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Black Women Rock

Detroit, Michigan

Jessica Care Moore

By Tunde Wey
October 26, 2012

There is a YouTube video with a now legendary quality to it. A strikingly beautiful young woman with long braids stands just behind a microphone stand on a stage. Confidently and without ceremony, she picks up the mic and delivers, in rapid-fire staccato, a spoken word performance of overwhelming emotion and vocal dexterity. The year is 1995 and Jessica Care Moore has just sent the infamously tough Apollo Theater crowd into a burst of enthusiastic applause.
Jessica Care Moore is jazz. At 41, her life has been full of wild syncopations; irregular disturbances at unexpected intervals that eventually forces the compelling life she is living into focus.
Today she calls herself a conceptual artist, another syncopation that demonstrates Moore’s insistence on authentic expression.  Most people are amazingly complex, with various competing interests, but few are fortunate enough to pursue those interests fully and in whatever order that inspires them. Moore has done precisely this, starting with poetry and writing, then moving on to music performance and later lingering on authorship and entrepreneurship. She has become an inadvertent cultural critic and hip-hop muse; she has been a wife and is now a mother who experiments in fine and multimedia arts. Each role she has executed on her own schedule and with complete devotion; her interests persist and grow.
"People love Detroit because of its history, not because of what is here. The new people are trying to connect to the authenticity that was here."
For our purposes we’ll specifically examine Black Women Rock! (BWR), one of the endeavors of the multihyphenate Detroiter. BWR is an annual weekend-long cultural concert featuring female musicians of color. It is a tribute concert to Betty Davis, an influential funk and rock predecessor. Davis’s musical sensibility and personal style are credited with influencing the music of her husband Miles Davis and presumably ushering the jazz-rock fusion movement of which Miles Davis was a pioneer. BWR describes itself as “a beautiful and necessary response to the void in music concerts and education around women in the rock and roll genre.” BWR features musical performances, panel discussions, workshops and live painting. The event has been graced by performers like Monica Blaire and Res as well as artists like Sabrina Nelson.
Moore launched BWR in 2004 when she was living in Atlanta. The event followed her to Detroit when she returned home in 2007. The Charles H Wright Museum of African American History in Midtown has been the home of BWR since 2010. Starting such an event of national prominence, featuring artists and musicians from across the country and sometimes abroad, requires a particular clout; Moore has been building a reputation as an artist and performer for the better part of two decades.

After her legendary performance at the famed Apollo Theater—where she won the amateur competition for a record five straight weeks—Moore’s life was changed. Only having moved to New York from Detroit a mere five months prior, she became an instant celebrity; she says it wasn’t uncommon for her to be accosted by fans in the streets. Eager to evolve her newfound celebrity into meaningful pursuits, Moore launched Moore Black Press. It is a publishing house she describes as necessary “because we need to tell our own stories.” The “we” she speaks of are African American writers and poets, many of whom are not nearly as represented as their Caucasian counterparts by larger presses. Through Moore Black Press, she has published notable poets like Danny Simmons—brother of music impresario Russell Simmons—and Saul Williams. Moore Black Press has published 11 books to date; Moore has three published works of her own poetry.
Moore calls herself a “blue collar poet”—a moniker quite fitting in describing her work ethic and background. She grew up on the west side of Detroit, right on the Dearborn border at Ward and Tireman streets. Her father was an entrepreneur who owned a construction company; Moore proudly states that her father helped build Wonderland Mall. Her mother worked for Michigan Bell while raising eight kids. Her home was full of love, play and hard work—her memories of growing up, idyllic. At 24, Moore left Detroit for New York in search of fame and recognition. She wasn’t disappointed.
After five years in New York, living in Harlem and Brooklyn and working with artists such as Nas and Talib Kweli, Moore relocated to Atlanta. She would spend another seven years there before returning back to Detroit in 2007.
It had been 12 years since she lived in Detroit; when she left, she was a young woman finding her voice. Now she has come back a world-acclaimed poet, a worldly adult experienced in joys and disappointments. Reawakened by proximity to the memories of her youth, she has begun again to explore issues of religion, empowerment and socioeconomics, themes consistent throughout her body of work. God is not American, Moore’s third book, was written in Detroit after her return. It is an agglomeration of her experiences living with a religiously plural family and a cultural critique of an insular worldview.  Moore has turned the book into a multimedia show, touring it around New York.
Any contemporary story of Jessica Care Moore has to end suspended and hanging because she seems to be always exploring and tilling the depth of what she could be. There is always a new tangent, like her rehashed multimedia show about Detroit with artist Antonio “Shades” Agee entitled “The Missing Project: Pieces of the D,” which explores the  the identity of a city losing its history; or her studio at 555 E Gallery, where she is practicing her art.
“People love Detroit because of its history, not because of what is here. The new people are trying to connect to the authenticity that was here,” she says. For Moore authenticity is achieved in constantly iterating and progressing while still honoring the past.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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Related Resources

  • 555 Gallery
    555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios’s mission is to strengthen communities with the arts. 
  • Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
    The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.