A Message of Encouragement and Light from Beverly Glenn-Copeland

Julia Romie, Ohio State fourth-year honors student, BA in Public Management, Leadership, and Policy and Sociology, minors in Music and French

May 03, 2021

Beverly Glenn Copeland

In October 2020, the Wexner Center for the Arts had the great fortune of hosting singer, composer, and activist Beverly Glenn-Copeland for a live online performance and Q&A. Glenn, who has been recording music since the early 1970s, is a skilled singer and songwriter with a deep and gentle voice that has found a new and long-deserved popularity in recent years. Solo, he played two very soulful songs for us, one with light, pulsing synthesizer, long bass tones, loon calls, and unifying, healing lyrics about nature. He also performed his version of an African-American spiritual, “Deep River,” with quick drums (historically not allowed for enslaved people) put back into the song, singing with great passion and joyful energy. Through and along with his powerful music, Glenn offered moving stories and positive ideas, answering questions from students with healing, encouraging responses on a wide range of profound topics. Glenn’s music and message are truly unified and strikingly positive, and in a time when art and people are disconnected, when lovely vocal tone can only crackle through Zoom, in a time when people need help and hope, Glenn’s music and message ring only more powerfully.

Glenn has a singular presence; he has a peaceful, benevolent quality with a great strength that is open and courageous. As we listened to his music and to his thoughts, Glenn radiated wisdom, offering a perspective of clarity and positivity that pierced me right away through the haze of Zoom and COVID remote living. A transgender, Black artist in his 70s, Glenn has a rare standpoint of awareness and experience which makes his hopefulness and gratitude toward the world particularly precious and beautiful. In the challenges of this time, Glenn’s outlook is uplifting without being untruthful. I think that anyone feeling worry or anxiety about the world today could benefit enormously from Glenn’s music and presence, and I know that reflecting about Glenn’s insights on art and life in his October performance and our February interview has continued to bring me precious hope and inspiration. So, here is a collection of insights and lessons excerpted from my discussion with Glenn.

“Boogie-ing is very important.”

Glenn dances as much as possible, every day when he can, as exercise and as a way of praising the universe. Dancing is an act filled, he says, with spirit and appreciation. “It's another form of prayer, in a funny kind of way, or bringing the light out of one, you know. Just to be able to celebrate the motion of our bodies, right? In whatever way we feel like, right? I just think it's, yeah. I adore, I adore doing that.” And while everybody “has a different way” of dancing, Glenn starts dancing by relaxing and stretching, and ends by putting on music conducive to appreciation.


“The light inside us is more powerful than the darkness outside us.”

One of Glenn’s most affirming beliefs, shared in response to a question asking for advice for LGBTQ+ youth, is the idea that people radiate light and hope within us that transcends our circumstances. “Our most fundamental nature is profoundly beautiful,” he said in our interview, “no matter what state we go through, or experience for brief moments or a protracted period of time.” “The light is within us,” and so we can reach into ourselves for the hope and light we need to change our environment and world every day. “Your deepest self is an absolutely beautiful self,” he said. In spite of whatever unpredictable challenges we deal with, Glenn noted that we only have this moment right now, saying “whatever’s coming to you right now, trust yourself even if it's hard or challenging.”


“Life itself is the joy.”

Beverly Glenn Copeland

Photo: Paul Atwood

Listening to Glenn’s 2020 career-spanning album, Transmissions: The Music of Beverly-Glenn Copeland, several of his songs were so joyful ("Ever New" is a favorite of mine) that I became curious what sorts of things bring Glenn the most joy, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I asked him, however, he said that “You know, it's been years of just understanding that life itself is the joy.... The spiritual practice that I've been, you know, involved with for 47 years or something has imbued a sense of appreciation for the fact that we are here to experience this great gift of life, and that even though, you know, we may not live a long time in any given lifetime, or you know we may suffer... and it might be very, very intense, that the ideal is to be able to leave this life, if at all possible... to leave it with a feeling that, you know, this was a blessing. This was a blessing to just, to experience life because the universe itself is life.”

Glenn continued, “It's not like, ‘I'm always joyous!’” and laughed. “It's like: to develop the ability to come from suffering back to joy. Because we are going to experience suffering, and we are going to be grumpy, and we are going to be out of sorts on, you know, some days, and sometimes for a long period of time, because something really tragic has happened, and really difficult to understand has happened, right? But the overall thing is to be able to die with a smile on your face, going, ‘That was amazing!’”


We are “able to be part of” a profound universe.

Part of Glenn’s grateful and joyous perspective comes from his awareness of our position within the universe. When I asked him about his ability to be increasingly brave and hopeful throughout his life, even when harmful social barriers challenged him, he pointed to the stars. “Something much more profound made all of us,” he said. “And when you, when you go and you look out at the stars, and you think I'm looking at one galaxy, and there are billions of galaxies. Then you just kind of go, ‘Okay, you know, let's get real here, okay. There's something profound going on, and I ain't it,’” he laughed. “‘I'm part of it, but I ain't it, right?’ So there's an awe that begins to happen after a while, but awe is accompanied with deep appreciation. Right? Because you've, you've ended up being able to be part of it. Yeah. Yeah.” And as the years went on, this practice of awareness helped Glenn through social barriers and intolerance, “I could just say okay, that's, this is what society is accepting now, or this is what they understand now, or this is what the conversation is now, but, you know, my life is very valuable, and I'm not going to be crushed by that, by the fact that, you know, who I am or what I am is not something that's understood yet.”


“Give what only you can give.”

When I asked Glenn what he finds most beautiful and magical, he answered: nature, and when any individual, regardless of whether they are in a “creative” field, shares their idea, or their feeling, or their way of being. “When someone says, ‘I have felt lifted up in what I do and what I offer, and I feel that what I offer is precious,’ whatever it is,” that “encourages me so deeply.” When Glenn offers himself and his music, it is very precious, but it is also in turn encouraging to all of us, that we all have something to give which is precious and deeply valuable.

Glenn’s visit to the Wexner Center for the Arts and his recent flourishing of music, performances and art both center on affirmation and encouragement. Musically, Glenn’s voice and writing are joyous and beautiful, with soaring melodies, poetic lyrics, and evocative chords. In addition, his artistic presence has a heightened potency through its enlightening and uplifting message. Within his work, Glenn encourages us to see the light and beauty in our own existence, in our moment in time, and to trust and believe in ourselves amidst the unpredictability of the vast world. It is this message which is so perfectly timed for this moment in history, and which spreads like air through his music, through his speech, and through his performance, no matter the virtual form that COVID may require it to take.


This selection is part of Writing about the Performing Arts at Ohio State, an interdisciplinary student-led seminar during the 2020-21 academic year. With guidance from Department of Dance graduate teaching assistant Jacquie Sochacki and the Wexner Center’s Alana Ryder (Manager, Public and University Programs) and Lane Czaplinski (Director of Performing Arts), students with backgrounds in dance, economics, math, microbiology, political science, psychology, statistics, and beyond will serve as ambassadors and advocates for the arts. As a cohort, they will approach broad theoretical and philosophical issues behind contemporary performance as well as questions about the roles of arts critics and of arts criticism, especially in the era of COVID-19 and racial equity and social justice movements.

For more information, please email Additional interviews and student writing will be presented here later in the academic year.


Top of page: Beverly Glenn Copeland photo: Alex Sturrock

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