Whenever Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman gets into a funk, she falls back on this anonymous quote.
“A quick way to get rich is count your blessings.”
It is this philosophy of life that drove her to record Songs of Freedom, a 12-track of field songs and spirituals that flow through her physical DNA and spiritual soul.
The celebrity superstar has an enviable resume having given performances for Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth and Kofi Annan.
And at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games, 3.2 billion viewers saw Brueggergosman singing at the opening ceremonies.
Through years of dedicated training, the award-winning soprano developed a high degree of control over her voice, and can switch effortlessly from opera to jazz to pop to spirituals.
“She breathes life and vitality into music with her voice, an instrument that is sweet, rich, expressive and powerful,” noted Aaron Davis, pianist and arranger for the Songs of Freedom album.
As part of Black History Month, Brueggergosman sings Songs of Freedom this coming Friday, Feb. 17 at the Arden Theatre.
This year Brueggergosman reaches 40, leading her to reflect on a privileged life. Although she was immersed in classical music since the age of seven, spirituals and field songs were a repertoire rarely visited.
“It is a repertoire that is under-mined. It’s under-researched. It’s under-performed. It thought it needed more love,” said Brueggergosman.
In Songs of Freedom, she furthers the art and history of tunes that brought comfort to slaves stolen from their African homeland.
Brueggergosman first dug deep into her genealogy and explored the Gosman roots in a 2015 documentary also titled Songs of Freedom. She traced the family’s New Brunswick roots to Cameroon and discovered paternal ancestors escaped American slavery in the 1700s crossing the border into Canada.
“It’s been a long journey for me – getting to the bottom of the Gosman thing. As I claim my space, I begin to realize how deeply my roots go.”
The CD is an eye-opener filled with reinterpreted spirituals that have interesting histories of their own.
For instance, many are unaware that the captain of a slave ship wrote Amazing Grace or that many spirituals provided secret codes for escaping to freedom.
Wade in the Water instructs slaves on the run to wade into a stream if slave masters set tracking dogs on them.
Swing Low Sweet Chariot points southern slaves to the land of freedom in the north. And Go Down Moses was a forbidden song for slaves as it connected people with the Biblical Moses leading his people to freedom.
“Being black means part of me has history connected to a repertoire that is an important part of my life.”
During the recording process, there are always a few surprises.
“I was surprised by my feeling of giving my parents a pride of place. My father toiled and kept his head down and provided for his family. He worked for 30 years with the CBC and when he retired he went to university and followed his pipe dream to become a pastor.”
“And I was surprised how much it would feed me. I never expected to feel so satisfied.”
Special guest Edmonton Youth & Children’s Choir will sing five songs with Brueggergosman.
Songs of Freedom
Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
5 St. Anne Street
Tickets: $62 Call 780459-1542 or at ticketmaster.ca