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In honour of Black History Month, Ruth B. shared a special re-release of one of her most stirring tracks. At midnight on Friday, she dropped a new version of her Black Lives Matter-inspired ballad “If I Have a Son,” now featuring backing vocals from the Harlem Gospel Travelers.
Like the original, the updated track is still anchored with the same moving piano chords. But now fans of the Edmonton singer’s soulful tone will hear it in an even more moving sonic setting, with subtle strings and understated choral backgrounds from the Travelers, a Harlem-based gospel quartet who Elton John co-signed on his Apple Music show Rocket Hour.
Ruth originally released the track in June, amidst the uprising after George Floyd’s death. For her, writing “If I Have a Son” was a way of expressing herself after the injustice left her feeling disconnected and drained.
When she announced the re-release on Instagram, she shared in the caption that all proceeds from the song would be placed towards charities “fighting for equality and hope.”
On a phone call ahead of the song’s re-release, we caught up with Ruth to talk about getting personal and using art to get through hard times.
Why did now feel like the right time to rerelease “If I Have a Son”?
For me, that song always had a really special place in my heart. Once I got in touch with the Harlem Gospel Travelers, they brought a really special touch to the song and obviously with February being Black History Month, I just thought it made sense.
How did you connect with the Harlem Gospel Travelers?
It was actually through my manager. He had sent me some of their stuff and I got to hear how amazing they were. We were thinking about revisiting the song anyway, but when I heard them I knew they’d be the perfect fit.
“With this particular song it was from a very deep part of my heart.”
How has the past year shaped what this song means to you?
I wrote this song following the murder of George Floyd and that’s definitely what catapulted me into creating it. For a lot of people, this is something that we’ve lived with all of our lives. It’s not really new. That moment in time definitely highlighted everything, but I think that this is a song I’ve always wanted to write. So being able to sit there and talk about real feelings I have and what I’m actually going through is really big for me.
Your music always feels very autobiographical but this song sounds especially personal. Was it more nerve-wracking to share something so close to home?
Definitely. With this particular song it was from a very deep part of my heart. And it’s not something that I particularly love to talk about and think about. When I put it into a song, it was more difficult to share it, but writing it came really naturally because it was so real.
In Malcolm & Marie, John David Washington’s character talks about how Black artists are innately politicized, just because of who they are. He saw it as a bad thing, but as an artist who made a song that is so politically inspired, do you?
That can definitely happen and it does happen a lot. I don’t know if it’s something that I’ve just gotten used to because it’s just who I am, but I don’t particularly notice these things. I will say that stuff gets read into more and people always want a reason for something. I can definitely relate. I get where he’s coming from.
Around the time when you wrote this, when there was the uprising, what else were you listening to?
During that time I wasn’t really listening to music. I was feeling kind of hopeless when that all happened. It was so scary, especially since it was on video. I was really disconnected and writing “If I Have a Son” is what brought me back. Music is my form of therapy so being able to put everything I was feeling into a song helped me come back to that.