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Michigan musicians bring out new songs for Juneteenth

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Friday's Juneteenth observance has brought new music from three Michigan-bred acts.

Grammy Award nominee Bettye LaVette, who was born in Muskegon and lived in Detroit, has previewed her next album, "Blackbirds," with her cover of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," a 1939 single written by Abel Meeropol and Milt Gabler that protested the lynching of black Americans and has been renewed in the current cycle of violence by law enforcement officers.

"It really is horrifying that nearly 80 years later, through Billie's lifetime and now my 74 years, the meaning of this song still applies," LaVette said in a statement. "It may not be men and women hanging from trees, but these public executions are now on video and it feels like they're doing it for sport. I hope the song will be a reminder that we have had enough."

"Blackbirds," which comes out Aug. 28, is a collection of songs by other iconic black female singers, including Nina Simone, Sharon Robinson, Della Reese, Ruth Brown and others, along with the Beatles' "Blackbird."

The Albion husband-wife duo the War and Treaty, meanwhile, has released a new single, "We Are One," along with a limited edition T-shirt to benefit the American Civil Liberties Union. The group's Michael Trotter, who co-wrote the song with his Tanya Blount-Trotter, says it was inspired by inspired by the church hymns "Jesus Loves the Little Children" and "Make Us One, Lord."

"I feel in this day and age we all need to be reminded of the power of oneness and togetherness, the power of all of the people in this world coming together and uniting under one umbrella, and that umbrella is the human race," Trotter says.

The War and Treaty -- now based in Nashville and working on its next album -- has also released a video for "We Are One," while the T-shirt can be ordered via stores./portmerch.com/thewarandtreaty/.

And in Ferndale, Nadir Omowale has released "Run," a song he says is "about stamina and perseverance...metaphorically a symbolic story of daily struggle for every black person on the planet. From the slave catcher's hounds, from the Klansman's noose, from oppression, from discrimination, from the police, we are constantly running. And failure isn't an option; 'If I let them catch me, I'm as good as dead'."

"Run" is available via Bandcamp, which through 3 a.m. Saturday, June 20 is donating its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Also out Friday was a previously unheard solo rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Never Gonna Break My Pride," originally recorded with Mary J. Blige for the 2006 film "Bobby." The song won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Song in 2007. (See separate story.)

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