Here’s a piece with words by a poet I knew nothing about until this year, and still now know next to nothing about: Ray G. Dandridge. Born in 1882, Dandridge grew up and lived his life in Cincinnati Ohio, and I read that he was sometimes called “The Paul Laurence Dunbar of Cincinnati,” presumably because he shared the Afro-American ancestry of Dayton, Ohio’s Dunbar.
Dandridge was bit younger than Dunbar and he lived and wrote for twenty years after Dunbar’s death, but he remains less well-known and less read today than Dunbar, perhaps because he seems to have never traveled outside of Cincinnati. In his youth, he was partially paralyzed by polio, and he supplemented what he could earn writing by taking orders for the local coal company.
Perhaps Dunbar’s best-known poem is “We Wear the Mask,” a supple lyric that sings the—at the least—duality of needing to present a composed face while living with the realities of racism. Today’s episode, “Zalka Peetruza, Who Was Christened Lucy Jane” is one of Dandridge’s best-known poems, and it also deals with this burden of duality, but Dandridge takes on another layer of intersectionality by making his subject a black woman. Dandridge’s Zalka has found herself, rechristened as a non-American exotic, dancing “near nude” yet wearing even more layers of Dunbar’s mask.
Perhaps Josephine Baker made the exotic mask work for her?
For my performance of Ray G. Dandridge’s “Zalka Peetruza, Who Was Christened Lucy Jane” I fired up a turgid synthesizer patch to carry much of the lead line over a swaggering beat, and you can hear it by using the player that appears below. If you like this you can make use of the social media sharing buttons to let others know what we’re doing here at the Parlando Project.