Professional Reviews

Journalist Theresa Crushshon
Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman”

It is always interesting to note what jass artists do with their time when they are not performing. In a recent telephone interview with jass bassist Russel Blake, he casually informed me that he had recently penned “Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman.” I recall him saying, “It is at the printer, now.” “I will send you a copy in a few weeks,” he promised.

Sure enough a copy of the book appeared in my mailbox. Upon opening the vanilla envelope, I discovered much more than I had originally anticipated, for it was a book honoring women of color based on passages from Proverbs 31 with Blake providing insightful and intellectual interpretations to its meanings.

I started from the back working my way to the front. After I read the forward, I wished I had started from the beginning; because the answers that I was searching for, which by the way are more personal than I would like to admit, were laid out in plain sight. I now carry this book with me, (It sits alongside my net book in my computer bag.) paging through it daily for uplifting, inspirational messages. Blake’s testimonies serve as affirminations to what I thought to be true, but sometimes are not spoken because as a people the majority, still haven’t arrived.

Blake writes:

“In my opinion, the perception and treatment of African, Caribbean, African American women are at best the long-standing root of our barometer of existence, and at the very least the heart of any discussion of constructive engagement for us to survive as a people.”

“At no other time in history have Black women faced such a daunting and challenging role of perception. Although the trans-Atlantic slave trade force a juxtaposition upon her status from venerable queens of antiquity to that of forced slave labor, this development was predicated by the wretchedness of others outside of her race (and some within) for the financial profit of few,” says Blake.

“Today’s media technology beckons our human lens to witness indignities upon Black women undeserving, unwarranted and inhuman. Whether consistently as victims of violence and rape on the continent of Africa or the injurious derogatory practice of sexual objectification in America, the global image of Black women is under constant daily attack and erodes the dignity of their existence to those most vulnerable,” states Blake.

“The strength and idea of ‘Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman,’ states Blake, “is to communicate the precious and priceless existence of Black women.”

Blake’s inspiration for this project comes from his parents. Blake’s mother, Lurleans Henrietta Fearon Blake taught him the gift of prayer, the knowledge of God, the discipline of fiscal responsibility, the ways of a gentleman to espouse a woman and was integral in his edification as a young man. Blake’s father, Alexander who was spiritually wise and insightful, taught him the value of a Virtuous Black Woman from a man’s perspective. Until Lurlean’s transition, Blake’s parents were married for 35 years.

Russel Blake is a premier jazz bassist who is known around the world for developing the “Melodious-Chordal Technique.” According to Blake, since its inception in 1989 his repertoire has grown to 432 pieces which includes classical, ragtime, spirituals, Spanish Classical, Brazilian, Latin, traditional, gospel and jazz. Blake says that his garden of music gives people a broader understanding of music.

The New York native who was influenced by his parents to play music, has toured 65 countries. In addition to performing on Broadway as a bassist in “The Lion King” and “Dreamgirls,” Russel Blake has toured, performed and worked with Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Hugh Masekela, Paquito D’Rivera, Hilton Ruiz, Chaka Khan, Wallace Roney, Hiram Bullock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Harry Belafonte, Machito Y Su Orquesta, Dave Valentin, Michel Camillo, Sam Rivers, Clark Terry, Mary Wells, Wynton Marsalis, Melba Moore, Brenda Russell, and Cybil Shepherd. Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Freddie Hubbard, Nancy Wilson, Manhattan Transfer, Lee Morgan, Billy Cobham, Art Blakely, Max Roach, The Last Poets, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders.

What is most refreshing about this book project is openly hearing encouraging words from a man of color, like Russel Blake who obviously understands the chaos, confusion and disenchantment Black women are constantly up against. Being a woman and being a woman of color in American society still is a double jeopardy. And, with unlimited access and achievement counterbalanced with race, gender and class oppression, we are still poised with the question, “Where do we fit in?” In one hundred and thirty-six pages, Blake examines complex ideologies that women of color are still struggling with.

“Lift up your head for you are a champion; Walk proudly in grace and gracefully with pride knowing that you are a winner; Let no man define your soul nor any job confine your spirit; As wings are to the eagle, so are you to the ideas of God given to your imagination through the bountiful blessings of His will in, of and for you life; I love you not only for what highs you have achieved, but rather for what lows you have overcome in reaching your goals; As long as there is breath in your body there is hope for anther day; Light for the poser of love; Praise for Almighty God; Distinction for the legacy you are creating; No weapon formed against thee shall prosper for you are neither declining nor defeated; For truly, in all ways you are a virtuous Black woman rising.”

