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A powerful and timely story we all need to know.

E. Faye Butler in
Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
Photo by Liz Lauren.

Dear Readers, before I talk about the current Seattle Rep production of Cheryl L. West's, "Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer" I need to step up on my soapbox for a minute. And if what I'm about to talk about offends, then something tells me you wouldn't want to see the show anyway, so you can just move on. But I need to address the lack of advance knowledge I had about Fannie Lou Hamer and the struggle for black people to get to vote in this country. A struggle that sadly still exists today, making this show quite timely. But the fact that this stain on our history, among others, are not readily taught in our schools is appalling and why the inclusion of Critical Race Theory needs to be included in our curriculum. We're more than happy to talk about the atrocities of other countries but when it comes to our own, we look the other way. And I doubt I was the only one last night who wasn't familiar with the works of Hamer and the horrors she endured. Something we all should think about. OK, off the soapbox, let's talk about Fannie.

Daughter of a sharecropper, Fannie eked out as much education as she could while working full time at the age of 12. And with what little education she had she could still see the importance for all people to vote in our elections. But even as late as the 1960's, voter registration was kept from some citizens in the form of registration tests that kept the uneducated from getting anywhere. But this restriction only emboldened her more and thus started her down the road of becoming one of the most powerful voices for voting rights. A journey that would put her life in danger.

West's one woman play, through speech and song, takes us on the journey with Fannie as she relays the obstacles she overcame through sheer will and determination. But beyond a dry history lesson or lecture, West deftly invites the audience in to become a part of the journey. Simple things like offering call and response moments within the story. A quick "Can I get an, Amen?!" early in the show brings the audience closer and gives us permission to be even more present and invested. So much so that by the end we're singing along with Fannie. And West, along with music director an arranger Felton Offard and his fantastic band, also superbly incorporate the music of the piece keeping the story hopping and giving us an even further look into Hamer and how music guided her.

But the band aside, this is a one-woman show and requires someone who can carry the evening. Well, as Fannie, E. Faye Butler seems to have enough within her to carry the evening, the audience and the whole theater with one hand behind her back. Butler is why the term "force of nature" was created. For 70 minutes she sings, preaches, and guides us though this achingly emotional story without any sign of slowing. And her portrayal of Hamer never once wavered throughout it all. This is truly a performance for the ages and one that should not be missed.

"Fannie" is the first must see show of the season and demands your attention. And so, with my three-letter rating system", I give "Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer" at the Seattle Rep a mighty WOW. There are stories, lessons in our history, that require attention and this one is certainly one of them.

And one final personal note for our current politicians running our country, and who are, to this this day, still trying to restrict people from voting. I have a question for you. What are you so afraid of? Why do you not want everyone in this country to have a vote? I think we know the answer and you should be ashamed. Your job is to help ALL people of the country and so ALL people need to be afforded the same rights and access to voting. It's really quite simple.

"Fannie: The Music and Like of Fannie Lou Hamer" performs at the Seattle Rep through February 13th. For tickets or information visit them online at

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From This Author - Jay Irwin

         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting... (read more about this author)

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