Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

Grammy-winning recording artist Corinne Bailey Rae performed her newest album “Black Rainbows” for the Yale community and spoke about its personal and cultural significance on Sept. 9.

During the Schwarzman Center speaker event, Rae described the importance of the Stony Island Arts Bank, an art gallery created within an abandoned bank that holds thousands of cultural objects and periodicals, to the development of her new music. She followed her talk with a performance of all the songs on “Black Rainbows” — from the psychedelic vibe of  “A Spell, A Prayer” to the more punk and pop-inspired, jazzy sounds of “New York Transit Queen” — interspersing each song with an explanation of its meaning.

“There’s a lot of stories in the music that I want to bring to people’s attention,” Rae told the News. “It’s as much about the audience as it’s about what’s happening on stage. I feel like we all made something together — it’s theirs as much as it’s ours. I really liked being able to express something of the songs and have Professor Brooks’s perspective and be able to bounce off that. It gave me a lot of freedom in the performance.”

After the conversation, Rae started to perform songs from her album. Her album references powerful cultural and historical artifacts ranging from the rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia to the stories of Black Pioneers and their westward journeys, according to the Schwarzman Center website.

“Bailey Rae is somebody most of us have looked up to since we were very young. To be a part of this event is special,” Vocalist Alita Moses, who shared the stage with Rae, said. 

Moses called attention to the track “Put It Down,” emphasizing the transformative nature of the song in an interview with the News.

Another attendee, Abdeena Barrie, appreciated the attention to “Black American experiences” and “integrating that into her work” despite being from the United Kingdom. She said the evening made her more invested in Rae’s music because it was “just so well thought out and clearly such a heartfelt project.”

Prior to her performance, Rae elaborated on the origins of the album which was inspired by the Stony Island Arts Bank. She said she was first introduced to Stony Island Arts Bank and its restorer and artist, Theaster Gates, when she saw an image of Gates surrounded by various works of art on a friend’s Pinterest page. Some of these works would later become part of the Bank’s collection. 

Inspired by Gates’s “creativity” and “confidence,” Rae was determined to reach out to Gates.

In 2012, Gates, an artist and urban planner, bought Stony Island Arts Bank that would later become inspiration for Rae’s album for $1. He repurposed the building, transforming it into “a repository for African American culture and history” by selling recovered marble blocks as “bank bonds,” he said. 

According to Rae, “Black Rainbows” is an album that reflects the artifacts and stories she encountered in the Stony Island Arts Bank, as well as emphasizing ideas of “release” in her music. Performing in front of a live audience, she said, created an interactive, collaborative musical environment, which Rae attributed to the feelings of “freedom” on the stage.

Rae was not the only person who said they felt that “freedom.” Moses noticed the feeling of freedom as well. To her, each of the songs had unique intention, purpose and relatable subject matter, but they were interwoven with “freedom” and “fluidity.”

Daphne Brooks, a professor of African American Studies, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and English, facilitated the conversation. 

Janalie Cobb is an Audience Editor for the News and a former University staff reporter. She is a junior from Chicago in Davenport College double majoring in political science and psychology.
Lukas Nel covers Art Student Life for the Arts Desk. Originally from Stellenbosch in the Republic of South Africa, he is a second semester junior in Davenport College studying EECS and Mathematics, who is passionate about art in all its forms.