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Home > Past Buzz > African nation honors Madison singer

Wednesday, July 14, 2004 By GREGG L. PARKER
For the Madison Spirit

A new Madison resident with an thriving career in vocal and stage performance is also helping children in West Africa. Diane Cameron Elam said she is gearing up for the third edition of the "Gospel and Roots Festival" during Aug. 2 to 8 in the West African Republic of Benin. She was given the honor of "USA Artist in Residence" for the Benin festival. Elam will travel there with a delegation of six other accomplished musicians selected to perform. The festival is a part of Benin's "Reconciliation and Development Process."

"I will be going to Benin to establish a performing arts school for children and teens as part of my nonprofit corporation Its All An Act 2 Inc.," she said.
"Benin is the place from which African-Americans left Africa to travel to Mobile in the slave trade," said John Smith, Elam's agent. "The last group of African-Americans sailed from Benin in 1859."
Benin President Mathieu Kerekou has issued an apology for the involvement of his black ancestors in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Elam said.
"He has issued a call to the African Diaspora (the dispersion of freed slaves) all over the world to return for a week of healing, forgiveness and musical celebration."
Benin is bordered by Nigeria to the east and is about the size of Pennsylvania. Benin was the centerpiece of the slave trade, Elam said.
Smith said the Alabama Legislature recently passed a trade resolution between Alabama and Benin. Elam's will serve as an ambassador and liaison between the two countries, he said.
The state House of Representatives presented a congratulatory resolution to Elam for her work as U.S. Artist in Residence for Benin's "2004 Gospel and Roots Festival."
"Rep. William Clark introduced the order honoring me for this effort, and I am especially proud it was signed by Gov. Bob Riley," she said.
Andrew Young, Atlanta's former mayor, will attend the festival, and Black Entertainment Television will broadcast it.
When Elam performs in Benin, she will deliver her self-described tones in "silky, smoky vocals." Originally from Chicago, she first performed as a jazz dancer and make-up artist for the Ebony Fashion Fair. Her first acting gig was the lead in "Fame" at Hilton Head Island, S.C. Her theater credits include "Big River," "Prelude to a Kiss" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Taking a break from theater, she concentrated on organizing and producing benefit concerts, singing and song writing. The proceeds from her musical contribution on the "Africa's Fruit" compact disc benefited homeless and disadvantaged women in Jacksonville, Fla. She produced a benefit concert in St. Augustine to fund a children's playground.
She said she decided to live in Madison because of its "rich cultural heritage."
Elam said she has written more than 50 songs usually addressing issues that affect women.
"When I write a song about my life ... I'm singing about someone else's," she said.
She has toured with the Phil Morrison Trio in Japan, performed on Beale Street in Memphis and sang at the famed Chicago clubs KoKo Taylor, Buddy Guy's Legends and Lee's Unleaded Blues Club. She wrote a children's book "Fred & Felix" and has produced youth theatrical productions.

To contact Elam, e-mail her at or log onto her Web site at


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