Into Darkness: Remembering Poet, Musician, and Community Activist David Blair

Blair Performing Carl

I cried the first time I heard poet and slam artist, David Blair or Blair perform his persona poem “Carl” in the voice of the black character Carl Carlson from The Simpsons (ironically voiced by Hank Azaria). In the poem an employee at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant draws a black N on Carl’s locker.  It starts off, “I was drawn here” and ends “I was drawn here” and in between dissects what it’s like being black in a predominately white community using brave language. Brave is an appropriate word describing Blair’s poetry, also politically passionate, fiery, provocative, and necessary. Maybe it was Blair’s syrupy-rich voice, his to the point delivery, and bearlike stature that had an impact on me. Maybe it was that I knew he was gay and because he was a black gay writer I could see myself in that poem. Whatever it was he had the same effect on so many people.

The National Endowment for the Arts said “his stunningly evocative renderings of (Emily) Dickinson’s work are not to be missed.”

Jay Connell, author of Eat This City said “Blair is awful. Not in the way you’re probably thinking, though. When you see someone that talented it’s hard not to be reminded of how mediocre a lot of other things are. Every single time I’ve left a Blair show, I’ve made a comment about how I need to see that guy more often.”

Blair Performing Being Black in America

He performed throughout the world after winning against 54 four-member teams at the National Slam Competition with his team, Team Detroit (which included Ben Jones, Aurora Harris, Becky Austin, Michael Ellison, Judah, and Scott Klein) in 2002. At the competition Blair performed an Italian madrigal. I would have loved to have seen that performance or have seen Blair perform in Paris next year. Blair passed away on Saturday, July 23, 2011.

“Because I’m black and gay, the black gay community means a lot to me as a writer, artist, performer and as a listener,” Blair said.

He meant a lot to the black gay community, the slam community, the Detroit community, so many communities.

David Blair and the Wall of Prejudice

Image by Preston Rhea

He described himself as a black, queer writer, and musician. His poetry was heavily influenced by his music. A style called urban folk with an urgent rock feel. He performed with a band called The Boyfriends. Blair was on vocals and played the acoustic guitar along with Leah Woods (Vocals, Clarinet), Ken Comstock (Double Bass), Chris Winter (Drums), Markita Moore (Trumpet), Scott Stone (Drums), Dale Wilson (Electric Guitar), and Nicole Varga (Violin, Viola). Their most recent album, The Line, “was released in 2010 on Repeatable Silence Records. Blair, as a solo artist, and with The Urban Folk Collective, self-released more than seven records in the last ten years.” The Urban Folk Collective, Blair’s first band, a 5-piece band “blending many different styles from folk and blues to jazz, hip-hop and funk.” They performed shows with “Stevie Wonder, M. Doughty (Soul Coughing), Michael Moore, Tribe 8, Niagara, Reggie Gibson, and Harold McKinney.”

Blair and The Boyfriends Performing Freedom Calling

For six years Blair worked at The Chrysler Plant is Detroit where his work suffered. When he quit, he entered into a state of creativity overload, churning out poems, spoken word pieces, music, a one man show called Burying the Evidence performed in Detroit, and an experimental theater piece called The Walking Project, which had a two-week run in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. One of those poems written during that time is appropriately titled My Time At Chrysler which talks about how his work suffered.  My Time At Chrysler ends:

I traded in my Chrysler body
for the body that you now see before you
I know it’s not quite as sleek or as young as it once was
it still gets me to where I need to go
puts me on a new road
points me in a new direction
where the light beams
and the mind dreams
and life seems to go on forever

Blair’s life will go on forever in the minds of the people he inspired, that loved him, and on YouTube. Check out more of Blair’s performances below. Little Richard Penniman Tells It Like It T-I-IS is a favorite. Rest in peace Blair.

Recommended Reading and Listening:

The DVD World’s Greatest Poetry Slam 2002 featuring Blair, Shappy, Becky Austin, George McKibbens, Benjamin Jones, Celena Glenn, Michael Ellison, Sekou (Tha Misfit), and Shane Koyczan Taylor Mali from the 2002 National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis, MN showing both the team and the individual competitions.

The DVD Slam Safe II featuring Blair, Taylor Mali, Lizz Straight, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Simone Beubien from the National Poetry Slam in West Palm Beach FL.

Blair and Boyfriend’s The Line Album. All the songs were written and produced by Blair with Chris Pyle, Josh Antonuccio, and Dale Wilson.

Blair Performing Detroit

Blair Performing Little Richard Penniman Tells It Like It T-I-IS

Blair Performing Into Darkness

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Into Darkness: Remembering Poet, Musician, and Community Activist David Blair

  1. Pingback: Reading Digest: Deafening Silence Edition « Dead Homer Society

  2. Pingback: Into Darkness: Remembering Poet, Musician, and Community Activist David Blair | Hold Your Future

  3. Pingback: Memento Vivere: Why I Owe David Blair | WriterGurl INK.

  4. fellow poet and admirer

    I hope this page stays up forever… I wanted to give someone a sense of Blair, and why I remember so powerfully a man I saw only one evening, six months before he died.

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