Maya Angelou... 04/28/03

Famed poet and renaissance woman Maya Angelou, speaks before a packed Lyceum Hall on the Palmer campus during a visit in 2003.

John Schultz

The standing-room-only audience stood, shouted, clapped and sang, all in homage to Maya Angelou, one of America's bets-known poets.

Angelou, 74, swept onto the stage Monday night in Lyceum Hall at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport and proceeded to enthrall the 2,400-plus people for more than an hour.

Wearing a flowing, regal red gown and standing 6 feet tall, she raised her arms and sang, and a diverse audience cheered.

"I think this institution of much higher education is a rainbow in the clouds," Angelou said, and hundreds nodded in agreement. "I believe every student has the possibility, the potential, the likelihood, to become a rainbow in the clouds."

She used her Uncle Willy as an example of such a rainbow. The unassuming man from Stamps, Ark., was crippled by a neurological disorder, but was one of her best teachers. It was only when he passed away that Angelou discovered how far his influence carried.

Uncle Willy also inspired a man who became the first African-American mayor of Little Rock, Ark., and a young white man who grew to be a lawyer and Arkansas state legislator.

Angelou wrote a song about her Uncle Willy, and it was recorded by Roberta Flack.

"Human beings are more alike than un-alike," she said, pointing out people in Rome, Ga., and Rome, Italy, all want good jobs, healthy children, respect and a feeling of being needed.

Angelou spoke repeatedly to the many young people in the audience. She urged them to seek out great American literature by writers of different races.

Angelou also said she was "embarrassed" at the world she was leaving to young people, that there is too much hatred, bloodshed and ignorance.

"Each one of us has a chance to be a rainbow in the clouds," she said. "Don't give up."

Angelou provided hoots of laughter with some of her poetry, including a piece she performed on Arsenio Hall's 1990s talk show.

But her inspiration was unbounded. "You're not only right, you're just right," she said. "You're not only fine, you're just fine!"

Frances Boone, Davenport, described the speech as grand. Boone, who is employed by a ticket broker in Davenport, said she sold 32 tickets to the performance and had calls coming in right up to show time.

"It was amazing. She made me cry at times," said Alexis Martin, 15, of Wheatland, Iowa, who attended with her mother.

Angelou's performance kicked off the Palmer Diversity Advantage program. The program is designed to improve cultural diversity in the Palmer College community, and to forge closer ties between the college and multicultural organizations in the Quad-Cities.

Deirdre Cox Baker can be contacted at (563) 383-2492 or