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Intersectionality and social justice music with folk singer Crys Matthews


The self-proclaimed "poster child for intersectionality" is bringing her social justice singing and songwriting to northern Michigan this week.

Folk singer Crys Matthews calls herself “the poster child for intersectionality.”

"It's not enough to just be black," she said. "I'm also black and a woman. I'm also a lesbian. As of all that wasn't enough, I'm also a left-handed person."

IPR caught up with Crys Matthews as she was heading out on tour - a tour that includes two stops here in northern Michigan.

She played the clarinet in marching band during high school and college, eventually becoming a drum major.

Matthews is also a preacher’s kid who grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). That’s where she learned to play the piano and sing.

“Growing up in the AME church, you definitely have a little bit of a working knowledge of the keys," she explained. When the church lady gets sick, somebody has to fill in for the choir."

Crys Matthews also calls herself "a social justice singer-songwriter."

She says that music helps her reach audiences about social justice topics in ways that talking can’t.

"It makes it a little easier for people to listen in a way that they don't usually listen," she said. "Sometimes conversations about race and class and sexism and misogyny and addiction and anti-LGBTQ legislation and things like that can be really uncomfortable for people to have."

To Matthews, music can capture a person's empathy more than a conversation can.

“The shared humanity makes people take a moment to listen to a song in a way that they don't necessarily listen to somebody trying to have a difficult conversation with them,” she said.

She hopes her music makes people think, but more importantly, she hopes that it makes people feel.

“People talk all the time about changing minds, but we don't ever do that. We never change minds. We only ever change hearts," she explained.

Crys Matthews is playing two shows in Northern Michigan this week.

Thursday, she'll be at the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts in Manistee (more info), and Friday, Blissfest is presenting her at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey (more info).

To learn more about why salt and pepper pistachios are Matthews's go-to snack when she's on the road, plus where she gets her dapper suspenders, listen to IPR's complete conversation with her using the "listen" button, or subscribe to the Studio A podcast.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.