René Marie doesn't go for gaudy promotion, but word of mouth has modestly spread her single "This Is (Not) a Protest Song" around the country. The song, written two years ago, is a slow, haunting story of Marie's own experiences with homelessness, and she is donating all the proceeds to various homelessness organizations.
"For a long time I was afraid to take it to my musicians," she says, "because it's not really a jazz tune. I was hesitant to do that." The song isn't jazz, but it's not a far cry from it. The melody-driven message floats over light piano and a smattering of drums.
Marie grew up in Roanoke and was active in volunteering until she started her jazz-singing career in Richmond and had little time for it. She came up with the idea to produce the single and donate the proceeds when she realized she didn't have to separate volunteerism and singing.
Marie says she's not "the podium type of person," but wants to raise public awareness about homelessness through her singing. The lyrics tell us right off how personal this issue is to her: "My brother is homeless/he sleeps under a bush on the ground./By day he is a painter/his works are all over town."
The song tells also of her aunt, struggling with mental illness and homelessness.
Marie was homeless for months when her mother left her abusive father. She asks at the end of each verse, "If you see them on the street somewhere, won't you put a little something in their hands?"
When Marie's brother heard her perform the song in Richmond, "He was moved," she says. "He seemed honored."
Marie has given up touring to tackle this philanthropic effort, settling down in Denver, Colo., where she's raised $1,000 so far through CD sales. The CD is available at Plan 9 Music in Carytown or at www.renemarie.com.