Be Brave was born out of a commission to honor the life and legacy of Brenda Worley Billings. Among many ways she is remembered, Brenda was a prominent member of the Denver-area theater community and served many organizations in both artistic and management positions. Through meeting with her immediate family, I found true inspiration through stories told and memories shared about her generous spirit and profound impact she made upon others. With this in mind, as well as her personal motto of “BE BRAVE,” I set to work to find a text that would seek to capture as much of that spirit as possible with mere words.
“Remembered,” the selected poem by turn-of-the-century African American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), beautifully captures the intention of honoring Brenda as well as creates an imagery that can be understood by children and adults alike: an iconic woman lifting her voice in song and the profound impression it left upon the listener. It stopped his world, inspired his heart, and yet, even when that woman was gone, he could still hear that song – find bravery to move forward – and know the bearing of its message.
Even more, a fascinating connection surfaces when researching the life of the poet. Dunbar, in addition to being a leading poet of his day, helped write the first musical entirely written and performed by African Americans. Produced on Broadway in 1903, In Dahomey, was a success and made its tours of the United States and England for four years. This musical theater connection spoke to me and reinforced the memory of Brenda’s influence and dedication to musical theater, and gave direction to what this piece might ultimately sound like.