You can trace the start of Bev Grant’s socially conscious songwriting to the turbulent era of the late 1960s. The anti-war and civil rights movements helped galvanize her as an activist and artist. Her involvement in the burgeoning women’s liberation movement of the era would find her writing songs with a feminist theme. 1968 saw Bev participating in the historic protest of the Miss America Beauty Pageant where she sang a parody of “Ain’t She Sweet” on the boardwalk and helped record and document the protest for New York Newsreel.
In the early 1970s, Bev Grant founded the folk-rock political band The Human Condition. The band became a fixture in the NYC underground music scene and cemented Bev’s reputation as an activist, feminist and singer-songwriter. A decade later, Bev’s interest in a variety of musical styles would evolve the Human Condition into a world beat band reflecting the sounds, cultures and struggles of the diverse communities that make up the city.
Over the past few decades, Bev and her songs have been part of many social struggles including the labor movement, so it came as somewhat of a surprise to discover that her new solo CD It’s Personal is an introspective and heart-felt collection of personal songs. However, closer examination reveals that the songs in this collection give an insight into what has motivated and shaped this extraordinary artist. It’s Personal features a diverse mix of folk, jazz and good old rock and roll to gives us a glimpse of the world that is fighting to make a better place for all.
When she appeared on my radio show recently (click on the link below to hear the interview/in-studio performance), Bev explained that this new CD was conceived early last year, when she found herself in a “good place” and hopeful for the future, not assuming that Donald Trump would be elected and change the mood of the country. While we might have expected a collection of topical songs given the troubled times, Bev has presented us with a much needed assemblage of personal songs that do inspire and give the listener pause to evaluate their own commitment to social justice as well as how we relate to one another.
The CD kicks off with “Hang on Girl”, a song about the hard ending of a relationship that offers some important advice “You’ll understand that the love you gave so freely, won’t come back until you really love yourself more than your man.”
Bev started off her visit to my radio show with a live performance of one of the CD’s tracks, “Small Town Girl.” I joked that this song answered every single question I had about Bev and her past. An autobiographical song, it tells of a young woman growing up in a small town wishing to find something bigger and “pushing past the boundaries of being a girl and being young”. After getting her first guitar from her dad, the “small town girl” goes to New York City to end up living in Brooklyn with her boyfriend who “called me his old lady” and played his saxophone while she went off to work. The song tells us that she “brought home and cooked the bacon, cleaned the mess he was making, ’til I finally left to make one of my own.” The song closes with a now older and perhaps wiser woman still living in Brooklyn with a closet full of memories and declaring “I don’t regret the life I had and growing old’s not half so bad So I keep living like I’m always gonna be.”
Bev tackles age-old stereotypes in “Throw Me the Ball,” remembering playing baseball as a young girl but being told as she grew older that only boys were allowed to play ball. It is a reminder that there are still “so many brick walls yet to fall.”
Heartbreak is explored in several songs including “You’re Not the One,” “The Space Between” and “Dirty Laundry Blues.” The messages end on a positive note, reminding us that we are able to gain inner strength and move on to new opportunities.
The harsh realities of the world are explored in “I Am A Sewing Machine,” a harsh look at working conditions in places like China, El Salvador and the Philippines, often with young women being abused to push out the clothing. In “I Felt the Earth Shake,” Bev recounts the catastrophic 2010 Haitian earthquake and the delay in aid following years of global power struggles that impacted the humanitarian efforts.
The final cut on the CD is a formidable performance of “National Anthem: Arise! Arise!,” written by Brooklyn based singer-songwriter Jean Rohe. The song has been called an “alternative national anthem” and has been performed by choirs and various artists across the nation. Bev’s performance is a powerful reminder of the struggles and battles fought to gain our liberties and to protect these rights for future generations. A perfect reminder in these troubled times.
Bev Grant is one of New York City’s treasures. It’s about time that more people across the nation discover her, and listening to It’s Personal is a perfect opportunity to not only experience her music, but also to learn something about ourselves in the process.
Click below to hear Bev Grant performing live and discussing It’s Personal with Ron Olesko on WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS, broadcast on March 5, 2017