Songstress and Galveston native, Tanya Nolan shows off more than her vocal range. She can hold a tune but can she hold it down here on The Blackest Questions?
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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi and welcome to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we asked our guests five of the Blackest Questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s the way this works. We have five rounds of questions about us Black history, the whole diaspora, current events, everything. With each round, the questions will get a little bit tougher and the guest has 15 seconds to get it right. If they answered the question correctly, they will receive one symbolic Black fist and hear this. If they get it wrong, they’ll hear this, but we’ll still love them anyway. After the five questions there will be a Black bonus question at the end just for fun. So our guest for this episode is Tanya Nolan. She’s an accomplished R&B singer hailing from Galveston, Texas. Her musical journey started in the middle school band as a percussionist and later led her to become one of the first female drum majors for the world famous Tiger Marching Band at Grambling State.
Dr. Christina Greer: Since then, she’s continued to make music and climbed the charts. Tanya, thank you so much for joining the Blackest Questions.
Tanya Nolan [00:01:17] Hi. Thanks for having me. And I wasn’t a drum major. I was one of the snare drummers.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:23] Oh, okay. We’re going to get into the difference between that. So I want to hear all about that because I’m fascinated with percussion instruments. I played the Mbira, which is a percussion instrument from Zimbabwe. Have you ever heard of that?
Tanya Nolan [00:01:37] No, no.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:39] It’s not in the drum family. It’s the British used to call it a thumb piano. But I’m fascinated by musical instruments. And when I tell you I can’t carry a tune and I’ve seen your videos and your voice is amazing. I am the first one to admit I lip sing in church. Okay. I’m one of those people where when I sing it, everyone’s like looking around like, what is happening? Are birds being slaughtered? So I cannot wait to hear more about your musical journey and talk to you today. So you ready to answer the Blackest Questions?
Tanya Nolan [00:02:11] I’m ready. Let’s do this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:13] Okay. All right. First question. It’s known to be, in the end of slavery in 1865. On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed new legislation introducing a new federal holiday. What holiday is it?
Tanya Nolan [00:02:32] Juneteenth.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:34] Juneteenth is June 19th. And so Juneteenth for our listeners is the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state to ensure that all enslaved people were to be free. And two months after the Confederacy surrendered, this is when it happened. So although the troops arrived, arrival came two and a half years later than the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was an executive order, by the way, wasn’t a law. It is the 12th federal holiday that’s been added to our American calendar. So I know you’re from Galveston. When did you first hear about Juneteenth? Did you always talk about it in school? Because a lot of Black Americans did not know about Juneteenth before 2021. A lot of Americans didn’t know. But Black folks were like, Yeah, I sort of heard of it, but not really.
Tanya Nolan [00:03:21] No. In Galveston, we always talked about it in schools, but also in our homes, within our families. We definitely knew about it and we celebrated it on Juneteenth. Whether the rest of the world did, we always celebrate it on Juneteenth.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:36] Now, what were those celebrations? Did you have cookouts or was that just an acknowledgment? You know, did you all stay home from school? What did celebrations look like?
Tanya Nolan [00:03:45] With our family my mother did require us to go to school on that particular date. So if it fell like if it fell on a Wednesday, we definitely celebrated that day and also the weekends. And we did cookouts like barbecues like we celebrated with that. The Juneteenth was our 4th of July. If I’m saying that correctly, we celebrate it. We couldn’t do the fireworks, of course, but we had large family gatherings.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:13] Now, so what does it mean for you then, to be someone from Galveston, to see essentially what it feels like a personal holiday, recognized and celebrate it now nationally as a as a proper federal holiday.
Tanya Nolan [00:04:26] I feel as if it is long overdue. We shouldn’t have to fight this hard to make this a holiday. So it’s a win. But I’m happy about it, but I’m not ecstatic because it should have happened regardless. That’s right.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:48] One of those things where it’s like we’re happy, but it’s just like, you know what? It should have been mine. Now, just as a side, what’s your favorite holiday?
Tanya Nolan [00:04:57] My favorite holiday is Juneteenth.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:59] Oh, is it okay?
Tanya Nolan [00:05:01] You know what? Hold on. I have two. Is there hand in hand is Juneteenth and Christmas, and my birthday is on Christmas Eve. I love I love Christmas. So. So those two.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:12] Oh, lovely. Okay. Well, we’ll remember that here at theGrio and make sure we give you a shout out on Christmas Eve. Okay, so you’re on a roll. Let’s keep this momentum going. You ready for question number two?
