Editor’s Note: June is Black Music Month and all month long the Chicago Defender will feature someone we think you should know within the Chicago musical landscape.
In a room with the lights low, the cello kicks in slow and melodic. In the booth, behind a closed door, Avery R. Young is riffing with headphones on in front of a mirror and microphone.
Avery R.Young is set to release his album on Friday, July 19.
Young’s journey with music and spoken word have also brought him to write his first book, Neck Bone, which is scheduled to be released on Wednesday, June 19.
“I’ve always been singing, and I’ve always been writing,” he said. “It’s about me thinking about ways the poems can embody several spaces as opposed to just on the page.”
Young’s poetry and prose have been featured in anthologies such as The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks and The Break Beat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.
Young said he always admired poets like The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron, who infused the music with their words.
“Gil Scott Heron…he was singing, and he was talking about deep social issues,” he said. “He’s actually how I pattern this idea of how I reconcile the signing and the poetry.”
Neck Bone is his first book. He described it as a work of visual poetry. He said going through that process made him feel as though he had written eight books.
“It is a book that I wanted to make because I believe I’m presenting myself as the poet I want to be,” he said.“It presents the beautiful and the ugly of what it means to be several adjectives—Black being the prominent one.”
Young said while he believes poetry is art, it is not a stuffy art. The book presents his unfiltered thoughts, not pretty words on a sheet of paper. He said he is visualizing the memories of his life throughout the poems. In one, he visualizes the memory of the first time he wrote a poem, and in it, he explores his Blackness.
“To be Black is not a downtrodden and sad narrative,” he said. “For me, it is a space of joy and completeness.”
Young said the reason his book is set to release on June 19 is because of the symbolism. June 19isknown to African Americans as Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States.
“This book for me is such a liberating narrative,” he said. “For it to be released on the day we were emancipated, I couldn’t think of a better day.”
Young said black people will understand what’s going on in the book.
“I was giving myself an assignment of finding 28 events that shaped Black America,” he said. “As I started working on the book, I looked down and said, ‘this book is about me.’”
Young saidBlackness is a spectrum, not a monolith.
“Anything and everything can inform a person’s Blackness. There’s just no one way to be Black; there are so many ways to be Black,” said Young.
Young said the title, Neck Bone, is investigated in several ways throughout the book.
“Neck Bone to me means so many things[including]our mortality…sustenance,” he said.
When it comes to his connection to the Blues, Young said the storytelling aspect of the musical genre is always present in what he does.
“The Blues is storytelling with the most essential language. It doesn’t take too many words. A poem is a story where the most important words are extracted,” he said. “For me, the Blues is the foundation. Rock ‘n’Roll is Blues sped up…Gospel is the Blues slowed down.”
Young added, when a Blues artist like Billy Branch tells you that you are a Blues artist, you are a Blues artist.He said his work with his band, Da Deacon Board, is the most fun because it encompasses Black culture.
The upcoming album is the follow-up to his 2013 Booker T. Soltreyne: A Race Rekkid. On it, there is a song that is a traditional Blues song, which Young patterned after Drake’s “Legend.”
“I repurposed it to address social issues. It goes,‘Oh my God, oh my God, how come murder makes us legend,’” said Young.“Hip hop and the Blues are a very real and tangible link.