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Corinne Bailey Rae kicks off ‘Black Rainbows’ tour at Staller Center

Corinne Bailey Rae kicks off her tour at The Staller Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Sept. 5. EMILY CHAO/THE STATESMAN

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae performed her upcoming fourth album, “Black Rainbows,” at the Staller Center for the Arts on Sept. 5 as the first stop on her tour. Given its release is not until Sept. 15, Bailey Rae gave an exclusive preview of her vibrant performances exploring stories of the African diaspora. She took inspiration from objects and artwork at the Stony Island Arts Bank — an art gallery, archival and cultural hub for Black history — in Chicago.

Special guest Jon Muq opened with some anecdotes and acoustic folk-pop songs. The Ugandan singer released his first single, “Runaway,” on the day of the concert and is working with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys to record his debut album. 

Bailey Rae’s band arrived and set a groovy tone before she took center stage in a statement sleeveless jumpsuit and glittery, golden boots. Contrasting her prior pop-soul, ballad and R&B music, many of her new songs have punk rock, electronic and experimental sounds. 

With an eclectic selection of instruments in front of her, Bailey Rae opened “A Spell, A Prayer” with a singing bowl instrument, its ethereal resonance enveloping the audience in a sense of mysticism as if weaving a spell that lingers in the very air of the auditorium. The haunting notes and otherworld vocals Bailey Rae conjured seem to reach deep into the souls of the audience, stirring up profound emotions. As the set transitions into “Erasure,” an electric howl from Bailey Rae’s electric guitar pierced through the stillness of the room, igniting a raw, visceral energy. With her fingers gliding on the electric guitar strings, she channeled her emotion into every strum, transforming the atmosphere into a shockingly rhythmic rock spirit. The audience was left in awe with the mix of astonishment and exhilaration as Bailey Rae’s newfound dynamic sound washed over them.

She set the guitar down later to greet the audience and discuss the inspiration, historical information, photographs and objects that Stony Island Arts Bank gave her for her album. 

She explores themes of black femininity in “He Will Follow You With His Eyes.” She sung with such which expressive and elegant motions leading up to the mesmeric, chant-like outro that had the audience clapping and cheering to the lyrics:

“my plum red lipstick 

my black hair kinking

my black skin gleaming”

Bailey Rae also shared the inspiration for “New York Transit Queen” and “Peach Velvet Sky,” both of which were released as singles with music videos ahead of the album’s release. Following one of the album’s themes of black femininity, Bailey Rae sings a punk empowerment song “New York Transit Queen” about Audrey Smaltz, who won the transit queen competition in 1954. Bailey Rae also displays her breathtaking vocal range as she delves into the story of Harriet Jacobs in “Peach Velvet Sky.” Jacobs, a fugitive slave and author, hid from her slave master for seven years in a crawl space where she watched her children grow up through a small loophole.

Bailey Rae closed with “Earthlings,” the epitome of a heartfelt and thought-provoking song. Every time she sings the word “earthlings,” the audience was moved by the history and spirit of the “Black Rainbows” album. In that moment, the audience was stirred not only by the power of her music but also by the message she conveys: a call to be mindful of our actions related to our history as we move forward. The emotion in the room was a complex blend of introspection, hope and a deep sense of responsibility. 

The night still young, Bailey Rae came out one last time with her band for an encore performance of “Like a Star” from her self-titled 2006 debut album, a nostalgic way to end the set.

Bailey Rae will continue her “Black Rainbows” tour in the United States before going overseas and returning for a few more performances into the new year. The full album will be released on Sept. 15.

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