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The Hip Hop Foremother – CAMILLE YARBROUGH

20 January 2004 No Comment

Poetess, soul-singer,” and highly respected performance artist Camille Yarbrough recently recorded and released Ancestor House, her new EP, marking her first commercial release in nearly 30 years. Recorded live at the famed Joe’s Pub (in New York City) and at the Sonic Arts Center (of City College/CUNY), the project is Yarbrough’s follow up to her critically acclaimed album The Iron Pot Cooker (which debuted in 1975 on Vanguard Records). As with the first, the new album has received high praise. Most fans of the new work have compared it favorably to the style and feelings of Nina Simone (who, before her passing, recorded and performed some of Yarbrough’s songs), Gil Scott-Heron, Al Green, and Olu Dara. One admirer called it the “masterful end product of a true griot at work.

The EP consists of 5 full-length songs and its musicians are some of the best session musicians working today. Trevor P. Allen (bass), Sharief (guitarist), Michael Wimberly (drums), James H. Simmons (congas), Martin Yarbrough (bells), William “Spaceman” Patterson (guitar) all make up the Ancestor House band, under the direction of Michael Mustafa Ulmer (also on keys). Two of the songs on the EP, a CD that is shorter in playing time then a full-length CD, are new recordings, though Yarbrough has been performing them over the years at her live shows. One of the tracks, But It Comes Out Mad, is a re-make from The Iron Pot Cooker album. Ancestor House was also executive produced by Yarbrough and released on her own label Maa’t Music.

Sister Camille, as she is affectionately called, is revered as a “cultural custodian” of African and African American heritage and was recently dubbed a “hip hop foremother” by Spin Magazine. She’s been steady at work over the past three decades. She has treated us to a full repertoire of her artistry and work. She’s a writer and social critic (her articles have appeared in The New York Times and other distinguished publications); an award-winning children’s book author (Cornrows and The Shimmershine Queens are two of her five popular children’s titles); has danced professionally (she was a featured dancer with the world renown Katherine Dunham Company of Dancers, Singers, and Musicians and toured throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia); and has been a high-profile actress (of film, television, and Broadway fame – during which time she starred in Lorraine Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted, and Black).

Most recently Yarbrough has come back into focus through the sampling of one of her Iron Pot Cooker songs. British DJ Fatboy Slim’s monster hit, Praise You, exploded commercially in 1998 and it prominently featured Yarbrough’s vocals and music. Since then and still today, the song has been featured in movies (Cruel Intentions and Michael Jordan’s To the Max, and others); on television shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Entertainment Tonight, the Golden Globe Award show, the TV Guide Award show, and others); and on a long list of commercials (Mercedes Benz, Wimbledon, Air Jordan/Nike, 10-10-987, to name a few).

The new EP is out now and available at music retail outlets in New York City (Nubian Heritage Bookstores in Brooklyn and Queens; Shakur’s Record Shack, and the Schomburg Library Book Store in Harlem). It will soon be available at stores throughout the country and on-line.


Spin Magazine: “…a hip hop foremother, Yarbrough testifies…in the spirit of Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets”

Billboard Magazine: “Poetess-soul singer Camille Yarbrough has stylish traces of Nina Simone and Gil Scot Heron.
Her songs are all thought provoking and the instrumental work of aids and abets.”

The Washington Post: “Yarbrough bares her soul in The Iron Pot Cooker and makes no attempt
to give the ghetto mass-audience appeal.”

CDNOW: “The most important rediscovery of the year, Camille Yarbrough’s one album, obscure since 1975,
fills out the spoken word of Mt. Rushmore of Last Poets, Watts Prophets, and Gil Scott Heron,
completing the chrysalis phase of poetry moving into rap in the half-decade before hip hop.”

Kevin Powell (author/activist/social critic): “Everything we love Lauryn for – her independence, her womanism, her daring voice, her willingness to tackle unpopular topics, her effortless shift from rap to song, and back again, and her limitless musical explorations – Camille Yarbrough did a generation ago. Who told her she could be a renaissance woman? She empowered herself.”

Katti Gray, New York Newsday: “…Camille’s music is medicine for the sick…designed to uplift, to counter
every ugly word we sing about ourselves…”

New York Beacon: “Given today’s conservative climate, Yarbrough’s message of…strength joined with her belief that love motivates and sustains African Americans, is a welcome one. No, better, it’s a needed one.”

Bernice Green, Our Time Press: “Her shoulders…are the strong supports for such artists as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and others. Although exceedingly complimentary, the appellations, comparisons and string of adjectives miss by a mile the monument that is Camille Yarbrough. Miss Yarbrough is beyond category.”

Quarterly Black Review of Books: “Yarbrough gives voice to …ghetto archetypes in all their twisted pathologies.
She is so accurate that there is no question this is a sharp-eyed witness who is telling it like
it is rather than a youthful entertainer Masking his hustle for dead presidents.”

Sunday Denver Post: “Each of her songs is a drama, and Yarbrough is an actress extraordinaire.
She interprets her own song-poems with compelling and (for the listener) exhausting intensity.”

Buffalo News: “This is unnerving insight into a slice of contemporary life. A powerful, challenging album . . .”

Check out www.ancestorhouse.net

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