In person, mZuri Moyo has the presence of a movie star and the booming voice of an opera singer. But when Moyo dons her wig and ankle-length dress, she transforms into Fannie Lou Hamer and transfixes her audience with awe.
Moyo depicted Hamer in a one-woman show, singing and acting out the life of the woman who, history shows, once angered former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“I really enjoyed the show,” said Shirley Evering, a registered nurse, who attended Moyo’s one-woman performance at the YES Center in North Miami Beach, last weekend. “She was real and fantastic.”
Hamer’s colorful and inspirational life makes her Fannie Lou Hamer performance easy to want to do, Moyo alluded.
Hamer was born Fannie Lou Townsend on Oct. 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Miss. The early years of her life were spent picking cotton with her family of sharecroppers and learning how to read and write.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Hamer was one of the first African Americans to register to vote, despite failing the registration exam twice, countless death threats, attempts on her life, and beatings that caused her pain until her death on March 14, 1977.
“She was for poor people. She gave from her soul,” said Moyo of Hamer. “She didn’t have any riches or education. Everyone who came to her house, she helped; she didn’t isolate.”
Before she died, Hamer traveled the South to help many African Americans register to vote, as the field secretary for the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was started by two young African-American students. She was also one of the founding members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which lobbied the Democratic National Convention to include African Americans.
Moyo, like Hamer, uses her voice to share history. Trained in Paris and Italy to be a singer, Moyo has made it her mission to show the history of the Civil Rights movement and the pioneers of the Abolition. She wants to reach young minds, many of whom may be too young to comprehend the struggle.
Hamer was known for her singing that uplifted many people. On her travels, she would lift the spirits of her group by singing Negro spirituals like “This Little Light of Mine,” which Moyo belts out during her show, along with “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
Moyo, whose voice is as well lauded as Hamer’s, has performed her show at Yale University, Princeton University, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, and Tougaloo College in Hamer’s hometown.
When asked what she thought Hamer would think of her show, Moyo said: “She would probably think that she was just doing what she had to do. I don’t think she would want to be revered in any way. She was just humble.”
Despite being humble, Fannie was quite outspoken. She addressed the Democratic National Convention in 1964, to inform America about the continued racism that existed in the South. In an attempt to steal Hamer’s thunder, President Johnson’s staff scheduled a press conference at the same time of Hamer’s speech. It didn’t stop the message. Hamer’s speech aired, unedited, on the evening news.
Because of her unmoving resolve to fight for African Americans, Hamer’s speech at the convention was, arguably, the catalyst for the Voting Rights Act, which passed in 1965.
“The kids listen and internalize my performances and it stays with them,” said Moyo, whose name means good/beautiful heart in Swahili.
Moyo plans on incorporating the lives and pioneering accomplishments of Mahalia Jackson and Sojourner Truth in her performance as Fannie. She wants to showcase and connect all of the “freedom fighting sisters,” as she puts it.
But, her main inspiration remains Hamer, whom she decided to voice after seeing her give a speech on a television show. “I always say that Fannie Lou Hamer chose me. She was a voice for the voiceless. Her compassion and love for humanity was my biggest motivating factor.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. mZuri Moyo
mZuri Moyo: Last seen in her acclaimed one-woman play, The Fannie Lou Hamer Story, mZuri Moyo returns to the stage to showcase her singing abilities. Catch the chanteuse at The Old Dillard Museum, 1009 NW Fourth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $5, and the show starts at 7 p.m. RSVP, 754-322-8828.