Tanya Nolan [00:05:23] I’m ready. Let’s go. Let’s do this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:25] Okay. Known as the Galveston Giant. He was the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion. Who was he?
Tanya Nolan [00:05:34] Oh, my God. Where are you going…. His name starts with a J. He’s from my hometown, and I’m getting a brain fart. Oh, my God. His name starts with a J. I cannot remember. Louis. Last name? Louis, am I close?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:55] You’re thinking of Joe Louis, but it’s Jack Johnson.
Tanya Nolan [00:05:59] Oh! Jack Johnson. You have a statue of him right there in Wright Cuny, blocks away from one of my centers. That’s him. That’s him.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:09] Some of our listeners may remember Jack Johnson, born on March 31st, 1878, and he held the title from 1908 through 1915, and he had a record of 73 wins, 13 losses and ten draws. And in 1913, he was convicted by an all White jury for violating the man and. And so he left the country and returned several years later to serve his ten month sentence. And for those of our listeners who might not know, the Man Act made it a crime to transport women across state lines for the purposes of prostitution or debauchery or any other immoral purpose. And so the act was initially designed to combat forced prostitution, but it was broadly worded so that the courts could criminalize different forms of consensual sexual activity. And it was used as a tool to prosecute Jack Johnson and others. And, you know, Jack Johnson famously dated White women. And so that’s how the man act was was used for him. And then he died in 1946 in a fatal car accident at the age of 68, but was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954 and was formally pardoned in 2018. So actually all that time later. And so I know that there’s a statue for him in Galveston. Growing up, did you all sort of celebrate Jack Johnson the way you all talked about and celebrated Juneteenth?
Tanya Nolan [00:07:25] No.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:26] No, not in the same way. No. So and there’s a there’s a statue.
Tanya Nolan [00:07:30] Yeah, but no, we didn’t go. There is a statue. Is it right? WRIGHT CUNY right there in Galveston. In the park, in the hood. Mm, hmm. Yes, it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:42] Is in the hood. Oh, wow. I got to go check it out. And that was erected in 2012. Now, did you play sports growing up at all?
Tanya Nolan [00:07:49] I did. I played some sports with my cousins. Lots of cousins. Kickball. OUT, Red Light. Green light. All of that. Yes. Yes. Soccer. Yes, I did do sports . Or is. But not. Not like it wasn’t in any leagues or tournaments or anything. But. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:10] Right. Music was was clearly your thing. Not necessarily.
Tanya Nolan [00:08:14] That was no afterschool music. It was I was in band, you know, things like that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:20] Oh, fantastic. You know, when you said, OUT out, it made me think of. We used to play TV tag. It was a form of freeze tag. And so I think I’m a teeny bit older than you are. So before you could tag someone out, you had to say the name of a TV show. And so I grew up watching a ton of television. So you can play it with musical songs. You know, you can play, make it a little more difficult with songs that have to have certain words in them. It’s fascinating. But I mean, just the hours and hours of running around, you know, summertime with the lightning bugs smelling like outside.
Tanya Nolan [00:08:55] Remember those we used to put them in jars and put holes on top of the jars hoping when we woke up the next morning, they would still be alive. Of course they was always dead. Put a little dirt in it too. I also caught the tadpoles on this. But I. I had a fun childhood when it comes to things like that. Yes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:17] Absolutely. And I grew up in the Northeast. But I think that, you know, hearing these stories about so many, especially Black kids growing up, running around outside, you know, we had skates and hopscotch and our bikes. It’s like we’re these little Black botanists and scientists, you know, trying to figure out whether or not the bread ants will fight the Black ants and, you know, creating these little ecosystems and see what it’ll last overnight. Sadly again. Right. Not everything did. I’m just fascinated by these these childhoods that were filled with activities that didn’t plug in.
Tanya Nolan [00:09:48] But I incorporate some of those things that I did my childhood.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:52] Right. So do you feel like when you’re writing and you’re kind of stuck, creative creatively? Do you use nature as a way to kind of help, jumpstart some of that creative process? Or like what is your process when you need to create?
