Season 4, Episode 8
Ashley C. Ford + Be Steadwell
Ashley C. Ford, photo by Sylvie Rosokoff
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 Ashley’s memoir, she tried to keep her expectations in check.
“She’s probably not going to even, like, have time to listen to it,” Be remembers thinking. “She’s, like, a big deal!” Perhaps even worse than no response, Be was afraid that Ashley would say something disinterested and vague like, “It’s cool.”
To Be’s surprise, Ashley 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,” Be says. “I think I cried watching her cry!”
Later, when the two got on a call, Ashley 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,” Ashley says. “I would trade in ‘New York Times Bestseller’ for this song.”
Self-portrait by Be
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 Ashley’s family, and recounts a vulnerable and often terrifying childhood. Ashley says that her 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 difficulties could one day disappear.
“Maybe my dad is in prison for something he didn’t do,” Ashley 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.”
Be built her song around a sinuous, haunting vocal melody. She says that she wrote it about recognizing and honoring hidden pain, especially for Black girls.
“Black girls are the most ignored, the most disposable,” Be says. “It’s easy for our voices to be muted.”
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