Angelou’s fascinating literary works and honesty, passion, and candidness gained her respect and admiration from across the world. She’s largely known for her book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, an autobiography that highlighted the struggles she experienced early in her life.
She was also an actress, singer, inspirational speaker, college professor, and held many other talents.
Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at former President Bill Clinton's first inaugural address in 1993. She became both the first woman and African-American selected to read a poem at an inauguration.
President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2011.
World-renowned photographer Richard Copley, popular for his imagery of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike, had the chance to meet Angelou decades before she enjoyed global reverence. In the 1970s, Copley worked as cameraman for local television show Face to Face hosted by the late David Yellin. The show was an hour-long segment that featured Yellin interviewing different people in a conversational style. One of those people happened to be Angelou, who had released I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings years before appearing on the show.
“David calls me and says, ‘I want to interview Maya Angelou.’ I didn’t say anything,” Copley remembers. “At the time, I doubt that there were five people in Memphis who knew who she was, and I wasn’t one of them. But David knew, and he was brilliant in that respect."
By the time they completed the interview, Copley said he was amazed by the graciousness of Angelou's character, and the softness of her voice.
"It was very enriching for me personally to meet her, because I didn’t have a clue who she was when he called me that day, but I sure did after that," Copley said. "She was intriguing and very thoughtful about everything she said. It’s been years and years and years, but I can still picture the whole scenario."
Copley got a chance to speak with Angelou after the segment but regrets that he didn’t have a photo taken with her. He made it a priority to become more familiar with Angelou's accomplishments. And he followed her career up until her death.
“She was a fascinating woman who had it rough growing up, but it shaped her into an amazing voice,” Copley said. “She could sing, she could act, and she wrote incredible poetry. She was very inspirational to be around when we shot that interview. And just charming. It was a sad day when I discovered that she passed."