may trod me in the very dirt/ But still, like dust, I'll rise," the writer said, with the confidence that is a signature for the civil rights icon.
The video then shifted to harpist Madison Calley and dancer Naya Lovell. "Black-ish" star and Pattern Beauty owner Tracee Ellis Ross continued. "Does my sassiness upset you?/ Why are you beset with gloom?" Ross declared.
Kelly Rowland picked up from where Ross left, "' Cause I walk like I've got oil wells/ Pumping in my living room." Other famous women joined in the poem, taking turns reciting. Janelle Monae appeared in a white cap and white shirt, sporting a black and white necktie.
"You may kill me with your hatefulness/ But still, like air, I'll rise," Monae recited.
Also sharing in the performance is the showrunner Shonda Rhimes. She is best-known for the medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," and the legal thriller "How To Get Away With Murder."
Ross' "Black-ish" co-star Yara Shahidi also delivered verses from the Maya Angelou poem. Ballet dancer Misty Copeland also performed as the actors recited parts of the poem.
YouTube's Dear "Class of 2020"
The two-minute performance was a part of YouTube Originals' "Dear Class of 2020." YouTube's virtual ceremony was dedicated to this year's graduating class. The Covid-19 pandemic forced schools to postpone graduation ceremonies.
"Dear Class of 2020" opened with a flute performance from Lizzo. The New York Philharmonic later joined the "Truth Hurts" singer. Together they performed Elgar's "Circumstance and Pomp," also known as the "Graduation March." Barack and Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga gave commencement speeches to the graduating batch.
Maya Angelou and "Still I Rise"
Maya Angelou is a writer, musician, and activist. She wrote a series of seven autobiographies, often dealing with racism. Angelou worked with civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Her first published work was 1969's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Here Angelou recounted her early life up until she was 17. It was considered her breakthrough work, earning her global acclaim as a writer. The coming-of-age story describes Angelou's love for literature. It also illustrates her struggles against racism and trauma.
Maya Angelou also recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" during the first inauguration of US President Bill Clinton in 1993.
"Still I Rise" is the title poem in Maya Angelou's third poetry compilation. The volume was published in 1978. It was a product of Angelou's productive period in her career. Aside from "And Still I Rise" the compilation, she also wrote three autobiographies and two other poetry volumes in the same year.
"Still I Rise" earned fame when it was used in a campaign for the "United Negro College Fund." The philantrophic arm funds scholarships for black students. Its scholarship grants cover 37 historically black schools including Tuskegee University and Wilberforce University.
Watch the latest recital of "Still I Rise" below: