Have you ever been assaulted by greatness or arrested by talent? In a city where greatness is everywhere you look, one must use superlatives sparingly, lest one robs them completely of any meaning. But everywhere you look, excellence abounds, often hidden behind unassuming exteriors. It may be a homeless person versed on every subject imaginable, or a man so eccentric-looking he literally stops traffic but has a Ph.D in music composition from Columbia University.
Perhaps you have spent summers on park benches with Dave, a gentle, kind and humble man who, you learn only on his deathbed, has two doctorates in pharmacology. We chat often with a physicist who regularly spends evenings on a park bench, as does park architect George Vellonakis. I once found myself staring in awe at a man who not only played guitar well but learned to play a lap steel on his first encounter, only to learn that the man was Will Galison - a well-known musician who has a Wikipedia entry and has played with greats such as Barbra Streisand.
These encounters have inspired me to write series of stories with themes such as Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here, Only in New York, and Meetings With Remarkable Men.
Last weekend, an unknown woman dropped by Washington Square Park very late on a quiet Sunday night. I met her eating a salad, sitting elegantly on the granite benches with her agent, Lisa Williams. I had seen her sing the previous Friday and was enthusiastic about speaking to her personally.
I introduced her to Scott Samuels, the reigning guitar wizard of Washington Square. There was a feeding frenzy within moments as virtually everyone in hearing radius scurried to see what the winds of good fortune had blown in. In an extraordinary coup d'etat, park regulars were treated to a number of classics, sung by Mzuri Moyo and accompanied by Scotty:
We love beatitudes and platitudes, simplifying life's complexity - sayings such as you can't have it all. For those who believe such a myth, meet Mzuri Moyo, a woman who has talent, charm and great looks. Her sincere delivery was transparent to all, and every song was met with cheers and whistling.
Lorraine Theresa Pope was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and was a graduate of Eastside High School, known for its transformation in the mid-1980s under the leadership of principal Joe Clark (the school and Clark were the subject of the 1989 film Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman). Mzuri is a Registered Nurse, a field she worked in for 6 years.
Mzuri speaks of her family:
I have 2 brothers. I am the oldest. My oldest brother is very musical he writes and sings. He wrote one of the songs on my Christmas CD, I'll Be Home For Christmas. The title of the song is Maybe We'll Find Christmas Love. My father was a painter and he loved music. He was a distant cousin to James Brown. My mother had a beautiful voice - she sang in the church choir.
The greatest influence on my life is having lived in Europe, traveling to Africa and Asia, and meeting all kinds of people. That is why I relate to everyone when I'm singing I feel them and I feel as though they are a part of me.
Her goals and aspirations:
My goal is to keep music and my artistic ability honest and to make a great living at it. I also would like to bring peace and love into the world with the music I sing. I love yoga. I am a vegetarian. I love languages - I speak a little French and Spanish.
From her website:
A writer since childhood, Mzuri has performed in a variety of venues including colleges and universities. Her recent concert debut at Lincoln Center was widely acclaimed. In 2002, Mzuri won the Audelco Award for Best solo performance. A star of both stage and film, a critic once wrote of her, "when Ms. Mzuri sings, God smiles, and angels flap their wings."
In this one-woman show, Mzuri presents... Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, up close and personal. This presentation in word and song, captures a little known but very important moment in history and lays it at your feet.
Make no assumptions. Investigate closely. Don't move through the New York City streets so quickly that you miss an opportunity to be arrested by talent when someone like Mzuri sings :)
See Mzuri's website and additional performances here and here.