How Does It Feel?

anthem as wish; wish as anthem.

Billy Taylor.

“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas.

Most famously performed by Nina Simone.

I love the finger snaps.

I love how the song, like the best kind of spirituals and also the best kind of blues, registers the aspiration to be free, the coming up short for reasons external that maybe also feel internal & then the music soars, maybe achieving the freedom.

How does it feel…?

Here’s a 1976 live version from Nina Simone. Such a moving pianist and singer.

An international version, from Spain.

I’ve also come across other versions by Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, Illinois Jacquet, Mary Travers (Peter, Paul, and Mary), John Denver (!), Levon Helm (of The Band), and John Fahey, just too name a few.

It would be wrong not to post the original version by Billy Taylor himself, along with his trio. Totally amazing from the start.

Another version by the Billy Taylor Trio from a few years later.

And one from much later in his career. Oooh, listen to how he pulls new chord inversions and voicing out of the song. Yes! That song has a lot to say.

What does it mean to wish, to yearn, to trace the difference between what should be and what is, what hasn’t been and what might become? To transmute desire into reality, if even just for a song, and maybe echoing after, for longer. How to get there? I wish I knew.

Well we do know some aspects, at the structural level at least: redressing past wrongs, using wealth better for the social good. Those are starting points that we haven’t even gotten to yet. But what other alchemies for transforming yearned feeling into real feeling? How does it feel to be free? The song offers one potent starting point.

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