Tanya Nolan [00:10:11] I’m surprised you said that. When I’m having writer’s block, I just stop completely and I will, you know, sometimes go and sit on my front porch or my back porch and listen to nature and just clear my mind and receive all of that goodness. I try to, especially during the daytime hours. I would try to convince birds to sing to me. So I would take the bird food and put it out there so they can come to me, so I can just hear their voices and the crickets, things like that. It does, it relaxes me and it puts me in a zone and then I get back to it. I don’t force myself to do it, but then I’ll get back to it because I feel like I’m refreshed.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:55] Yeah, well, I’m a birder, so, you know, I fully appreciate the cacophony of sounds. And you can you can hear the communication and the beauty of it. And I love I love that I’ll listen to your music with a different ear now knowing that. Okay. You ready for number three?
Tanya Nolan [00:11:14] I’m ready. I cannot believe I missed Jack Johnson. Oh, my God. I’m so…
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:20] You know what? We will. We will celebrate Galveston. But when they.. Listen, we’re just going to chalk that up to, you know, we all have we all have brain freezes every now and then.
Tanya Nolan [00:11:33] That’s exactly what it was. The brain freeze. I knew it was J. I was I was about to say. Right, okay, but I’m ready with.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:38] Okay, question number three. This one’s a little bit of a toughie. In the third season of Saturday Night Live, this person pulled double duty and became the first Black person to perform and host on the show. Who were they?
Tanya Nolan [00:11:56] I have no idea. I didn’t I was I didn’t watch Saturday Night Live quite that often. Absolutely at.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:01] All. This one was hard for me, but it’s Ray Charles. So on November 12th, 1977, he performed four songs and even joked in his opening monologue. And then at the Times, SNL had the cast member, Garrett Morris, who was the first SNL Black cast member, and he was he was on the show. And many of you may know Garrett Morris , because he also was on Martin as Martin’s boss at the at the radio station. And so, sadly, Ray Charles died on June 10th, in 2004 at the age of 73. So as a musician, do you listen to much, Ray Charles?
Tanya Nolan [00:12:36] I listen to some Ray Charles. I’m a fan of his. I’m a fan.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:40] Do you have a favorite, Ray Charles?
Tanya Nolan [00:12:41] Yes, I. No, I. Not that I can. I’m on the top of my head.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:51] So I love all of his songs like Ruby and Cherry, and he has an album with Betty Carter. That is my one of my top five albums of all time. Like, I think Ray Charles and Betty Carter together make this beautiful music. And I know that your voice is this, like, blend of all these different, like, sultry and deep sounds. And so, like, you have in your one voice, you have this hybrid sound for me, you know, whereas like with Ray Charles and Betty Carter, the two of them together come to, they just come together and create this like pillar of sound that I cannot get enough of because her voice, you know, had that beautiful, hollow, kind of crystal clear ten notes and his had this, like, gravelly, you know, robustness to it. So, yeah, I can’t say that I know all of his work, but this Ray Charles Betty Carter album is just beautiful.
Tanya Nolan [00:13:52] And I definitely have a treat myself with that and check it out.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:54] Yeah, indeed. Especially because your voice is your voice is so unique, I think, and it just kind of envelops you in a way that I think Ray Charles and Betty Carter do. And so he was on the SNL stage. I always think whenever I think of sort of Black singers, I always think of the Apollo stage. Have you ever been on the Apollo stage or to the Apollo in New York?
Tanya Nolan [00:14:18] No. No, I have not.
Tanya Nolan [00:14:21] I have not.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:22] What’s on your bucket list of places to perform?
Tanya Nolan [00:14:26] Well, I would like to visit the Apollo and check it out. And, you know, let me reword about SNL. I didn’t watch it as much in my youth days, but as an adult, I watched it quite often. Right. Saturday Night Live, one of my my favorite shows. And as far as Apollo, I grew up watching Showtime at the Apollo with Steve Harvey, OMG. So that’s what my visit and actually be on that stage for some type of performance. Not sure yet. It was presented to me recently some of the back from one of my team members about Showtime at the Apollo. So I’ma get back with them.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:10] Yeah, I, I’ve, I’ve done some political events there. I think what always fascinates me and I know you perform quite extensively all over how these places look so large on television. And then when you get there, yeah, this place is tiny.
Tanya Nolan [00:15:25] It’s the camera tricks. .
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:26] These fishbowl care. Okay, you ready for question number four?
Tanya Nolan [00:15:30] Yes, I am. Dr Christie.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:33] Here we go. Here we go. Question number four. This person served as Kamala Harris’s chief of staff during her 2020 presidential campaign and recently was the first Black an openly LGBTQ+ White House secretary. Who is this person? And White House press secretary.
Tanya Nolan [00:15:55] I am… You know, it just sounds as if I’m just not educated when it comes this type of thing.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:00] No, no, no.
Tanya Nolan [00:16:02] I do not watch the news. Hardly ever. It would have to be because it’s depressing to me. So on the news, a lot of this includes politics. I have no idea. But I do know who Kamala Harris is. I have a right here to the right of me on my wall.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:17] Oh, excellent. So Vice President Kamala Harris, when she teamed up with Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee and they were running for the presidency, she chose Karine Jean-Pierre, who has since become the U.S. press secretary for the president. And in that role, which Corinne assumed on May 13th, 2022, Green essentially serves as the voice of the White House. And so this position was originally first started March 4th in 1929. And so some of the duties of the press secretaries collecting information about events and actions of the president and the administration. And so Karine is the first African-American, first Haitian-American, the first openly gay member of or gay press secretary in the history of our nation. And so it’s a huge role that we have a Black woman representing us in that capacity.
Tanya Nolan [00:17:20] In the LGBT. Yes it is. Most def.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:23] You know, I think a lot of folks focus on the fact that Karine’s, the child of immigrants and Black. But it’s really important that we also uplift the fact that Karine is openly gay and has always sort of been in the forefront of making sure that the LGBTQ+ members are seen in this capacity. And so I know that you’ve done a lot of work to support members of the LGBTQ+ community. And so why do you think that so many people in the arts have been so vocal and like leaders in this capacity? And we haven’t always seen people in other occupations kind of step up and stand up the way they could or should.
Tanya Nolan [00:18:02] Oh, well, maybe the others in those other occupations don’t think it is important. But in the LGBTQ community, the ones that are standing up, things are important and have a voice and they’re fighting for it. I don’t understand why the others are not doing it in what whatsoever those other areas are. But when it comes to the LGBTQ community, we’ve been around forever, before Christ, after the Christ, whatever you want. Been here forever and ever. And so it’s like. It’s like we’re here and we’re not going anywhere. And it just makes sense to fight for our rights. And I’m proud that we have individuals in this community and in all communities throughout the entire world that are willing to, you know, put, put, put their their peace and my on the line, okay. When I make peace in mind, because it’s not going to just it’s not an easy process. It’s not an easy journey. But they’re paving the way for the future. They’re paving the way for, you know, tomorrow. They’re paving the way for now. And I’m just grateful that we’re finally being heard. And I’m very grateful for, you know, Obama, who assisted and passed in that same sex marriage law, because I’m married to someone who I love dearly. And it’s a lot that goes into that. But it’s like we’re here and we’re not going anywhere ever.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:38] I think, you know, I always feel like we’ve come so far in a lot of issues, LGBTQ plus issues, racial and ethnic issues, gender and sexuality, you name it. But we still have so far to go, you know, because it seems we in American democracy, there’s always this progress and regress. You know, we make two strides and then sometimes it feels as though we fall back some, you know, and as we think about this particular past administration and how they tried to roll back so much of the progress that we’ve made in our communities and with the people that we love. It just it reminds me to just always keep my foot on the gas, right? So we can’t just sort of have a win and celebrate the win. It’s like, no, no, no. We still got to. We got to we got to keep the pressure on.
Tanya Nolan [00:20:25] Mm hmm. That’s right. I agree wholeheartedly.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:27] Okay. I think you’re doing well. I think you’re doing well.
Tanya Nolan [00:20:31] Yeah, I think I’m going… I am educated today.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:35] And I appreciate you and our listeners. I know they appreciate it, because, you know, the goal of this podcast, as I told you, Tanya, you know, we are not perfect. We just need to make sure that we know our history so that we can keep keep doing the good work. Right. Okay. So so this one, let’s see, because I know that you are you know, you are our resident musician here on the Blackest Questions. So question number five. You ready?
