It was about two weeks following the death of George Floyd, and demonstrators had gathered in Downtown Columbus to protest police tactics and racism in the United States.
Similar scenes played out across the country after the 46-year-old Black man was killed May 25 in Minneapolis when a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
On this early June day in Columbus, officers from the Columbus Division of Police stood at the base of the Statehouse steps, preventing anyone from going up the stairs. But central Ohio singer KaTanya Ingram decided to approach them.
“I just went and sat on the stairs and asked, ‘Can I sit here and sing?’” said Ingram, who lives in Westerville. “And they were like, ‘Sure, go ahead.’”
Ingram, with her portable speaker and microphone, began singing “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Before long, she had an audience.
“Slowly, slowly, slowly, people started walking toward me,” she said. “Next thing you know, I had a group of (about) 100 people, sitting with their signs in their laps, crossed leg, rocking from side to side. Some of them held up their signs, you know. And then the police start kind of rocking. The yelling at the police, all the chanting stopped.
“And then one lady, and then another and another, just kind of got up and went and shook the police officers’ hands.”
This was the moment that stood out for Ingram during her time at the protests, of which she attended about 10. It reminded her about the power of music: It can inspire and bring people together during happy times or turbulent times.
It also wasn’t the first time she had experienced this.
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to stay-at-home orders, Ingram took her music to people’s homes as part of the Curbside Concert series. Presented by the Columbus Foundation and the Can’t Stop Columbus initiative and supported by the Greater Columbus Arts Council, the concerts are held for senior citizens throughout the community.
Ingram has volunteered numerous hours to provide these concerts and use music to uplift people’s spirits.
She posts about the Curbside Concert series and singing at downtown protests on her Instagram page, @sidewalk_serenades.
“She’s really out there every day singing. Her going out there singing is her passion,” her son, Terrell, said. “That’s her everyday thing she’d rather do rather than everything else.”
Ingram also has been the voice of the Short North Gallery Hop for 11 years, specializing primarily in soul and R&B but also a little bit of country. Her favorite artists include Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder.
At the Gallery Hop, Ingram performs outside while visitors stroll by, enjoying the evening. She said she enjoys the fleeting connections she makes with passers-by, as songs she performs take people back to certain memories and stir emotions.
“Everybody has a story,” she said. “Sometimes while you’re singing, people patiently wait. And you can just kind of see it on their face: ‘OK, there’s a story there.’
“You can kind of begin to evaluate body language and see, ‘OK, that person’s waiting for you because they’re admiring or enjoying the song. (But) that (other) person’s waiting for you because they want to talk to you.’ And a lot of times it’s not, ‘Hey, where can I book you?’ A lot of times it’s, ‘Hey, let me tell you about that song.’”
Singing during the Gallery Hops, the Curbside Concerts and the demonstrations for racial equality, Ingram has seen everything that music can do: comfort, entertain, inspire and unite.
“I once heard that ‘music is what feelings sound like,’” she said. “I added to that saying and said, ‘Music is what feelings sound like and bind us all together.’ ”