Blake’s words are endearing. He writes, “What is more invaluable than any rare diamond or any oyster’s pearl? Coming home to you.”

What Blake says is historical enriching and tearfully satisfying because a Black man’s voice has been placed into denigrated categories if not systematically silence. His words, which are positive, personal and political, resonate a viewpoint on Black women. Not only is he acknowledging a Black woman’s existence. In a mosaic, Blake places value on the presence of a Black woman as a mother, sister, aunt, lover, mentor, caretaker and friend as she works within the marginalized framework of an unforgiving racist society, stressing inconsistent Christian contradictions.

Blake’s interpretations of Psalm 31 pokes fun at and challenges negative stereotypes as he places the Black woman’s experience at the center of analysis. Blake compares the Black woman as subject and object while addressing her as a respectable consciousness. What are her thoughts, feelings and experiences? How does she make me feel? What does her presence mean?

Blake writes:

“Your priceless multi-spectrum hue from the darkest dark to the lightest of light skin is blood brought with the sacrifices of countless sister’s before you. Let not the demonic strategy of division profit from your blessed differences. Whether you’re a righteous redbone, a courageous caramel or a divinely chosen chocolate complexion, you have more in common with each other than what divides you. For only the enemy would have you to believe that one complexion is inferior or superior to the other. This is a false balance and abomination unto the Lord.”

In another passage, Blake writes:

“Black woman I love you, continue to wear the cape of a superwoman; Able to leap above all challenges with wings of faith in a single prayer.”

Blake’s words are genuine, heartfelt and empowering as they speak to a large and complex group of spiritually oppressed African American women —I, we and our — who are in search of recognition, empowerment, and social and political justice. Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman offers intellectual stimulation along the journey of personal freedom.

Beyond Virture- 5 STARS FROM OOSA Online Book Club

Russell Blake writes to a mature audience of the traveled, educated, experienced and devout on the subject of the virtuous woman as interpreted in Psalms 31. “The Virtuous Black Woman” is presented as prose but its attributes are so lyrical it approximates poetry with underlying essay themes. Russell has a strong masculine voice tempered by the feminine provision of supplication. Almost ecclesiastical and proverbial, his message is subtle. Several of his selections required multiple readings to gleam the essence of the piece. All are imbued with wisdom tempered by knowledge and experience. His vocabulary and writing style is often terse but altruistic. There were several instances of word confusion with their/there.

I would recommend “The Virtuous Black Woman” to those needing “food for thought,” but this is not for those dieting or snacking.

Must Read Book
Jay George of Victorious Book Club's review of "Proverbs 31:The Virtuous Black Woman Volume 1" by Author Russel Blake.

Author Russell Blake, I applaud you for writing this book. African American women are still recovering from the physical and emotional wounds of our past, while facing the challenges of life on a daily basis. It was so refreshing to see black women portrayed in such a positive manner. For readers who enjoy a collection of short inspirational stories, rooted in Biblical scriptures, this is the book for you. The book is simple, quick and easy to read and would be an excellent source of daily inspiration. Author Blake, using historical facts and biblical principles has expressed his obvious respect, love and understanding of Black Women. This book will make you proud to call yourself a woman. It will leave you smiling, feeling empowered, enlightened and inspired by each encouraging passage


Jul 11, 2010
http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3980508-carmen-blalockCarmen Blalock rated it: 5 STARS

Read in August, 2010
This book is a very inspirational book with a very uplifting tone. This book is what woman needs in order to help to put her life in perspective that "I am a Virtuous Black Woman and I deserve to be loved for who I am!" I appreciate Russel Blake for writing this book for us and allowing us to truly understand that we are special.

Deniece Barnes host of DIFFERENCES in Nashville, TN at WVOL 1470AM says "Russel Blake is amazing! Proverbs 31: The Virtuous Black Woman Volume 1 is an inspirational and uplifting book of Psalms and Short Stories. My personal favorite is "Black Woman, I Love You". We as black women can never hear those words enough. It builds our inner strength, encourages us, and gives us a reason to be proud to be Women Of Color."