Friday, June 05, 2009

Brown Baby: Speak Up Clear and Loud

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What a joy it is to be able to go to Youtube and search for some of my favorite songs by artists I admire and enjoy listening to. Recently my daughter and I enjoyed a song by the gifted Nina Simone that inspired me as a child and continues to do so. The song is, "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," and what a treat it was to find this very early version of the song that Simone performed at a 1969 Harlem Festival.

Memories of her dear friend Lorraine Hansberry were probably fresh in Nina's mind, as she wrote this song to pay homage to Hansberry, the playwright who penned the play, "A Raisin in the Sun." The song takes the title and spirit of Hansberry's autobiography, also titled, "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black."

I could tell that my daughter was mesmerized when we watched and listened to Nina sing this on Youtube, as I was when I heard Simone sing this song almost everyday at our house for a while when I was a child. Her hypnotic, deep, and sensual voice coming from the turntable was both soothing and inspiring.

You can tell that Nina is really getting into the song towards the end when she says, "Hear what I say!" and then she tells that band to "Hit it, hit it, hit!" for the finale.



To Be Young Gifted and Black
by Nina Simone and Weldon Irvin, Jr.
(released November 1969)

To be young, gifted and black,
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted and black,
Open your heart to what I mean

In the whole world you know
There are billion boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and black,
And that's a fact!

Young, gifted and black
We must begin to tell our young
There's a world waiting for you
This is a quest that's just begun

When you feel really low
Yeah, there's a great truth you should know
When you're young, gifted and black
Your soul's intact

Young, gifted and black
How I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back
And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted and black
Is where it's at

I'm definite that Nina was overjoyed by what Donny Hathaway did with the song. Hathaway really made this song his own and listening to him sing it is like listening to a new creation. I know others prefer Hathaway's or Aretha Franklin's version of "To BE Young, Gifted and Black," but for me, nobody sings it like Nina. I won't post Hathaway's version here because I don't want it to compete with my girl Nina's version. After all, she is the creator of the song. But you'd be missing pure gold if you didn't go here to Youtube to hear Mr. Hathaway sing the song. He takes it to church, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of songs about young and black people, Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Brown Baby" falls into the category of one of those perfect songs, as far as I'm concerned. The lyrics are poetic, touching, and wise, and the music, especially on Diana Ross's version, is quite haunting. I find Diana's recording of "Brown Baby" to be the most touching. (You can find it on Ross's Touch Me in the Morning recording.)

You can hear Diana's version here. I hope you'll listen to her sing this lovely lullaby. It's a testament to Oscar Brown's great gift of lyric and song, and shows the great love he had for his people, especially the babies.

Brown Baby
by Oscar Brown, Jr.

Brown baby, brown baby,
As you grow up I want you to drink from the plenty cup.
I want you to stand up tall and proud.
I want you to speak up clear and loud.

Brown baby, brown baby, brown baby,
As years roll by,
I want you to go with your head held high.
I want you to live by the justice code.
I want you to walk down the freedom road.

Brown baby, now lie away,
Lie away sleeping,
Lie away here in my arms,
While your daddy and your momma protect you.
And keep you safe from harm.

Oh, brown baby, brown baby,
It makes me glad that you will have
Things I have never had.
When out of men's hearts all the hate is hurled,
You're going to live in a better world.

Brown baby.

1 comment:

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

"Brown Baby" is a lullaby that Gigi loves to hear. She looks so calm and serene when I sing it to her.