Alumni of the Month  |  2019-06
June 25, 2019

America’s Songbird Lifts Voices and Diverse Communities in Africa, Europe, and the U.S.

Known as “America’s Songbird,” Myrna Clayton is spreading her wings. The prolific singer, known best for her work in jazz, soul, gospel, and R&B, recently returned to the United States from Windhoek, Namibia, where she traveled with the support of the Arts Envoy Program, to celebrate and teach during Jazz Appreciation Month in April 2019. While Myrna’s main goal during her exchange experience was to share American culture through music, she also prioritized connecting with local communities. During her tour of Namibia, she and her band held jam sessions with local musicians at the Katutura Community Arts Centre, conducted a masterclass at the College of the Arts in Windhoek, participated in a recording session at NBC Radio, and visited children with special needs to share the joys of music.

During her time in Namibia, Myrna engaged local crowds through her music, culture, and stories, drawing from her wealth of international experience as a performer. In 2018, Myrna and her band toured Eastern Europe with the American Music Abroad program, visiting Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova over the span of four weeks. In addition to her performances, Myrna focused on engaging younger and underserved audiences who typically have few opportunities to meet American performers. Myrna and her band were able to give this younger generation the opportunity to experience live American music firsthand. 

Myrna is committed to inclusivity and reaching diverse audiences no matter where she is. She carries her spirit of advocacy abroad and at home in the United States. In an effort to enable and empower under-privileged groups, Myrna serves as the Executive and Artist Director of Abel 2, a grassroots nonprofit organization focused on meeting the needs of people with disabilities and marginalized communities through music and art.

Through ABEL 2, Inc., whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families, through music and performance opportunities for employment and enjoyment, she has been able to establish programs such as SHOW-Ability, an initiative that showcases the talents of individuals across the disability spectrum. Myrna says, “not only does this event create self-confident agents of change, but it also helps educate, sensitize, and dismantle unintended barriers when it comes to people who are differently-able. We focus on the excellence of their abilities and seek to change the negative narrative associated with this the largest minority population in the US.”

As Myrna’s career continues to blossom, she is working harder than ever to foster cross-cultural connections and empower performers from marginalized groups to share their talent with the world. Upon returning to the United States, Myrna has continued to work with international artists. She is currently collaborating with a fellow singer named Adora whom she met in Namibia to create a “world unity song” that creatively blends American and Namibian sounds, dialects, and cultural elements.

Additionally, Myrna has developed a monthly music series titled Atlanta Jazz: International Sound Series. This program features top international artists based in Atlanta and focuses on facilitating and promoting cultural exchange through music. Myrna notes, “Atlanta has people from all over the world residing here, but very little cross-pollination of culture occurs. This monthly cultural exchange event would likely not have happened had I not participated in the U.S. Arts Envoy exchange program.”

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Congratulations to Myrna on being named June 2019’s Exchange Alumni Member of the Month! We look forward to seeing what she will do next.
 

Jazz, performance, exchanges, and more!

Check out Myrna's music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=690xt_ePCdM