Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Big Bill Broonzy -"Black Brown And White" (A Song About Racism)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases Big Bill Broonzy's 1951 song "Black, Brown, And White".

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes. The copyrights remain with their owners.

My thanks to Big Bill Broonzy for composing and performing this song. I honor & applaud Big Bill Broonzy for encapsulating in this song part of the past and present reality of Black folks in the USA and elsewhere.

My thanks also to the transcriber of the song's lyrics, the uploaders of this featured sound file, the author of the excerpted post, and other commenters who are quoted here.

'Black, Brown And White' BIG BILL BROONZY (1951) Blues Guitar Legend

Uploaded by RagtimeDorianHenry on Apr 2, 2009

" Black, Brown And White " (1951)

The " RED HOT BLUES " (1925-1945)
Texas Alexander
Pink Anderson
Kokomo Arnold
Barbecue Bob

by Big Bill Broonzy
(recording of September 20 1951, Paris)

This little song that I'm singin' about,
people you know it's true
If you're black and gotta work for a living,
this is what they will say to you,
they says, "If you was white, should be all right,
if you was brown, stick around,
but as you's black, hmm 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 if you black, hmm 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, 't should be all right,
if you was brown, could stick around,
but as you black, hmm boy, 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, could stick around,
but as you black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back"

I hope when sweet victory,
with my 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, could stick around,
but if you black, whoa brother, get back, get back, get back

From 1

Click 2 for Version #2 whose lyrics are slightly different from those found above.

From Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 08:15 PM PST. "If You's Black? Brother, Get Back!" by amnesiaproletariat

"...Black veterans who returned from war* found many changes, but the harsh realities of their lives remained the same. They were still the last ones hired and the first ones fired whenever there were employment opportunities. That's well known, but what's less well known is that there was also intraracial bias in the hiring practices of the time. The better someone could pass for white, the better chances they had at getting and keeping a job. If you were black and darkskinned, you were at the very bottom of the totem pole. Big Bill Broonzy didn't miss a beat, writing "Get Back (Black, Brown, and White)" the song that would get him a following in Europe, and a complete blacklisting from the American music industry.

American record companies refused to record the song, and it all but sank his career. Like many black Americans with talent in the arts, he spent plenty of time in Europe, and after a couple of years on the road, a French label recorded the track, and with time, he was able to do other, better quality cuts of the song. Like many musicians who put in years on the road, it only took a little luck to raise his stature enough that he could make a living off of his music.

The timing was bittersweet. By the 50's, the next generation of blues musicians was striking out into the world, and they gratefully acknowledged the debt they owed to his efforts. At the same time, Broonzy's own style was becoming outdated - the blues was transitioning to a more uptempo, electric style. Still, he became something of a senior ambassador for jazz abroad, directly assissting in the career of Muddy Waters, and serving as a major influence on Eric Clapton, who would go on to cover "Key To The Highway", another of Broonzy's songs, with rock supergroup Derek and the Dominoes."

* The reference to "war" in this post is "World War II".

For the folkloric record, I recall chanting the verse "if you're white, you're alright/if you're brown, stick around, if you're black, step back" as a child in the 1950s (Atlantic City, New Jersey). I don't remember doing any movements while saying this verse, and I believe that I and other children in my neighborhood said this rhyme from rote memory because of its rhyming value and not as a taunt. Also, prior to 2005 I didn't know anything about Blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy, and didn't know anything about the "Black, Brown, And White" song.

With regard to the "if you're white" etc. verse, TrueBlueMajority, a commenter on the discussion thread for that above mentioned Daily Kos post wrote:
"I remember hearing that rhyme as a kid in DC
in the 60s:

if you're black, get back
if you're brown, stick around
if you're white, you're all right"

*"DC" is the United States' capital "Washington, DC" [District of Columbia].

That Daily Kos commenter also mentioned that he (or she) didn't know "the yellow and red lines" for that rhyme. I didn't know that there were "yellow and red" lines to that rhyme, but I found them online. Those lines were included in a March 2012 post decrying the actions of students from a majority White Texas high school who chanted "USA USA USA" to celebrate their basketball victory over a "mostly minority" Texas high school team:

"From the Texass poet laureate:
If you're black, better step back.
If you're brown, better not come around.
If you're red, you're better off dead.
If you're yellow, no need for you, fellow.
But if you're white - you're ALL RIGHT!

(JGL53 - March 8, 2012

A commenter who posted in response to JGHL53 indicated that those words were from "a Big Bill Broonzy song" and also indicated that JGHL53 gave those lines "backwards" (which I presume means that the "if you're white" line came first [in Broonzy's song].

It's likely that this "if you're white you're alright" etc verse was a folk saying before Broonzy included it in his song. I'm also sure that there are other song and rhyme examples of this verse after Broonzy's 1951 recording. For example, I don't know who the Texas poet laureate is, and which poem that laureate wrote includes that "if you're black step back" verse. If you know this, and/or know any other examples of these verses, it would be great if you'd share that information in this post's comment section. Thanks in advance.

Click for information about Big Bill Broonzy (June 26, 1903 – August 15, 1958).

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