1. “Still I Rise”
Her powerful baritone reminds us to persevere, to rise above — and that the human spirit is indomitable. Her short preamble to those famous lines is especially poignant:
wherever there abides any human being,
there is the nobleness of the human spirit.
Despite it all,
Black and white,
Asian, Spanish, native American;
Pretty, plain; thin, fat;
Vowed or celibate –
2. “Phenomenal Woman”
It’s hard to think that those two words even existed until Dr. Angelou spoke them together.
3. “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me”
“I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.
Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.”
4. In “His Day is Done,” Dr. Angelou remembers Nelson Mandela
“We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.” Watch the full video of this poem, too.
5. “On the Pulse of Morning” from the 1993 Clinton inauguration
“Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours — your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.”
6. Dr. Angelou explains her name
“I like it. I was born with the name Marguerite Johnson. However I had a brother, my brother was two years older than I, and a smartie-patootie. And he had a lisp and he stuttered. So he couldn’t say Marguerite, so he called me ‘Mai.’ And then, when he was about nine, he read about the Mayan Indians, and how proud they were, and how beautiful they were, and so he named me…Maya. And he refused to allow me to answer to any other name, since I was Maya.”
7. Dr. Angelou on Desert Island Discs in 1987
Dr. Angelou remembers her mother’s voice: “If you’d leave her alone and she’d open this magnificent voice out, like hot gold…like melting gold, it seemed to me.”
8. Dr. Angelou is interviewed on “Fresh Air” in 1990
“Everyone has within herself, within himself, this place of morality from which he or she shall never be persuaded or swayed…I shall not be moved from here. If young men and women knew that, if children knew that, early on, if they were told ‘darling, within yourself you have a place so inviolate, that no one, no mother, father, brother, no teacher, no boss has the right to invade, that’s the place you go when you reach for that last breath — ah — and can’t get it. And face your creator, or whatever that is. That place should be pristine…in everybody.’”
9. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
10. Her voice wasn’t just for poetry. Listen to the calypso song “Peas and Rice” from her 1957 album.
11. You may be sad, but it’s impossible not to clap along with her singing a stanza of “Phenomenal Woman” from 1976
A round of applause and a moment of joy to remember a long life that gave so many people so much joy.