Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Black and White

I've been a fan of rock & roll history for many years now, and I sometimes like to think I know everything, that's right, everything about popular music from the past 50 years or so. Well, I also enjoy finding new information ... it keeps me humble.

I knew Three Dog Night performed songs written by Harry Nilsson, Paul Williams, Hoyt Axton, Randy Newman, and other contemporary tunesmiths, but I never really looked into the origins of the song "Black and White". While digging through the music collection here at Donnell, I came across this picture book published by the Ward Ritchie Press from L.A. in 1966. David Arkin's lyrics and Earl Robinson's music were originally published as a song in 1956, a tune that celebrated desegregation specifically and the Civil Rights Movement in general. Arkin decided to illustrate the song himself ten years later with simple black and white pencil drawings and, at the end of the story, sparse splashes of color.

The version of "Black and White" we are most familiar with was made popular first by British reggae band Greyhound in 1971, and then more famously by Three Dog Night in 1972. You have to admit, when it comes on the radio, this joyous song is pretty hard not to sing along with. But Arkin's original lyrics are powerful and uplifting, telling the story of (as the subtitle states) "the freedom to go to school together". This is a rare, wonderful gem. Come on by the Donnell Central Children's Room and give it a gander. I'll listen for your voices singing along with the book.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

just to let you know...that morgan and gustafer will be playing live at MASS MoCA this summer in the berkshires and up at symphony space in New York City at the JUST KIDDING series on Saturday, October 13 at 11 am. I curate both series and can agree that he is truly not to be missed...

Meredith said...

does the original contain anything about "black robes and white hair" referring to the Justices of the Supreme Court?

Warren Truitt said...

Yes! In fact, here is the full verse:

Their robes were black/Their heads were white/The school house doors/ Were closed so tight/Nine judges all/Set down their names/To end the years and years/Of shame.

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