Betty Reid Soskin's Little Village Foundation release, A Lifetime of Being Betty, is a fascinating work that taps into one African-American woman's American experience, and in the process tells an important story that's intimate, expansive and inspiring. The album was produced by Rosebud Agency founder and Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Mike Kappus, whose production credits include projects that have earned four GRAMMY Awards (13 nominations overall) and included collaborations with John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Ry Cooder, Ben Harper, and many more.
97-year-old Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin is, among other things, America's oldest active park ranger. Meanwhile, her skills as a storyteller have made her an in-demand public speaker, appearing on The Moth as well as The Today Show, and CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, among other influential radio and television programs. In 2018, she was named one of Glamour Magazine's "Women of The Year," and in 2005, she was named one of the nation's "Ten Outstanding Women" by the National Women's History Project. In 1995, she was designated a "Woman of the Year" by the California State Legislature.
Born into a Cajun/Creole African-American family in Detroit in 1921, Betty spent her earliest years in New Orleans in the era of lynchings and Jim Crow segregation. Her distinguished life has included being an author, composer and singer, social and political activist, entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, historian, blogger, and public speaker. Betty was instrumental in the establishment of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, where she now gives presentations several times every week.
Betty experienced the abhorrent injustices of racism, and lived to attend the inauguration of America's first African-American president, which she addresses on the album's opening track, "Lincoln to Obama." In fact, in 2015, Betty was chosen to introduce Barack Obama at the annual "Christmas Tree Lighting" which was televised nationally on PBS.
Soskin's reflections are aided by the fact that her great grandmother, a slave herself until the age of 19, lived until Betty was in her twenties. Soskin's riveting commentary is directly informed then by over a century of her family's and her own personal experience, creating her unique perspective on the extensive arc of civil rights from slavery through the Dred Scott Decision, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction and through to the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter. All of this forms the heart of A Lifetime of Being Betty which was recorded live at The Moth, Bridge Storage and Arts Space, Litquake and Porchlight Storytelling, and Luna Voices.
"All the talks featured on the album speak to my greatest truths," Betty states. "Many think life ends in your 70s, but in my 70s is when I had my first job. My life signals that there can be much to live for in these final decades. I'm still productive at 97, and that fact alone indicates that maybe we retire too early. I'm offering an alternative. I'm still creative, and I'm still having first experiences at 97."
Betty's incredible life was chronicled in her acclaimed 2018 memoir and audio book, Sign My Name to Freedom. With A Lifetime of Being Betty comes a memorable portrait of a remarkable woman and of a lifetime filled with joy and pain taken directly from her powerful live presentations.