Remembering Maya Angelou's Best Pop Culture Moments From 'SNL' Spoofs to 'Miss Calypso'
The world lost a giant on Wednesday — one of the world's most acclaimed poets, writers, teachers and most inspiring women, Dr. Maya Angelou passed away in her home in North Carolina at the age of 86. Though she is gone — and it hurts so profoundly to admit that she is gone — she leaves behind a wealth of inspiration not only in her many novels and poems, but in her buoyancy and strength and loving kindness, as well. Her personality was electric, and her unerring smile through the untenable hardships she overcame made her a figure so revered and respected that even comedians wanted to pay her homage.
Now, we take a look back at Maya Angelou, a woman who transformed her experiences and tragedies into life lessons and strength for women, for African-Americans, and for anyone faced with adversity that was seemingly impossible to overcome. Angelou taught us all that we can triumph no matter the circumstances. Among her many talents, she was a gifted performer, from her role in Porgy and Bess to the several screenplays she penned. Her inimitable personality made many, well, try to imitate her.
Here are some of her own most memorable performances, and some loving and revering spoofs that tried to capture that special blend of honor, triumph, humor and general love of life that Dr. Angelou possessed. Rest in power.
1. Starting a Calypso Heat Wave
In 1957, a gorgeous, 29-year old Angelou starred in the film Calypso Heat Wave. Though she would later go on to be one of the world's most renowned poets and activists, she got her start as a performer, and she had a beautiful voice. She released an album of calypso songs called Miss Calypso in 1954 before the film, and she performed as a mysterious, sultry calypso singer in the film with the same name. You can watch her performance here in a discussion with one of her dear friends and mentees, Oprah Winfrey.
2. David Alan Grier as Dr. Angelou on Chocolate News
In 2008, In Living Color's comedian and actor David Alan Grier returned to Comedy Central with Chocolate News, a spoof-news show with a black perspective. In this clip, Grier poses as Dr. Angelou in an interview where she's asked to improvise some poems for the future President, be it Barack Obama or John McCain. Grier captures Angelou's exuberance perfectly and hilariously.
3. Introducing her fine name on Sesame Street
Perhaps her most charming segments. Maya Angelou appeared on Sesame Street to sing along with the Muppets several times. In this clip, she sings a song called "My Name," all about loving yourself and your unique identity. The children are adorable, the Muppets are adorable, and Maya Angelou is, as always, adorable. Stand up tall and say it proudly!
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs
It was one of SNL's most bizarre shorts, and it came to be one of the most beloved: Maya Rudolph playing a wily trickster Maya Angelou, pranking her "esteemed colleagues" in a prank show called I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs. Not only is Rudolph's impression on point, the sketch captures Angelou's humor and compassion in a way that is surprisingly sweet. "Watch what I do to my dear friend Dr. Cornell West." It's a riot, somehow.
5. "On the Pulse of Morning"
Her most memorable and historic moment in recent history, Angelou gave the inaugural poem at President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, ushering in a new era for America. "On the Pulse of Morning" is alive with hope, and though Angelou is no longer with us, we should take strength from the powerful words she gave us, and we are thankful for them.