It was May 26, the first day of protests after George Floyd was killed, and Gary Hines, director of the Sounds of Blackness choir, was near 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis.
“A white teenage girl recognized me,” Hines remembered, “and said ‘Mr. Sounds of Blackness, you guys are one of my favorite groups. I know you guys are going to do a song about this, please don’t make it a hold-hands song.’ ”
“We’ve had plenty of offers from all over to come do kumbaya-type songs,” Hines said this week. “That’s not what the zeitgeist is, that’s not what the mood in the streets is.”
Instead, Hines wrote and recorded “Sick and Tired,” the Sounds’ fieriest, fiercest, most powerful song in their 51 years. It’s an enraged, horn-blasted call to action featuring Jamecia Bennett’s breathtakingly fervent voice. It’s the perfect sound coming from Minneapolis at this moment.
This new anthem for our times is being released to radio on Friday, Juneteenth, the African-American celebration of freedom from slavery.
“It’s about the anger, the outrage and a call to action,” said Hines of his new recording. “I think right now a kumbaya song could be counterproductive, that false sense of ‘I feel better.’ No, we’ve got to deal with this.”
He actually started writing the song after Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was shot to death while jogging in Atlanta this winter. Then Hines was up all night after Floyd was killed in police custody on “the streets where we ran” and finished writing the song.
The words are inspired in part by the famous line from 1960s civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Hines got to meet Hamer at the funeral for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
Hines taught his new song to the Sounds of Blackness singers during their regularly scheduled rehearsals via Zoom.
When it came to recording “Sick and Tired,” there were two challenges: Finding a studio because their usual place, Atomic K, was closed, and practicing social distancing.
At one of the Minneapolis rallies, Hines ran into David (TC) Ellis, the former rapper who runs the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. Fortunately, that facility was unscathed in the incendiary protests on University Avenue — and it has a spacious studio where nine socially distant microphones could be set up. So Ellis offered his studio.
“Sick and Tired” features 12 singers from the Sounds of Blackness, including powerhouse soloist Bennett, as well as three vocalists from the High School for the Recording Arts plus six horn players and Hines on various other instruments.
Recorded, mixed and mastered in seven days, “Sick and Tired” captures the mood of the times.
“Talking to that young woman, you could feel the anger, the outrage, the frustration. This needs to be captured, expressed and represented. That is a big part of any true artist’s job,” Hines said.
“Too often a music is just a balm. ‘Everybody calm down, it’s going to get better.’ We believe that and will never stop believing that. But this moment is getting to the heart of the matter. It’s more than George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. This has happened for 400 years in one way or another. Around the world, people are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ So the music has to get to the heart of the matter.”