The Great Joan Faye Donovan
There was not guile in the singing. There may have been some in her personal life (all singers must have some guile) but one never had or received the impression that it was of the manipulative, self-serving and/or scheming deceit type. The heart on her sleeve was truly hers. The heart had withstood pain, pressure, defeat, loss and betrayal and was still susceptible to joy, love laughter, faith and fidelity. And it was all there in “the voice.”
Joan Faye was not what we have conceitingly come to term “the musicians’ musician” nor was she a diplomatic purveyor of taste and refinement (though she could deliver extremely refined performances). Her’s was simply a searchingly authentic and intimate portrayal of what it means to be human first, and then an artist in the mid to late 20th century African-American community.
Such people are not by nature, conquerors. If they manage to survive at all, it is not by might or brilliance or even toughness. It is mostly Grace. And if the artist is wise and humble and naive and brave and generous and protective and God-fearing and last but not least, true to his or her experience; their performance will always be tinged with the ecstatic hope we find irresistible.
Thank God there was a Joan Faye Donovan in the world to first demonstrate and then tell us that there was a value in suffering disappointment, that there was joy in overcoming adversity, and that there is reward in perseverance.
This was my first written arrangement of an African-American Spiritual, completed at her insistence sometime in December of 1994. And which she premiered in January, the following year. There was and is no one like her.