It's no secret Maya Angelou was a big country music fan. The late poet/author/activist, who passed away last week, found a kindred spirit in the genre known for its vivid storytelling. She once told Parade magazine that among her favorite singers were Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles and Montgomery Gentry, and that she was "seriously affected by the breakup of Brooks and Dunn."
As for her favorite country song? It was the Grammy-winning, heart-softening hit, "I Hope You Dance," by Lee Ann Womack, who has been asked to perform it at Dr. Angelou's funeral on June 7th.
"When someone told me 'I Hope You Dance' was Miss Angelou's favorite song all those years ago, I thought they were being nice," Womack recalls. "Then when my publicist was trying to get me on Oprah, suddenly, all the momentum changed... and we found out it was because Maya Angelou told Oprah about me and the song."
The singer and her two daughters once met Dr. Angelou in Chicago, and she admits she was intimidated - but quickly calmed by the legendary writer's congeniality.
"I was honored, moved and thrilled about everything she said to me about the song and my singing," Womack remembers. "But all these years later, the song remained? That says so much about the power of music and poetry: the way the human condition can be filtered down in a song. Keeping it real and honest, but also maintaining the love in your heart and compassion.... That makes for an excellent life, and that's what I think Maya Angelou found in the song."
Later this week, Womack will head to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to rehearse "I Hope You Dance" with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for Saturday's service at Wake Forest University. Unfortunately, the funeral's timing will cause her to miss CMT's Next Women of Country show at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Texas native was "fired up" about her hosting duties at the special TV taping, as she is a big champion of the next generation of female singers following in her organic country music footsteps. Luckily, friends at CMT were gracious about the cancelation.
"Maya Angelou is one of the true modern American voices in literature," says Womack. "Her books have touched so many, and the fact that my song touched her... Well, you can't say 'no.'
"I couldn't imagine not singing it for her, especially on Saturday."
Womack is also performing on Wednesday's CMT Music Awards, teaming with Kacey Musgraves for a special tribute to Alan Jackson. The singer's new album, The Way I'm Livin' – her first new music in almost seven years – is set for release September 23rd.