By Jueseppi B.
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” is a song by Nina Simone with lyrics by Weldon Irvine. It was written in memory of Simone’s late friend Lorraine Hansberry, author of the play Raisin in the Sun. The song was originally recorded by Simone for her 1970 album Black Gold; released as a single, it became a Top Ten R&B hit and a Civil Rights anthem.
NINA SIMONE To Be Young,Gifted & Black [ Live 1970 ].wmv
Uploaded on Jan 21, 2010
Nina’s live recording of her Civil Rights Anthem written by the late Weldon Irvine.Recorded 1969.
Notable cover versions of the song were recorded by Donny Hathaway (on his 1970 album Everything Is Everything), Aretha Franklin (on her 1972 album Young, Gifted and Black) and Bob and Marcia (whose 1970 recording reached number 5 in the UK Singles Chart). The Jamaican rocksteady/reggae trio The Heptones, recorded a version for Coxsone Dodd‘s Studio One label in 1970.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) was an African American playwright and author of political speeches, letters, and essays. Her best known work, A Raisin in the Sun, was inspired by her family’s battle against racial segregation in Chicago.
Lorraine Hansberry was the youngest of four children of Carl Augustus Hansberry, a successful real estate broker, and Nannie Louise Perry. In 1938, her father bought a house in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, violating a restrictive covenant and incurring the wrath of many neighbors. The latter’s legal efforts to force the Hansberrys out culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court‘s 1940 decision in Hansberry v. Lee holding the restrictive covenant in the case contestable, though not inherently invalid.
Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but found college uninspiring and left in 1950 to pursue her career as a writer in New York City, where she attended The New School. She worked on the staff of the black newspaper Freedom under the auspices of Paul Robeson, and worked with W. E. B. DuBois, whose office was in the same building. A Raisin in the Sun was written at this time, and was a huge success. It was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. Aged 29, she became the youngest American playwright and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. While many of her other writings were published in her lifetime – essays, articles, and the text for the SNCC book The Movement, the only other play given a contemporary production was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.
In 1961, Hansberry was set to replace Vinnette Carroll as the director of the musical, Kicks and Co, after its try-out at Chicago’s McCormick Place. It was written by Oscar Brown, Jr. and featured an interracial cast including Lonnie Sattin, Nichelle Nichols, Vi Velasco, Al Freeman, Jr., Zabeth Wilde and Burgess Meredith in the title role of Mr. Kicks. A satire involving miscegenation, the $400,000 production was co-produced by her husband Robert Nemiroff; despite a warm reception in Chicago, the show never made it to Broadway.
After a battle with pancreatic cancer she died on January 12, 1965, aged 34. Hansberry was prescient about many of the increasingly troubling conditions in the world, and worked to remedy them with literature. Baldwin believed “it is not at all farfetched to suspect that what she saw contributed to the strain which killed her, for the effort to which Lorraine was dedicated is more than enough to kill a man.” Hansberry’s funeral was held in Harlem on January 15, 1965. Paul Robeson gave her eulogy. The presiding reverend, Eugene Callender, recited messages from James Baldwin and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. which read: “Her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.” She is buried at Asbury United Methodist Church Cemetery inCroton-on-Hudson, New York.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window ran for 101 performances on Broadway and closed the night she died. Her ex-husband Robert Nemiroff became the executor for several unfinished manuscripts. He added minor changes to complete the play Les Blancs, which Julius Lester termed her best work, and he adapted many of her writings into the play To Be Young, Gifted and Black, which was the longest-running Off Broadway play of the 1968-1969 season. It appeared in book form the following year under the title, To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. She left behind an unfinished novel and several other plays, including The Drinking Gourd and What Use Are Flowers?, with a range of content, from slavery to a post apocalyptic future.
Raisin, a musical based on A Raisin in the Sun, opened in New York in 1973, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical, with the book by Nemiroff, music by Judd Woldin, and lyrics by Robert Britten. A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway in 2004 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival of a Play. The cast included Sean “P Diddy” Combs as Walter Lee Younger Jr., Phylicia Rashad (Tony Award winner for Best Actress) and Audra McDonald (Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actress). It was produced for television in 2008 with the same cast, garnering two NAACP Image awards.
Hansberry contributed to the understanding of abortion, discrimination, and Africa. She joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed letters to their magazine, The Ladder, in 1957 that addressed feminism and homophobia. Her lesbian identity was exposed in the articles she wrote for the magazine, but she wrote under the initials L.H. for fear of discrimination against a black lesbian.
In San Francisco, The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, which specializes in original stagings and revivals of African-American theatre, is named in her honor. Singer and pianist Nina Simone, who was a close friend of Hansberry, used the title of her unfinished play to write a civil rights-themed song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” together with Weldon Irvine. The single reached the top 10 of the R&B charts. A studio recording by Simone was released as a single and the first live recording on October 26, 1969 was captured on Black Gold (1970).
