Black and Blue

The following is from Natiel Cooper’s class presentation:
The Artists Behind the Song…

Fats Waller

  • Thomas “Fats” Waller was a son of a preacher, played organ from a young age
  • Fats became a notable player by 1927, five years after beginning his recording career. Went to cowrite “Keep Shugglin’” and wrote scores for the Broadway hit “Hot Chocolates”
  • Fats found mainstream success with George Gershwin and recorded under Victor Records, and rose to stardom in radio and nightclub circuits.

Louis Armstrong

  • Born in 1901, Armstrong has among the brightest careers of any jazz musician.
  • By age 16 he was playing in a Joe “King” Oliver inspired group and in six years time would go on to replace his idol on Kid Ory’s band.
  • Upon moving to New York, Armstrong found himself among acclaimed artists performing in Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra and recording with a medley of blues singers
  • By 1929, Armstrong had reached mainstream stardom and toured along “Hot Chocolates’ well as becoming an instrumental artist during the Harlem Renaissance.

Harlem Renaissance

  • The Renaissance saw a surge of African-American culture on the rise that occurred in the 1920’s
    • Described as an “intellectual, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem”
    • Dubbed the ‘New Negro Movement”
      • The “New Negro” was a characterization that sought to separate the negative connotation of African-Americans
    • The intellectual contributions of African-Americans were “warmed” to Americans by the vast artistic contributions with African-American musicians becoming the forefront of popular music
    • Louis Armstrong was an iconic figure of such a movement, opening the doors widely for African-Americans to perform freely in previously white-only venues

Black and Blue: Creation and Eventual Success

  • Black and Blue represents one of jazz’s earliest attempts to make an open commentary on racism.
  • Waller originally wrote the song for a musical comedy in which a dark-skinned black woman would sing it as a lament, ruing her lighter-skinned lover’s loss of interest in her.
  • Later, however, Armstrong transformed the piece into a direct commentary on the hardships faced by blacks in a racist white society.

Black and Blue: Lyrics

Cold empty bed…springs hurt my head
Feels like ole Ned…wished I was dead
What did I do…to be so black and blue
Even the mouse…ran from my house
They laugh at you…and all that you do
What did I do…to be so black and blue
I’m white…inside…but, that don’t help my case
That’s life…cant hide…what is in my face
How would it end…ain’tgot a friend
My only sin…is in my skin
What did I do…to be so black and blue
How would it end…I aint got a friend
My only sin…is in my skin
What did I do…to be so black and blue

*The major differentiator between Armstrong’s and Waller’s performance is that Armstrong makes the performance through his sole voice while Waller uses the voices of many to convey the song.

The Message and Cultural Impact of Black and Blue

  • This whole thing was TELEVISED
    • Followed with the major idea of the Harlem Renaissance, which was to make these discussions a part of the culture, so these lyrics and issues are well known.
  • The lyrics also contain a reference to “Old Ned” a minstrel song
    • The story of “Old Ned” refers to Ned, a slave, working without an end until he died
    • Calls back to slavery and how decrepit black people still were living
  • Invisible Man, the song’s lyrics emphasize the conflict between the singer/speaker’s feelings and the outer identity imposed on him by society. The narrator listens to Armstrong sing that he feels “white inside” and that “my only sin / is in my skin.” By placing this song in the background of his story without directly commenting on it, Ellison provides subtle reinforcement for the novel’s central tension between white racism against blacks and the black struggle for individuality.
  • Long lasting effect in popular culture with the Invisible Man book showcasing the song in its beginning
    • Invisible Man is hugely about race relations and Booker T Washington’s

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does music/art make a political impact on history?
  2. How do we see art affecting the way we think?
  3. Due to the effect that celebrity has on the mindset of individuals, should we hold those in the public eye more accountable?

Comments are closed.