Saturday, February 22, 2020

"The Blacker The Berry, The Sweeter The Juice" (African American Saying time line: 1914 to 2015)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision & title change - October 10, 2021 [Previous title: "Names Of Books, Songs, & Movies With The Title "The Blacker The Berry, The Sweeter The Juice" Or Which Include That Saying".

This pancocojams post traces the African Amerian saying "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice" from its inclusion in the 1914 composition by W.C. Handy to Kendrick Lamar's 2015 Hip Hop record "The Blacker The Berry".

The dates and the title of the published work [books, songs, movies] that include this saying are given without quoting that use or any other information.

Click to find additional information about these entries. The updated title for that pancocojams post is "Tracing The Saying "The Blacker The Berry, The Sweeter The Juice" From 1914 To 2015".

The content of this post is presented for historical, sociological, and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
A lot of this post is re-printed from a June 2015 pancocojams post entitled "A Timeline For The Use Of The Saying "The Blacker The Berry, The Sweeter The Juice". Information about some of the entries in this timeline was given to me by readers who sent in comments to that original 2015 version of this pancocojams post Thanks to those commenters. 

Thanks also to Anonymous, Oct. 9, 2021 who shared information about the 1914 entry to this time line. Read Anonymous Oct 9, 2021 full comment below.


[These are the examples that I'm aware of. I'd appreciate information about any other examples.]

1914- St. Louis Blues (composition by W. C. Handy. Verse 3)  

1922 - Thomas W. Talley, editor Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise
Poem "You Love Your Girl"

1923 - Edmonia Henderson "Black Man Blues" [Blues song]

1929 - [novel] The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman

1969 - The Isley Brothers- The Blacker The Berrie (a/k/a Black Berries) [R&B song]

1974 Foxy Brown [movie] - a line spoken by the lead character Foxy Brown [played by Pam Grier]

1980 - Fame [movie] - a line spoken by one of the Coco [played by Irene Cara]

1993- Tupac - Keep Ya Head Up [Hp Hop record]

1995 - The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip [book]

1995 - Friday [movie]
This saying is part of an exchange between the two lead characters.

2002- Hairspray song "Run Tell That!" [Broadway show]

2006 - Field Mob - "Blacker The Berry" in the album Light Poles And Pine Trees [Hip Hop record]

Apr 22, 2011 - Jimmy Black - "Blacker The Berry The Sweeter The Juice" [Hip Hop music video. This is the video's publishing date. I don't know the date of the record.]

2015 Kendrick Lamar - "The Blacker The Berry" [Hip Hop record]

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Hello, it's the same anonymous that tipped you off about the 1923 Edmonia Henderson song, back with another one for you. This time, it's not a recording, but a composition: St. Louis Blues (1914) by W. C. Handy. Verse 3:

    You ought to see dat stovepipe brown of mine
    Lak he owns de Dimon Joseph line
    He'd make a cross-eyed o' man go stone blind
    Blacker than midnight, teeth lak flags of truce
    Blackest man in de whole St. Louis
    Blacker de berry, sweeter is the juice
    About a crap game he knows a pow'ful lot
    But when work-time comes, he's on de dot
    Gwine to ask him for a cold ten spot
    What it takes to git it, he's cert'nly got

    (Note: songs written from a black perspective were typically written in dialect like this back in the day. Yes, it's racist by today's standards, but that was just the norm back then. I mean, W. C. Handy himself was black.)

    This song is one of the earliest known blues songs, and was a massive hit that has since become a jazz standard. There's even an NHL team that took their name directly from this song: the St. Louis Blues. It's been recorded by many artists, but the song was released before black artists were allowed by the white-owned record companies of the day to record much of anything besides minstrel songs and spirituals, so if I were you, I'd list the composition itself rather than any specific recording. I suspect that this is not the origin of the phrase "blacker the berry," but it may have helped popularize it.

    Just as a bonus, in 1929 a short two-reel movie (~15 minutes) was released centered around this song, with famous blues singer Bessie Smith performing (the only known footage of her). It doesn't include the above verse, but it's still a compelling performance. Link:

    Alternate AI-colorized version:

    1. Thank you, Anonymous for sharing that information.

      I added that 1914 St. Louis Blues entry to this timeline for the saying "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice".

      Thanks also for informtion about Bessie Smith's 1929 movie. I plan to publish a pancocojams posts showcasing those links and add that post's link here.

      Btw, is the 1923 song sung by Edmonia Henderson tiled St. Louis Blues or Black Man Blues as I have it in that time line?

    2. Greetings again, Anonymous Oct. 9, 2021

      Here's a link to the pancocojams post entitled "Saint Louis Blues" (1914 lyrics by W. C. Handy & 1929 film clip of this song sung by Bessie Smith)".

      Thanks again for motivating me to do some online research about that song and showcase it on this pancocojams blog.

    3. Glad to see that movie being spread a bit - it's a great performance, but I feel like people don't normally venture into media from that long ago, so most people nowadays would never get the chance to see it. It's also worth listening to Bessie Smith's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out," a truly fantastic song about the fleeting nature of fortune and the supposed "friends" that come with it. To quote Wikipedia:

      When Smith's record was released on September 13, 1929 (a Friday), the lyrics turned out to be oddly prophetic. The New York stock market had reached an all-time high less than two weeks earlier, only to go into its biggest decline two weeks later in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which signaled the beginning of the ten-year Great Depression.

      Going back to the whole "blacker the berry" business, the Edmonia Henderson song is called "Black Man Blues" and is completely unrelated to St. Louis Blues. You had the title correct originally. To the best of my knowledge, Edmonia Henderson never recorded St. Louis Blues. Also, just a casual reminder that this page should be updated as well with St. Louis Blues:

    4. Greetings, Anonymous Oct. 9, 2021.

      Your comment gave me an opportunity to watch Bessie Smith's performance of "Saint Louis Blues" and share it with others. Thank you and thanks to the Library of Congress and YouTube!

      I'll add that Bessie Smith song to the "in the near future" list of pancocojams post I'll publish.

      Thanks also for reminding me to correct/update that tracing the blacker the berry saying"... post.

      I really appreciate your help and input. Ashe'