Lafayette Gilchrist Plays The 'Blues For Freddie Gray' The jazz pianist's latest album with his go-go backing band features a powerful song he wrote in tribute to the young Baltimore man who died in 2015 of injuries sustained in police custody.
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Lafayette Gilchrist Plays The 'Blues For Freddie Gray'

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Lafayette Gilchrist Plays The 'Blues For Freddie Gray'

Lafayette Gilchrist Plays The 'Blues For Freddie Gray'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A lot of old folk songs are drawn from news events, frequently real disasters or crimes. And that is equally true of a new song by Lafayette Gilchrist.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST SONG "BLUES FOR FREDDIE GRAY")

INSKEEP: Gilchrist is a jazz pianist, and this is his song "Blues For Freddie Gray." Gray, of course, was the young man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury in the back of a police van in 2015. Gilchrist is from the same part of Baltimore where Gray was arrested.

LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST: I'm right on the west side. I'm right smack in the middle of it.

INSKEEP: He recalls getting caught in traffic as police shut down part of the city.

GILCHRIST: It was bad. It was as bad as I've ever seen - no words to describe, really, the feeling of that day.

INSKEEP: His song starts with a gentle piano theme. And in the background, you faintly hear things like sirens and car doors.

GILCHRIST: It's really inside of a police station, where they take you to book you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST SONG "BLUES FOR FREDDIE GRAY")

INSKEEP: And then the sound of the music changes, like the story itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST SONG "BLUES FOR FREDDIE GRAY")

INSKEEP: The music Lafayette Gilchrist uses to create the mood combines jazz with a style of funk known as go-go.

GILCHRIST: It's almost like a slowed-down James Brown. But, you know, you have a combination of African rhythms.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST SONG "BLUES FOR FREDDIE GRAY")

INSKEEP: And the lyrics were inspired by how Gilchrist's friends and neighbors processed the news of Freddie Gray, how they described the horrors they witnessed on a video of his arrest.

GILCHRIST: Actually, listening to a blind gentleman describe what he heard gave me certain lyrics. For example, did you hear him as he screamed in pain?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUES FOR FREDDIE GRAY")

GILCHRIST: (Singing) Did you see him? Did you hear him as he screamed in pain? Well, record it on the telephone and frame by frame. Could you see him? Could you feel him as a man? Could you see him as a man like you? No. Oh, they were looking...

INSKEEP: The song, which begins with tragedy, ends more hopefully.

GILCHRIST: The closing lyric says, I want to know that there's a day that's coming soon and fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUES FOR FREDDIE GRAY")

GILCHRIST: (Singing) I want a justice and a peace that's made to last and last. Don't ya tell me...

To know means you have to engage in the kind of activism in which people are able to secure that as a reality. Am I hopeful of that? Yes - yes, very.

INSKEEP: That's Lafayette Gilchrist, whose song "Blues For Freddie Gray" can be found on his new album, "New Urban World Blues."

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