Friday, 23 March 2018

Black, Brown and White by Big Bill Broonzy - My Desert Island Discs - the first

There should be eight tracks (not Albums) chosen to accompany you, if you have the misfortune to be cast away on a desert island (and just happen to have with you a wind up gramophone). It’s a barmy premise, but so are many methods of selection and this one was invented for a radio show which began on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942 and has been running ever since.

When I was a young child there was always music on the radio, including Desert Island Discs. There were, always LP’s around, some with fascinating, brightly coloured covers. We had a big radiogram in England, a smaller more portable record player when we moved to Aden. The records came with us and we accumulated more, from the Naafi, from Bhicajee Cowasgee which was the biggest department store in town and from passing ships, which included American warships.
Some of the records were by smooth solo singers such as Sinatra and Nat King Cole, which bored me.  Also there were soundtracks from musicals, ranging from obscure ones like ‘Kismet’, based on the music of Russian Composer Borodin and ‘Irma la Douce’ (a French stage musical which my parents must have seen when it was on at the Lyric Theatre in London) to Hollywood blockbusters such as ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘South Pacific’. I could probably sing along reasonably accurately to one or two of those soundtracks if they were played today.

But then one day in Aden my dad brought home ‘Big Bill’s Blues’, a compilation album of Big Bill Broonzy’s songs. One song stood out and I was old enough to understand. It was the beginning of my awareness of what was happening in the world, not only immediately in my surroundings in Aden, but also in America and around the world. ‘Black, Brown and White’ is Big Bill Broonzy singing, in a very deliberately calm, laid back way, about his experience of racism;
"They says if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, stick around,
But as you's black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back."
I've never forgotten those lyrics or the impact they had on me. So this song is my first choice for my desert island sojourn, just to remind me about the reality that I was missing, full of irrational prejudices and abuses.

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