“a playlist of personal songs and their association with my mother”

mahogany was written during the years I acted as care-gave for my mother, Mary. Mary’s long illness was the best and worst time in my life. For five years I shuffled between San Francisco and Cincinnati, six months by six months. We had a mother-daughter relationship that transcended being parent and child. Mary was my light, my protector, my cheerleader, my conscience, my best friend. My everything. It was not only my duty but my absolute pleasure to care for Mary in her final years as she had cared for me my entire life: with strength, humor, and love.”

Find the “songs from mahogany” playlist here.


Never Too Much – Luther Vandross – my mother loved Luther. I remember laying down in the back seat of our Maxima while she drove somewhere at night, listening to his tape. It was magical. Few people’s voices trigger me the way that Luther’s does; I either want to cry or smile or dance. 
Happy – Pharrell Williams – I sent this song to my mother while she was ill and she played it on repeat all the time. She would smile and clap her hands and do a little chair dance when she listened to it. No matter what she was going through she always tried to find a little joy. I can still see her now, bopping along and throwing her hands in the air. 
You Bring Me Joy – Anita Baker – my mother and her friends were hooked on Anita Baker. It was the time of copying Oprah’s make up, and listening to Anita, Luther, Gladys, Patti, and Dionne. We listened to so much Anita Baker in the car. This was one of her favorite songs. It reminds me of her and her love of r&b. Also, this was a song she would sing to me. We brought each other so much joy.  
Cold and Clear – Liam Bailey – this song was on repeat and playing in my head the entire week before my mother died. It felt like a foreshadowing of her sudden, yet not unexpected, death and a reminder to me that I am my mother’s child.  
Mary, Don’t You Weep – Aretha Franklin – Aretha was a big deal in our household. I think every black household has an affinity for Aretha. My mother’s sister, Janice, whom I am named after (Erica Janine Lewis), had this song sung at her funeral, dedicated to my mother. She committed suicide and only left a note for my mother.  
Soon and Very Soon – Andrae Crouch – Mary had such a deep faith. She loved Andrae Crouch and she loved gospel music. This was one of her favorite gospel songs. I remember hearing this song play as a child, her singing this song in general, and to me.  
A Song for You – Donny Hathaway – this song makes me cry every time I hear it. It always has. Even whe my mother was alive. It has always made me think of my mother and thec sacrifices she made for me.  
Home – The Wiz/Diana Ross – I missed my mother so much when I went away to college. Although Northwestern wasn’t that far away (a 45-minute plane ride) it felt like a million miles. It was during that time that everyone made mixtapes and I made one for her, pretty much featuring key songs from The Wiz, and sent it to her.  I really wanted her to know how I was feeling. There was no place like home.   
Freedom – Beyoncé – every time I hear this song, it evokes the ancestors. Their strength, wisdom, and will. I feel like it binds me to them and embodies the saying, “I am my ancestors wildest dream.” My mother is now my ancestor. She wanted so much for me.  
You Are My Sunshine – Johnny Cash – This was our song. She sang this to me until the day she died.  
That’s What Friends Are For – Dionne Warwick, etc. – my mom and her friends had a deep connection to this song, Oprah Winfrey’s makeup, and what this group of singing friends meant. “In good times and bad times,” they were always there for each other. It was a huge lesson in friendship for me.  
Your Smile – René and Angela – René and Angela were a duo that my mother and her sisters listened to. They would gather on a Saturday or Sunday at my aunt Angela’s apartment and play records, watch movies on cable, do hair, eat, and play the dozens. I remember sitting on the floor watching them, looking through Angie’s record collection. This song always reminds me of my mother because she had the most beautiful smile. I painted a portrait of her in my early years in SF that featured her famous smile. I cry when I think of her smile. It was so genuine and beautiful. 
Julia With Blue Jeans On – Moonface – I listened to this song, sitting at my desk, on repeat when I found out that my mother was sick again. There is something about its rawness that really spoke to me during a time that was dark and scary and serious.  
If You Think You’re Lonely Now – Bobby Womack – I remember listening to this song on late night radio, sitting on my mom’s bedroom floor, and her explaining to me what it meant. It’s one of the staple r&b songs I come back to as “classic.” I also learned later in life that Bobby Womack was considered “the poet.”  
Lady – Kenny Rogers – Mary taught me how to love all music. She loved her some Kenny Rogers. She bought The Gambler album and I used to beg her to play the title track over and over. This song, too, reminds me of her. 
I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder – this song was a lifeline for us. I grew up with us singing this to one another. It was such a big hit and we loved it immediately. I remember the Stevie Wonder episode of The Cosby Show; it was a big deal. My mama would leave messages on my VM singing this song up until the day she died. She would call me for no reason and sing this song to me. 
You Are My Friend – Patti LaBelle – Patti was one of the female singers my mother and her friends adored; I remember hearing her sing this to some to her friends over the phone. Her friends were my friends. I grew up with an adopted circle of adult friends, some of whom were still around when she passed away. I owe them so much for being her lifelong friend. And for being mine as well.  
You Are So Beautiful – Joe Cocker – another song that makes me cry whenever I hear it. My mom told me this story about how my father’s brother bought this record for her because it reminded him of her, and how he walked all the way to our house one day just to give it to her.  
Ain’t No Need to Worry – The Winans – my mother loved The Winans and this song was a particular favorite. I’ve been listening to this song a lot recently because it reminds me so much of our struggle together, her singing this while we would drive home together at night, her love of god and these voices telling her (us) to pray and believe that things were going to get better.  
Someday We’ll Be Together – Diana Ross – I truly believe that someday we will. And we will have so much joy when we see each other again.  
Listen to the full playlist here.