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“When Great Trees Fall, Rocks on Distant Hills Shudder”–Poet Maya Angelou Remembers Jazz Pioneer Max Roach

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“[Max Roach] had the courage to love us,” poet Maya Angelou said at Max Roach’s funeral at Riverside Church. “I’m glad to say we had him. We are bigger and better and stronger, because Max Roach was my brother.” [includes rush transcript]

  • Maya Angelou, speaking at the funeral of jazz pioneer, Max Roach.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour on the legendary jazz drummer Max Roach. On Friday, a funeral at the historic Riverside Church was held. Thousands of people came out. Renowned poet Maya Angelou spoke at the funeral for Max Roach.

MAYA ANGELOU: Family, family, family, when great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety. When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear. I have come to sing a song of praise to the courage of black men, in general, black American men, in general, and Max Roach, in particular.

I was the only parent of a young man, a young black man. James Baldwin, John Killens, Julian Mayfield, and Max Roach offered themselves to me as my brother, my brother friends. I was young and quite mad. And so were they. But they were brave enough to be brothers to an African American woman — that’s no small matter — an African American woman who has opinions and is not loathe to tell anybody her opinion at any time, loudly.

Max Roach and the other men I have mentioned dared to say to me things like, “Listen, what you said to your son — he was eleven — what you said to him last week wasn’t all that swift. In fact, that was dumb. You’re raising a black boy in a white country where — poor boy in a country where money is adored, where black is hated, and man — where a man is no small matter. It’s a difference between being an old male born with certain genitalia — you can be an old whatever that is, but to become a man, and an African American man, is no small matter. Help yourself.”

And then, on the other hand, he would call me from New York to California and say, “Girl, I’m so proud of you. I saw you on television. You were brilliant. I’m so proud to be your brother.”

Thanks to Max Roach and African American men, there are some single women who dare to be mothers, dare to be sisters, dare to be lovers, dare to be citizens.

Thanks to Max Roach, all forty years ago, his then-wife Abbey Lincoln, Rosa Guy and I decided we were going to storm United Nations. And we put it to some men. They said, “Don’t be silly.” And we said we’d get the African American — the Harlem community to come down there to United Nations. They said, “Don’t be silly. Those people have never been to Times Square.” Max Roach said, “Do it” — not only “Do it,” “I’ll go with you.” And we went. And Harlem turned up down at United Nations, and we made an international statement. Max Roach.

Max Roach encouraged me to marry a man, a South African freedom fighter who was at United Nations, who was madder than I was. Max Roach said, “He’s good for you. He’ll teach you a thing or two.” He taught me three or four things.

I have wept copiously after losing Max Roach. I also laugh uproariously, because he dared to love me without any sexual innuendos, without any of that, just loved me, told me I was brilliant, much like my own brother. He told me I was brilliant, smarter than most people. He also told me I wasn’t as smart as he was, which was true, which was true.

When great trees fall, it is wise, I think, for us to praise the ground they grew out of.

It is such a wonderful thing to look at his friends and family, to see great names here, great artists, who loved Max Roach, because he had the courage to love us. And so, I’m glad to say we had him. We are bigger and better and stronger, because Max Roach was my brother.

AMY GOODMAN: Maya Angelou remembering Max Roach at Riverside Church on Friday at the funeral of the great jazz legend.

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