The curtain rose, the lights shone and the thunderous cheers filled the arena as Maya Angelou was introduced to an appreciative crowd at the LSU Student Union Theater.
The world-renowned poet and author wowed the audience with poetry, stories, songs and jokes during her performance Tuesday night, dubbed “A Night With Maya Angelou.”
Angelou routinely received laughs and praise as she performed to the packed house.
Angelou told the crowd she was happy to be performing at LSU, calling the university “a rainbow in the clouds.
“This is why I’m happy to be in Louisiana, happy to be in Baton Rouge at this university,” she said. “I know that the men and women here, in many cases, are the first people in their families to enter the institution of higher education.”
Angelou told a story about how she rode to Baton Rouge via bus. She said she stopped flying many years ago because so many people would stop her in the airport and tell her she “looked like Maya Angelou.”
Angelou told the young people in the audience to embrace reading, especially poetry. She told them to “please go to the library. We have ill-treated librarians.
“Go to the library. Tomorrow,” she said.
Angelou also said poetry can be found in unexpected places — even hip-hop music, aside from the vulgarity.
“Jay Z, don’t you know that’s poetry?” she said.
Angelou recited poems from some of her favorite authors, including Paul Laurence Dunbar and Mari Evans. She also recited a bit from one of her most well-known works, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
Much of Angelou’s conversational yet poetic oratory came straight from memory. She used virtually no notes.
Angelou implored the crowd to embrace humor in anything they do.
“You have to laugh at yourself first,” she said. “You just know that you are the funniest person.”
Fans of Angelou, though, had to wait a while to see the poet herself.
Several groups of performers from LSU warmed up the crowd before Angelou took the stage.
The LSU Gospel Choir opened the event with a number of rousing gospel tunes that elicited several standing ovations.
Kristen Smith, president of the LSU Student Activities Board, which organized the event, welcomed the crowd to a “night you will never forget, a night full of excellence.
“A night with a phenomenal woman,” Smith said, eliciting applause. “A night with Dr. Maya Angelou.”
Smith told the crowd the idea to bring Angelou to LSU started as a student dream, after a student suggested to the Student Activities Board that the university should try to bring Angelou to the campus.
A pair of LSU students then performed original poems for the crowd. They were the top placers in a campus poetry contest, called “Mic with Maya,” which earned them the chance to perform and meet Angelou.
Nine students competed for the prize, said Jordan Hicks, chair of the Student Activities Board’s Pop Fusion Committee.
Jonosha Jackson, the runner-up in the contest, switched back and forth between song and spoken word as she recited her original work titled “Fourth of July,” an ode to liberty.
Before the winner’s poem was read, members of LSU’s National Pan-Hellenic Council hopped on stage for a “Unity Step,” a step show in honor of Angelou.
The thunderous stomps of the group of seven students filled the air as the crowd cheered every time the group stopped in rhythm.
Then came Eric Couto, the winner of the contest, who read a poem called “The Caged Bird Rises,” which he said was in honor of Angelou.
Tiger TV, LSU’s student-run television station, aired the performance live.