Two summers ago, Saratogian Carol Daggs was out for a drive with her 87-year-old mother, when a black pickup truck pulled up alongside them. The young white man behind the wheel stuck his head out the window and yelled an obscenity at Daggs, startling her. She was scared for her life; maybe he had a gun, she thought, and was planning on doing something else to her? He then drove off, but not before hurling a racist slur at another woman.
Sadly, this sort of thing still happens in our own backyard. And it’s no less despicable than the infinitesimal other times it’s happened throughout American history, whether it takes the form of an ignorant kid spewing hate-filled words at innocent bystanders or a white police officer kneeling on and killing a black man. “What really burns me is my mom was part of that matter,” says Daggs. “My family’s been here forever, so who are you to say anything inappropriate to us? Even if we weren’t here forever, just be decent to people.”
Daggs isn’t exaggerating; four generations of her family have lived in Saratoga. After graduating from Saratoga Springs High School, Daggs went on to earn her undergraduate degree in music education from Hartwick College and her Master of Music from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Going by the stage name Jazzage (pronounced jazz-ahge), Daggs has not only been a popular local performer, mixing her soulful tones with expert piano chops, but has also tasted national fame, performing at the historic Apollo Theater in 2016 (more on that shortly).
Just before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Daggs, who is now a full-time caregiver to her elderly mother, published Saratoga Soul Brandtville Blues, a visual narrative of the African American experience in Saratoga. Saratoga Living caught up with Daggs to talk about her book, activism and music career.
Were there any aha moments in your research for your new book?
Just to know that [African American] people had survived—I call it “sur-thrived”—in a city like Saratoga Springs. I’m learning that maybe I’m more than a fourth generation [Saratogian], if I take it back to my great-grandmother’s parents. They were here from the 1850s.
You took part in a Black Lives Matter march in Saratoga back in June. What was your biggest takeaway from it?
It’s sad that this many years later, after so many movements, [marches] still have to happen to effect change.
You’ve played the Apollo Theater. Were you nervous?
I’m really past nerves because of what is happening in the world. There’s no way that you’re going to have me be nervous doing something that is really beautiful and decent, when people are bombing and killing and wreaking havoc on everything. And they are not nervous when they’re doing it. Kneeling on George Floyd—nobody was nervous when they were doing that. Breonna Taylor—nobody was nervous when they were spraying her apartment [with bullets]. God bless the late, great John Lewis, and everyone else who has worked and given their lifetime to effect positive, quality change for everyone. And they’re
not nervous. I don’t have to be nervous doing what I’m blessed with and have a chance to do.