Black, Brown and White

Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958) has been an African-American idol for the first 20 years of his career. He began as a blues singer, songwriter and guitarrist, but he reached...

Big Bill Broonzy (1893-1958) has been an African-American idol for the first 20 years of his career. He began as a blues singer, songwriter and guitarrist, but he reached the pinnacle of success in the 1950s becoming the leading figure of the American folk music revival.

‘Black, Brown and White’ was recorded in 1951, but it took Broonzy several years before finding a label willing to record it. The reason it took so long comes from the companies’ opinion that for a song to be a hit, the audience must wonder about its meaning, and being this song so direct, they said it would have not sold. Of course they were wrong, as it became one of Broonzy’s most famous songs, also known as the protest song.

Even thought this song was not inspired from a personal experince,  it became an anthem against racism with its cynical comment of the Jim Crow laws. What is so amazing about it is the vivid description of what black veterans found in the US, coming back from WW2: a grumpy environment where skin colour could make the difference between a life of comfort or a harder one, despite the fact that black, brown and white people had fought side by side in the name of the same country.

“They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back”

Civil rights leader, Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, paraphrased ‘Black, Brown and White’ during the benediction at the 2009 inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

After the recent events in the United States and elsewhere, this song is recognized as really appropriate to describe a situation so sadly similar to that described by Broonzy.

Lyrics:

This little song that I’m singin’ about
People you know it’s true
If you’re black and gotta work for a living now
This is what they will say to you

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I was in a place one night
They was all having fun
They was all buyin’ beer and wine
But they would not sell me none

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you’re black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I went to an employment office
Got a number ‘n’ I got in line
They called everybody’s number
But they never did call mine

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

Me and a man was workin’ side by side
This is what it meant
They was paying him a dollar an hour
And they was paying me fifty cent

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I helped built this country
And I fought for it too
Now I guess that you can see
What a black man have to do

They said if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But as you’s black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

I hope to win sweet victory
With my little plough and hoe
Now I want you to tell me brother
What you gonna do about the old Jim Crow?

Now if you was white should be all right
If you was brown stick around
But if you black, oh brother
Get back, get back, get back

Black, Brown and White
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Sounds from the Bucket
Francesca Aloisio

Francesca is both an International Relations graduate and a dancer living in Rome. She is particularly interested in international issues, intercultural learning and culture sharing, as well as music and arts. She is currently a consultant for the UN agency IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the communication division.
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