"Miss Truth," the musical saga of Sojourner Truth's crusade against slavery in mid-19th century now at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, started out as a weight on Glory Van Scott's shoulder.
"It wouldn't go away," recalls Scott, her big, glowing eyes darting about, searching for memories.
"Something kept telling me to write something about sojourner -- and -- when I decided to go ahead, I felt the weight go away."
Scott, who wrote the book, music and lyrics and plays Miss Truth, first learned of the abolitionist as a child, while reading at the Abraham Lincoln Center in her native Chicago.
"I used to watch my grandmother," Scott says. "She was a tiny woman, but she had such great strength. And I noticed my mother and other black women. 'That's it,' I said. 'I'm going to read about Sojourner Truth.'"
Scott, a dancer, singer and author of a children's book, has been reshaping "Miss Truth" since 1972 when it was first produced (it made its debut here in 1974).
It's always been a "poetic suite," she says, but recently she has added new scenes and music.
"We wanted to make it more complete," she says. "Louis Johnson, my director, has been terrific in making suggestions."
Scott, at 5-feet-7 and 115 pounds, cuts a graceful figure as a dancer, and for two years studied with Katherine Dunham. In January, she organized a Carnegie Hall tribute to Dunham, who's credited with bringing Afro-American dance into the concert theater.
"When Syvilla Fort [a Dunham dancer] died at the age of 58, I felt I could only live with her death by writing a piece," she says. "Pearl Reynolds choreographed it and we put it on at Lincoln Center.But none of her works was taped.
"I didn't want that to happen to Dunham. So I wrote a proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts, knowing that they didn't give individuals as much money as I wanted. But I got it. And with a matching grant, we put on the gala at Carnegie Hall. So now the Dunham works are on tape, recorded for posterity."
Following the closing of "Miss Truth," Scott will go to Winston-Salem, N.C., to live and work for several weeks as part of the Affiliate Artists program that places performers in neighborhood settings for work with the general populace.
Meanwhile, she's working on a new musical that may open in the fall. "It's going to be purely commercial," she says, "There'll be no lessons to be taught."