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In honor of African-American History Month, I’m combining some Feel Good tips that I learned from one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Eva Jessye, with a tribute to her.

Internationally renowned performer, choral director, educator, author, and ethnomusicologist, Eva Jessye’s accomplishments were many, and many of her accomplishments were historic.

Dr. Eva Jessye

Dr. Eva Jessye

In her long and prolific life, her “firsts” included numerous groundbreaking collaborations with Harlem Renaissance artists, concert hall musicians, and Broadway great George Gershwin. Dr. Jessye was also a leading activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Later in her career she was a professor at the University of Michigan, which is where I met and fell in love with her. In the time that I knew her, Dr. Jessye taught me a great deal. I’m blessed to share a few of those cherished lessons with you.

Find that spark within you that you were born to do. Because what you were born to do, you never have to stop and wonder should I, would I, could I? You just say I will do it. I WILL do it. I will DO it. I will do IT! For Eva, music came naturally. She was born to make music. She often said that for her music was “not second nature, but first nature.”

Don’t take no for answer. When people tell you “no,” that’s just another way of saying that your real work has just begun.

You are just as important, just as special as anyone else. A magnificent storyteller, Eva loved to share stories about her life. She told us about her work with George Gershwin on the original production of Porgy and Bess. Dr. Jessye said George had studied great deal and knew a great deal about music. “But,” she she’d say, “I’ve been black longer than he has.” Then she’d break out laughing.

If there is no wind, make some of your own. In other words, if you want something to change, don’t wait for somebody else to do it.

Whatever the task, always do your best. We owe the world the best that we can offer.

These lessons are as rich and relevant today as they were so many years ago. Thank you, Dr. Jessye, for your magnificence, your brilliance, and  your great gifts of heart and soul.

Pass It On!

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