Black Moms and Music

When I was a teenager, Bettye was the evil stepmother (except she was my real mom) and I was Cinderella, forced to scrub, rub, and spit-shine practically every surface in the house—by myself. My mother’s weekend “clean until you drop” sentences had purpose: If I were in the house cleaning, there’d be no time for me to go out and get into any weekend shenanigans with the rabblerousers. So after the kitchen was cleaned and the living room was dusted and the laundry was washed and folded and put away, I had no other choice but to retreat down into the basement, where my old and faithful friends awaited—my stereo and my record collection.

We’d have quite a time, my music and me. For hours, I’d hold the record jackets thisclose to my face, drinking in the lyrics and getting lost in the melodies—daydreaming about my crushes, pretending I was super popular, busting moves and singing into flashlights and hairbrushes like I was a diamond-studded star.

I readily raise my hand and cop to being a total dork, but my music loved me nonetheless—made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

All these years later, in the crazy moments between my jobs as the maid/chauffeur/laundress/chef/social secretary/personal shopper/errand girl/homework checker-in-chief/snack-maker/boo-boo kisser/on-sight psychologist/referee/supper decider/whipper-upper, it is still music that gets me through. Nothing helps me stare down a sink full of dirty dishes, or conquer a mountain of laundry, or hit a writing deadline like a good song. It is an elixir when I’m worn out—a salve for my tired soul. Sometimes it’s the boom-clack of the snare that gets me going, makes me shake it fast, no matter how tuckered I may be. In those moments, usually when I’m cooking dinner, I’m Beyonce hot—sexy and super sensual. Sometimes, it’s the staccato of an Earth, Wind & Fire horn section that sends me swooning—crisp and sharp, like a burst of cool breeze on a scorching August day. When I hear them pumping through my car windows on the way to the grocery store, I roll down the windows and crank up the stereo. I don’t care who’s watching. A lot of times, it’s the way my favorite artists (Stevie, Erykah, Ledisi, Lalah, Bilal, Musiq, D’Angelo, Marvin, Rakim, Biggie, De La, Tribe and Jill, to name a few) wrap their silky voices around the melodies—the way they make their tongues dance and ride all through the notes—that make my heart race. Sweeping the floor ends up being not so much of a chore.

And then, there are the words—sweet and addictive. They invade my memory and make me giggle—the oldies transport me back to my parent’s basement, me and my nerdy little self down there pretending to sing to my crush. Lyrics inspire me, too: Optimistic ditties give me a second wind—love songs, sweet and true, usually find their way onto sticky notes tucked away in my daughters’ brown bag lunches.

Often, in the not-so-private corners of my house, I sing out loud with all my might, without a care in the world about who’s listening. My daughters cock their heads and furrow their brows. Surely, they think at first, Mommy’s gone mad. And then, unable to contain themselves, they join in, too; I slip a moist sponge in one’s hand and paper towels and cleaning fluid into the other’s and yell, “sang, babies!” while they twist and screech and giggle and chip in.

Here, in that space, the three of us find our joy.

And music is nothing less than magical.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

One Comment

  1. Music has that effect on me when cleaning as well. Booty-poppin’ to my favorite 90s rap artists always gets the dishes done!

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