Corinne Bailey Rae presents Black Rainbows

Corinne Bailey Rae presents Black Rainbows

To say that Corinne Bailey Rae was inspired by her visits to the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago does not do justice to the profundity of her experience. She was transformed. “I knew when I walked through those doors that my life had changed forever,” she says.

Built in 1923 on the South Side of Chicago as a community savings and loan, the building was purchased by renowned artist Theaster Gates in 2012 and reimagined into a cathedral of Black art; 17,000 square feet housing a one-of-a-kind space for innovation in contemporary art and archival practice.

Stony Island’s collection encompasses a vast array of art and artifacts. Among them are house music legend Frankie Knuckles’ 5,000-deep vinyl collection, a trove of 15,000 books and periodicals donated by the Johnson Publishing Company — publisher of Ebony and Jet magazine — and a collection of “negrobilia” that includes postcards depicting lynching and ash trays sculpted in the images of black children.

While Bailey Rae’s transformation was gradual and remains ongoing, the spark to the sheer enormity of the venue and the witness it pays to Black art and life was immediate. The two-time Grammy winner began writing the songs for her newest release Black Rainbows before she’d even left the building from her first visit in 2017.

She continued tinkering with them up until early 2023 saying with a laugh “I finished the last bit of recording the day before we sent it to be mixed. If you give me that amount of time, I will work right up to the last minute, because I’m always thinking of ways I can make it better.”

That perfectionism was even more crucial on Black Rainbows, her fourth album, released on September 15 2023, given how deeply felt it is. The 10-track collection—co-produced by Bailey Rae and her long-time creative collaborator Steve Brown—is a testament not only to the stimulating power the Stony Island Arts Bank collection has to push artists to become their highest, most expressive selves but the depth of Bailey Rae’s gifts as a songwriter and vocalist. The spectrum that the Leeds native traverses reveals new elements of her spirit.

The ravaged anger and electric guitar cacophony of “Erasure” gives way to the chilly alien synths and birdsong of “Earthlings.” The giddy girl group fizz enlivening “New York City Transit Queen” —all handclaps and joyous gang vocals— contrasts with the spare piano balladry of “Peach Velvet Sky.”

Black Rainbows feels very much like a work of trapeze artistry as Bailey Rae flings herself from song to song, firmly grabbing each successive bar to keep the flow consistent as she sings of beauty queens and the enslaved, churches embedded in the rock of the earth and outer space.

Ultimately, Bailey Rae plans multiple explorations around her Stony Island inspirations, including a dance piece, visual art, books, lectures, and more. As the various projects come together, she is excited for audiences to hear all the colors in the prism of Black Rainbows.