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Telling the Stories of “Obscure” Women

Tammy Denease Richardson is a living, breathing storyteller.  Not the kind that sits down and reads stories to children, but the kind that becomes the living embodiment of the person she is portraying.  She dresses the part and uses tools and language from the time period of the women she portrays.
Here’s her story:

Your interest in stories began in childhood by listening to your grandmother, right?  Tell us about that.

I grew up in Mississippi. My Great Grandmother (we called her Muddea) was an enslaved woman who lived to be 125 years of age. She accomplished many things in her “short” life :-}

After she was given her freedom during the Surrender, she would go on to become well known in the community as a shrewd business woman. She purchased 40 acres of land from her earnings. That land is still in the family to this day.  I was but 7 years of age when Muddea or Dear died. But I remember sitting with her and her sharing recipes and telling me family history. She instilled in me a sense of family and the need to tell “our” history.

Telling “our” history.  You’ve listened to these stories and you’ve got this direction,  what do you do with it all after that?

When I think of the time spent with my great grandmother and grandmother (she lived to be 100 years of age) I feel a sense of pride to know that I come from a people who are intelligent, resilient, resourceful, strong – a people to be proud of.  I feel the need to share these stories of positivity and to help tear down the walls of stereotypical rhetoric.

Talking about your journey a little more, you used to sing in a band.  What was that like for you, why did you leave it and how did that bring you into or support your goal to be a storyteller?

Yes, many moons ago I sang with two sisters. It was fun to have the crowds enjoy what we were sharing. I also did the solo thing for a while.  However, I decided not to pursue singing for several reasons. The main reason was at the time I had a 2 year old and I did not want to be away from her for extended periods of time. I also walked away because I needed to do it on my terms. I wanted to play a more creative role. Not to mention there is a shady side to the business that I did not care for.  (That’s a different conversation:-)

I always knew I would do something by way of entertaining people. When I was younger I would do school plays, sing, dance, etc. After several years of the corporate world, I had enough and decided to be an entrepreneur. I thought about where I came from and what I wanted to accomplish. I decided to go the historical path. I decided I can entertain and educate, become an Edutainer:-}

You portray “obscure women” – women who in their time were very well known but whose stories were later lost, forgotten and buried in american history.  How did you find out about them?

Growing up in the South, you are told about your heritage –  where you come from. So I have known of these women and other women like them. Sadly though in some parts of the country The African American legacies are not known. So I decided to bring these women to the fore. I do extensive research through reading, visiting the areas of my ladies, connecting with experts in fields that I have little knowledge (i.e. clothing experts, experts on the time period).  I also belong to different organizations that promote storytelling.

Why have you chosen the women that you chose to portray?  Is there something about their content and character that you personally relate to?  Or is it merely telling their story?

I connect with the women I portray. What I mean–if I lived at the time of these women I would be them. For instance my latest lady, Elizabeth “Mum Bett ” Freeman, although a slave, she was well respected and admired. She is the mother of the Civil Rights. She stood up for those who could not stand for themselves. This is me.

How important is it that we know about these women?

It is very important. We all need to know where we come from. Who we are. There is a saying, “If you do not know from where you came, you can’t possibly know where you are going.” I truly believe this.

Where are your most frequent venues for your portrayals or story telling?

I perform at convention centers, schools, corporations, senior centers, women clubs, museums. The only venues I do not do are political or religious organizations.

What venues would you like to be in?  Where do see that you and your historical art fit?  In other words, who should hear these stories and where should they hear them?

I would like to do documentaries or a film even. I have written a program on acceptance and I would love to see that used in schools, homes, the workplace – where ever diversity is needed. Everyone can benefit from what I do. We are never too old or too young to learn.

On the commercial side, do you plan to post more videos and eventually sell products related to this art that you do or are you geared more toward just live story telling?

I have a few videos in the can –  just waiting for editing to be done. More videos will be posted soon. I plan to do both. I will continue live performances.

I started a non profit called Historical Firsts Cultural Foundation. I hope to take what I do to another level. Books, dolls, educational material will someday be available. But as with anything it is about the finances.

If someone else wanted to do this, how would you suggest that they get started?

First know what it is you want to share. Then search for all the information you can (libraries, people, museums, experts on that person, etc). Then write your own material or work with someone who will write for you, if you are not a writer. Then make the story your own. Become that person while still being yourself. I would suggest contacting local storytelling guilds for guidance on how to get out there.

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