Danielle Ponder: Some Of Us Are Brave

Original article from allaboutjazz.com, March 27, 2023. Written by Scott Gudell.

For years, when someone said “let’s go see Danielle Ponder” they may have been talking about going to court, since she was a dedicated Public Defender in Rochester, New York for approximately a decade. As a lawyer, she often found herself championing the indigent, beat down and challenged people of her community. More recently, as a black female singer who embraced a career change, she often found herself challenged, just like her clients. On Some of us Are Brave, her album from 2022, she opened with a pair of haunting pleas for equality and freedom written over a hundred years ago. Wait a minute, sorry, those songs are recent and, sadly, the first few tracks on the album are current mirrors of a divisive society that has, in many respects, decayed even more.

With this album, Ponder crafts compelling messages that reveal her innermost thoughts about courageously moving forward, often in powerful yet hushed tones that grow in intensity. It’s the emancipation of Danielle Ponder but, in addition, she makes sure that we understand she’s raising the flag on behalf of everyone who has ever been oppressed. Here’s part of the opening incantation from the title cut: “All we want is to be ourselves / And shine our light with no problems / We don’t want problems.” Her march to freedom continues with the determined: “So long all my fears / I’m ready for the day / If I lose some then I’ve lost them / What more can I say.” With “Someone Like You,” she’s not afraid to reveal vulnerabilities when she passionately longs for a close, intimate relationship: “Someone tell me what I got to do / Who I got to call / Which god I got to pray to.” The following song, “Only the Lonely,” displays resolve and strength when she adamantly declares: “Love is lost and I must walk away.” She confesses that she’s sinking even lower on “Thoughts,” by announcing: “I ain’t quite where I used to be / Don’t know where I am going.” Her style, at times powered by church organ and gospel choir and inspired by religious proclamations, brings everything to its final resting point with these last words: “Fight on for truth.”

Ultimately, this is an album about seeking solidarity. Be brave, stand tall, question the norm but keep moving forward. As with anyone, Ponder may have occasional doubts but she found herself returning to her core beliefs, often fueled by elements of southern gospel, heartfelt soul, bitter blues and ribbons of celestial communications.

While the bulk of the album is focused on the intense complexity of personal relationships, the first two songs, with their challenges to our current society, could very well confirm that she’s eligible to join an elite club of strong, determined singers including Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Abbey Lincoln and others. Strong women who delivered potent messages even if they, at times, had to march alone as well. Please welcome the newest member to that esteemed club, Ms. Danielle Ponder.