The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Maya Angelou in Chicago: 1950s Singer, Friend of Pfleger, Oprah

By Wendell Hutson | May 28, 2014 11:43am | Updated on May 29, 2014 9:44am
 Maya Angelou came to Chicago many times over the years.
Maya Angelou
View Full Caption

DOWNTOWN — Poet Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday in North Carolina, was no stranger to Chicago, performing here as a singer in the 1950s and later appearing a number of times at St. Sabina Church and on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

As a singer, she performed at the Gate of Horn on the Near North Side in the 1950s, appearing with the Irish group the Clancy Brothers, an experience she later described as "extraordinary." Angelou was a calypso singer before finding fame as an author and poet.

In her autobiography, she described the "warmth" of the Gate of Horn, then at 755 N. Dearborn St., and recalled arriving as the Clancy Brothers were rehearsing. They sang a "revolutionary" song with the lyrics "The shamrock is forbidden by law to grow on Irish ground."

 Maya Angelou talks with Oprah Winfrey.
Maya Angelou talks with Oprah Winfrey.
View Full Caption
Getty Images/File Photo

"If the words Negro and America were exchanged for shamrock and Irish, the song could be used to describe the situation in the United States," she wrote.

"I was grateful I had a chance to do that," she said of her singing career.

Later, as she gained a reputation as a civil rights advocate, she appeared at St. Sabina, a Catholic church at 1210 W. 78th Place. ten times.

In 2010, speaking at St. Sabina as a guest of the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Angelou told the congregation that the violence in some city neighborhoods was "madness."

According to a report in the Sun-Times, Angelou said:

"It's come to me to say to each of you, that each of us, we have the possibility of changing somebody. Remember it. Stop it. Don't pretend that you've always been free. We have a responsibility to those who went before us, and those yet to come. If you really know who you are, that you've been paid for already, you'll be a kinder person. You'll be more generous. You'll look after the children," she said.

"At some point, we have to stop this madness. We have to stop it! We have to say, 'Wait a minute. Hello! Hello! Hello! No! No! Stop it!' " Angelou said.

On Wednesday, Pfleger called her "a queen" and said there would be a special dance performance in her memory at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

"Thank you...for being a voice, for being bold, for standing and for never compromising," Pfleger said on Facebook.

In an interview, the priest added, "Maya was a person who always had hope for people and never gave up on anyone no matter what."

She was a guest a number of times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The two met when Winfrey was a local show host in Baltimore.

Angelou once described how, in 1984, after Winfrey had moved to Chicago, the writer happened to see Winfrey on the street. They would develop what Winfrey called a "mother-sister-friend" relationship."

In 1997, Winfrey chose Angelou's "The Heart of a Woman" for her book club, and the writer appeared at the United Center in one of Winfrey's last shows in Chicago in 2011.

Winfrey often repeated on her show — 43 times by her own count — a conversation she had with Angelou where the talk show host told the poet of her troubled 20s.

"You did in your 20s what you did," she said Angelou told her. "When you know better, you do better."

It was a message of learning from your mistakes and moving on, Winfrey said.

A fan of Angelou since childhood, Winfrey has called her "one of the greatest influences of my life. ... She was the biggest rock star in the world to me."

On Instagram Wednesday, Winfrey added: "She will always be the rainbow in my clouds."

The two did end up on opposite sides of the presidential primaries in 2008, with Angelou backing Hillary Clinton and Winfrey supporting then-Sen. Barack Obama.

In 1995, Angelou appeared in Washington for the Million Man March organized by the Chicago-based Minister Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam. Of Farrakhan she said: "I am not his apologist nor the person to interpret him" but "he has a right to say what he thinks to be true."

In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called her "a true national treasure."

Gov. Patrick Quinn described her as "a towering figure of the arts."