is a podcast that turns stories into songs, featuring David Gilmour, Joyce Carol Oates, Steve Earle, Roxane Gay, Amanda Shires, Susan Orlean and Katie Melua. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Ashley C. Ford and Be Steadwell, only at Paste.
Ashley C. Ford keeps busy. The bestselling author of the memoir Somebody’s Daughter is also a teacher, a podcaster, and a journalist who has written up-close and personal profiles of celebrities like Janelle Monae, Anne Hathaway and Serena Williams.
So when filmmaker and songwriter Be Steadwell recorded a deeply heartfelt song in response to Ford’s memoir, she kept her expectations in check.
“She’s probably not going to even, like, have time to listen to it,” Steadwell remembers thinking. “She’s, like, a big deal!” Perhaps even worse than no response, Steadwell was afraid that Ford would say something disinterested and vague like, “It’s cool.”
To Steadwell’s surprise, Ford sent a video of herself listening to the song and weeping openly.
“Seeing her listen to the song, and cry—and really feel it—definitely surprised me,” Steadwell says. “I think I cried watching her cry!”
Later, when the two got on a call, Ford explained how much the song means to her.
“This entire process couldn’t have gone better, just with the book coming out, and the response to it, but I have to tell you that this has been the sweetest part,” Ford says. “I would trade in ‘New York Times Bestseller’ for this song.”
It is not surprising that a book like Somebody’s Daughter would inspire such an emotionally vivid and personal song. The memoir grapples with the complicated emotional lives of Ford’s family, and recounts a vulnerable and often terrifying childhood. Ford says that her early emotional landscape was so challenging that she used fantasy and disassociation to protect herself. The idea of magic, of things outside human normal experience, offered the possibility that intractable problems could one day disappear.
“Maybe my dad is in prison for something he didn’t do,” Ford recalls thinking. “Maybe my mother is only this way because she doesn’t have someone in her life that loves her romantically. And if she did then maybe she would finally be so happy that she wouldn’t have to be mad anymore.”
Steadwell built the musical bed of her recording around a sinuous, haunting vocal melody. She says that she wrote the song about recognizing and honoring hidden pain, especially for Black girls.
“Black girls are the most ignored, the most disposable,” she says. “It’s easy for our voices to be muted.”
Ben Arthur (@MyHeart on Twitter) is the creator and host of SongWriter. His latest song, “Persistent Ghosts,” is about traumatic memory.