Damien Sneed: We Shall Overcome

By Kynnedi Henry

Damien Sneed is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist from Augusta, Georgia. He spent his college career studying music at Howard University, a historically black university. There he met many talented individuals, one of whom he studied under, Wynton Marsalis. Further into the performance, Damien opens up to the audience about his struggles with depression, failed attempts at suicide, and the overwhelming feelings of rejection because he did not understand why his parents would want to give him away to another family.

Sneed’s performance began with a song to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and many other pillars of the Civil Rights Movement, Damien Sneed recorded an album entitled We Shall Overcome. With a Grammy Award winning singer and recording artists, Damien Sneed eloquently took the audience on a journey back to the soul of the Civil Rights Movement. As the singers and musicians took the stage, anticipation in the audience began to build. Mr. Sneed walks to the piano and plays a jazz-like tune as Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, I Have a Dream, played over the music. “...homes being bombed, churches being bombed. This is a way of scarring the American Dream… in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, New York. I imagine even California the negro still can’t live where he wants to live…”


With Sneed playing a jazzy tune on the keys, the music sounded much like the sound of jazz musicians like Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Edwin G. Hamilton, and Duke Ellington. Anitra, the talented singer who sang “Will You Be A Witness For My Lord” had a deep, lustrous voice akin to the voice of Nina Simone. She sang the audience into the hearts of those living through the Civil Rights Movement era cleary communicating to us every emotion felt as they fought for equality, liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness.


Right before intercession, Damien chose to leave the audience with a song and word of encouragement. The selection to be sung was ‘Still I Rise’ by Gospel artist, Yolanda Adams. Sneed dedicated this song to those who have been weighed down with feelings of loneliness, rejection, suicide, and depression. As the singer, Alecia, sang, she directed the words into the pit of the audience’s soul with the intent to encourage those who have faced rejection, depression, and suicide.  “Sometimes I struggle but I make my way through; trials come to make me strong; I must endure.” She painted, with her words and voice, the meaning of this song upon all of our hearts that night. Sister Alecia sang so well that the speaker beside her literally began to smoke. Of course, I’d like to attribute this to her beautiful voice, but it was likely to be a technical difficulty.


As soon as the audience returned, after the brief intercession, Damien and his wonderful band of musicians began to close out the evening with the songs: Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Simon and Garfunkle, Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, and the African American Anthem, We Shall Overcome. Mr. Sneed selected these songs to portray Dr. King’s driving force during the Civil Rights Movement: reconciliation and repertoire. To sum it up, Tuesday evening was nothing short of riveting. He is truly one of few lyrical and musical geniuses to gather such a fine group of artists to tour cities all across America to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King and many other activists of the Civil Rights Movement.