SARASOTA, FL – In April, the day after John Prine died, renowned folk singer – and recent transplant to Sarasota – Janis Ian wrote a new song, “Better Times Will Come,” and then posted it online. Ian and her colleagues were all canceling their 2020 shows and she thought that maybe some could generate some revenue and social media buzz by recording homegrown versions of the tune. Nine months later, “The Better Times Project” has been born and nearly 190 versions of the song have been recorded – including an upbeat, gospel-flavored version by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT).
Ian discovered WBTT after she moved to Sarasota and began to search out fellow artists with whom she shared a common vision. She spent an afternoon with WBTT’s Founder/Artistic Director Nate Jacobs, Executive Director Julie Leach, Development Director Debra Flynt-Garrett, and Marketing and Communications Director Scott Ferguson. Ian pledged to find ways to be involved with WBTT, with possibilities including offering a series of singing master classes or performing at the organization’s annual gala. Once the Better Times Project began, she invited WBTT to participate in the recording and sharing of her song. The music video was completed in January.
“This project offers an illustration of the many ways one song can be used, and a reminder that you don’t have to be a professional to make art. Every version here was done from lockdown and quarantine, with birds, dogs, children in the background,” Ian said. “I am extremely happy WBTT has joined us in this effort to bring hope, and dignity, in these troubled times.”
Contributed versions are in 10 languages and sign languages, with formats including videos, coloring books/pages, dance and animation. Ian is using Facebook – where she has over 556,000 followers – to drive people to other artists’ sites.
In WBTT’s version, the performers were Jacobs, Ariel Blue, Raleigh Mosely II and Tsadok Porter. The music was arranged by Liston Gregory, producer was EJ Porter of Drummerboy Productions, sound engineer was Michael Mendez, and costumes were by Adrienne Pitts. The video – which was filmed on the rooftop terrace of WBTT’s Education and Outreach Building at its theatre arts center in downtown Sarasota – was directed, shot and edited by James Berry.
“It has been such a thrill for us to meet and get to know an artist as renowned and inspirational as Janis Ian,” said Jacobs. “We share many of the same aspirations – from our desire to mentor new generations to our wish for peace and a brighter future; I consider it a professional highlight to be able to perform one of her songs as part of an uplifting movement like the Better Times Project.”
Learn more about the project at bettertimeswillcome.com. WBTT’s “Better Times Will Come” video can be found on Janis Ian’s YouTube channel.
About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
The mission of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African-American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information about WBTT, visit the website at westcoastblacktheatre.org or call 941-366-1505.