She is the first cousin of director and playwright Shauneille Perry, whose eldest child is named after her. Her grandniece is actress Taye Hansberry. Her cousin is the flautist, percussionist, and composer Aldridge Hansberry. Lincoln University‘s first-year female dormitory is named Lorraine Hansberry Hall. There is a school in the Bronx called Lorraine Hansberry Academy, and an elementary school in St. Albans, New York named after Hansberry as well. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Hansberry on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans. She was the first African American to direct a play on Broadway.
- A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
- A Raisin in the Sun (film), screenplay (1961)
- A Raisin in the Sun (TV film), produced (2008)
- On Summer (Essay) (19??)
- The Drinking Gourd (1960)
- What Use Are Flowers? (written approx. 1962)
- The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964)
- The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965)
- To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969)
- Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays / by Lorraine Hansberry Edited by Robert Nemiroff (1994)
Young, Gifted, and Black(Live)- Donny Hathaway
Uploaded on Jan 13, 2008
If you are young gifted and black this song should really empower and inspire you to reach higher heights. Donny sings from his soul. When this world gets me down I put on some Donny and get inspired to keep moving forward. Enjoy it folk.
“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” was first sung by Nina Simone and recorded on her 1970 album Black Gold. The song was written by African-American composer, Weldon Irvine, in remembrance of Simone’s friend, Lorraine Hansberry, a “young, gifted and Black” author and playwright. Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African-American woman to be produced (1959) on Broadway. Her last play, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, was produced in 1969, five years after she transitioned on January 12, 1965 at a mere 34 years old.
The song “Young, Gifted and Black”, sung by Simone, was considered a Civil Rights anthem. Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone was christened the “High Priestess of Soul” by her fans. Simone herself was “young gifted and Black”, considered a child prodigy playing the piano as a four-year-old and studying classical music at the Juilliard School of Music in New York (1951) when she was in her last year of high school.
Simone won an international following during the 1960s Civil Rights movement with several protest songs including “Why (The King of Love Is Dead)”, a tribute to civil rights leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which she wrote the day King was assassinated and “Mississippi Goddam”, a tune about the plight of African-Americans, which she wrote and recorded after four African-American girls were killed when a White man bombed an African American church in Birmingham, Alabama.
In her 1992 autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, Simone describes her feelings at the moment she heard of the bombing of the church and her decision to write a song to express those feelings: “I was sitting there in my den on September 15 when news came over the radio that somebody had thrown dynamite into the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama while Black children were attending a Bible study class. Four of them had been killed. Later that day in the rioting which followed, Birmingham police shot another Black kid and a White mob pulled a young Black man off his bicycle and beat him to death out in the street.
“It was more than I could take and I sat struck dumb in my den like St. Paul on the road to Damascus: all the truths that I had denied to myself for so long rose up and slapped my face. I suddenly realised what it was to be Black in America in 1963 – it came as a rush of fury, hatred and determination. I sat down at my piano. An hour later I came out of my apartment with the sheet music for ‘Mississippi Goddam’ in my hand. It was my first civil rights song and it came out of me quicker than I could write it down. I knew then that I would dedicate myself to the struggle for Black justice, freedom and equality under the law for as long as it took, until all our battles were won.”
Although Simone was known as the “High Priestess of Soul”, her repertoire included African songs, blues, gospel, jazz and pop music. In spite of her popularity internationally she suffered racism in her homeland and to escape it and the White supremacist culture of America, she fled the U.S. to live in distant places including Barbados, Liberia, Paris, Switzerland and the Netherlands before moving to Bouc-Bel-Air, near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, where she transitioned on April 21, 2003.
Her work has been sampled by younger African-American artists including Talib Kweli who sampled “Sinnerman” on his 2002 released “Get By” and Timbaland on his 2007 released “Oh Timbaland.” Simone’s song, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, was sampled by Devo Springsteen on “Misunderstood” from Common’s 2007 album Finding Forever and by producers Rodnae and Mousa for the song “Don’t Get It” on Lil Wayne’s 2008 album The Carter III. The song “See-Line Woman” was sampled by Kanye West for “Bad News” on his album 808s and Heartbreak.
The sampling of Simone’s songs by members of the younger generation may not be protest songs but Weldon Irvine who wrote “Young, Gifted and Black” for Simone a generation ago kept the protest song genre alive for another generation. Irvine produced “The Amadou Project: The Price of Freedom” ensuring that Black music in the 21st century can continue to raise the issues that affect our community.
In reaction to the news of the acquittal of the four New York policemen who had killed unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo (firing 41 times), Irvine produced “The Amadou Project”, a collection of songs dedicated to Diallo in 2002. The 24-track presentation includes offerings from Q-Tip, Talib Kweli and Mos Def rhyming on the song “Make It All Better”. This is reminiscent of Simone’s reaction to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the killing of the four African-American children which led to the writing of “Mississippi Goddam”.
The compilation of songs on the Amadou Project is just one reminder that there are now billions of our young people who are “young, gifted and Black.”
The murder of unarmed African-American teen, Trayvon Martin, on February 26 is a reminder that even in the 21st century we still have a long way to go to ensure justice is served when members of our community are injured or killed.
To be young, gifted and Black is still “where it’s at!”
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