Tanya Nolan [00:20:57] I’m ready. Let’s go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:58] So we like football and we all love the band. We can have our thoughts about the NFL and all that good stuff. But, you know, we like football. We love the band. What is the name of the post game band performance called.
Tanya Nolan [00:21:16] Post-Game Band Performance. I’ve never heard of that. That’s new.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:19] I’ll talk to my producer about this. So the name of the post-game band performance is oftentimes called the Fifth Quarter or the Battle of the Bands.
Tanya Nolan [00:21:33] Oh. Jesus. I did not know that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:37] So that’s when both bands stay after the game and they go for a song for song in a battle. And so they’re on YouTube for our listeners. You can do a fantastic deep dive, and there is hours and hours of content and talent about these fifth quarter battles from these folks who are coming from SWAC, the the Southwestern Athletic.
Tanya Nolan [00:21:56] Well, I know about the battles. Of course I know about the battles, but I didn’t know. That’s what they called it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:02] They call it the fifth quarter. And so because of certain rules during the game, the band can’t play as much. So the fifth quarter gives these bands essentially free reign to show off their skills.
Tanya Nolan [00:22:15] I do know all about them very well.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:17] So in band culture, with the likes of Southern and Jackson State and Prairie View A&M and most recently FAMU and Bethune-Cookman, those are just a few of the colleges that sort of have these very popular in the SWAC.
Tanya Nolan [00:22:30] Right?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:30] Indeed, right. So when you were in the band, you played snare drum or did you play something else in the band?
Tanya Nolan [00:22:37] A snare. Snare! Yes. All in the wrist.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:41] All in the wrist. Okay. Now, who’s your musical inspiration for drumming? Was it like Sheila E or was it someone else growing up?
Tanya Nolan [00:22:51] No. No musical influence when it comes to percussion. How that happened was I had a a large over bite, not a gap. And so in I think it started in sixth grade for as me being in band, they had to decide what instrument I was going to be on. So by me playing a flute with a huge overbite was not, to play clarinet. It was not going to happen. So they threw me on the drums, and I’m glad they did. And that’s how that happened.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:23] You know, I feel like I want to do a deep dive because so many of my friends, you know, in that sixth grade, when essentially you choose an instrument and then the teacher chooses the instrument for you at the same time. Right. And then there’s that kind of compromise that is made. I’ve talked to so many Black women who were told because of something with their embouchure, but we’ll just call with their mouth. Right. Whether their lips were, “too big” or their teeth were a particular way, they were given a particular instrument by a teacher. But they were also told explicitly, because you look this certain way, we’re giving you this other instrument. And I just feel like that little snippet that you just said reminded me of several Black women who have said something very similar. That is probably me, the deep dive, and ask around a little bit more as to people’s experiences in that sixth grade musical instrument choice selection.
Tanya Nolan [00:24:19] Yeah. That’s how that happened.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:21] Mm hmm. My niece was geared toward the trombone, so she’s a little sixth grader carrying around this massive trombone. Okay, so here we are. I think we did okay. I think we learned a lot. But before I let you go, do you have time for a little bonus question?
Tanya Nolan [00:24:38] I have plenty of time, let’s do this.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:40] Okay, so these are just a yes or no answer. You just choose either A or B. You ready? So this is Rapid Fire. Okay.
Tanya Nolan [00:24:48] I’m ready.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:50] Who’s got the better chicken , Frenchie’s or Popeyes.
Tanya Nolan [00:24:54] Frenchie’s.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:54] Krispy Kreme or Shipley’s .
[00:24:58] Dreamgirls or The Five Heartbeats.
Tanya Nolan [00:25:01] The Five Heartbeats.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:03] Okay. Would you rather be stuck in traffic on I-45 or deal with the Texas Heat?
Tanya Nolan [00:25:09] Oh, Lord. Oh, Jesus. Stuck in traffic on I-45.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:16] Okay. If the cookout starts at five, what time are you getting there?
Tanya Nolan [00:25:21] About 630.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:23] That’s early. And New Orleans Bounce or Houston Screw.
Tanya Nolan [00:25:28] Houston Screw,.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:29] Right! Boom, boom, boom, boom. Oh, my gosh. Tanya, I can’t thank you enough for joining us here on The Blackest Questions. And I want to thank you all out there for listening to the Blackest Questions. And so this show is produced by Cameron Blackwell and Richard White. If you’re like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts and share it with everyone you know.
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