For many local musicians, the March lockdown came as a bolt out of the blue, a cancelation of weeks of gigs which were crucial to their plan and income.
But for Fatima Washington, it was just one more blip in a year that was already designated for more personal time, more self-care and quiet.
Singing and the stage
Washington has become a Fort Wayne star based on both her singing prowess and her theatrical chops. She has been a staple of our arts community for more than a decade. Her performances on stages from music to theater has made her a musical icon, and her popularity is well-documented.
It was she who was featured in a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign event featuring former president Bill Clinton wherein she offered her well-known vocal chops to a variety of pop and R&B classics, even tackling some requested but unprepared Prince tunes in those weeks after his untimely death.
But despite her popularity and high profile, Washington had decided that 2020 was going to be a low key year in her musical career, making her upcoming appearance at Summer Nights at the Embassy one of just a handful of gigs for the vocal dynamo.
“I’ve been pretty radio silent, only playing maybe four or five times this year,” Washington said. “It’s a transitional year for me, one where I decided to take some time to address some health issues I haven’t really talked about. So as the Covid thing started playing out, I was watching it all from my hospital room after surgery.”
It wasn’t just the pandemic that was on her mind but also many other front burner issues which have stood alongside the battle for the world’s health. All of those are issues she’s beginning to explore in her own music and plans to make part of her performance at Summer Nights.
“I’m taking into consideration what the climate is right now, and I want to address that and still provide a bit of an escape from it,” she said. “Tensions are high, and we’re not all in one place right now politically or socially or healthwise. And I’m a black woman, and there’s no way of getting around that. There are things that I want to address in my three sets that night, but I also plan to have some fun.”
The Embassy Theatre has had to make some adjustments to the proceedings this year to allow for social distancing which means no dance floor, a definite disappointment for Washington.
“I always love to see people going out there on the dance floor,” she said. “It’s just this diverse group of people going out there and enjoying each other. People might go out to dance with one particular person, but then they start getting to know others there and dancing with three or four other people they just met. Music provides that for us. Unfortunately no, there won’t be any dance floor this year, but there’s no reason people can’t stand up at their table and dance.”
Her previous surgery is the first of several, making Summer Nights a good time to catch Washington live while she’s available.
“I’m feeling a lot better, and there will be another surgery shortly after the Embassy show,” she said. “I had decided long before any of this stuff came up that 2020 was going to be the year that I was going to get my health together. It was my year to just be Fatima, not ‘Fatima Washington, singer.’ Now I tend to myself and say, ‘I feel tired so I’m going to sit down.’”
Taking some time
“I feel like I’ve needed this time, and I’ve been writing some new music,” Washington said. “During my recovery I was able to reflect on the things I was seeing on TV. I’d watch the news and see the things I wanted to talk about in my music. I talk to my friends about this a lot, how we just keep going, but it’s OK to sit down for a while. If we don’t take time for us, how can we be a good person, a good mom, a good family member?”
She also points out how doing covers of other songs allows her to further her message, hopefully allowing people to hear the words and not just the groove.
“‘Let’s Go Crazy’ [by Prince is] one of those songs that people sometimes just dance and get caught up in the going crazy part,” Washington said. “But you listen to those lyrics, and he says, ‘Are we going to let the elevator bring us down? No!’ Are you going to let the world bring you down? ‘If you don’t like the world you’re living in, take a look around. At least you’ve got friends.’”
Washington feels comfortable with the very careful consideration the Embassy has given to making the event safe, keeping the numbers down, the tables carefully spaced, and the rooftop open.
But she also understands those who aren’t ready to attend that kind of event yet and encourages people to tune into the final hour of her performance which will livestream for those at home.
However you choose to enjoy the show, Washington is looking forward to tackling today’s issues in a friendly atmosphere.
“I have a lot to say, but anyone who knows me know I love to laugh. I love to have fun. The two can go together.”
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