To commemorate Black History Month, let’s do a retro music rewind to the year 1976 and the classic album by musical genius Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life. This Grammy award winner for album of the year is famous for the hits “Sir Duke” (a tribute to Duke Ellington), “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “I Wish.” When digging into the album’s deep cuts, you’ll find a song called “Black Man,” an 8-and-a-half-minute history lesson about the contributions made by black and brown people to American history. The timing seemed fitting, seeing as the album was released in the USA bicentennial year.
In this funky exercise in consciousness raising, we learn about African-American figures, many of whom never got the attention they deserved in history class. People like the first man to die for the American flag (Crispus Attucks), the first heart surgeon (Dr. Daniel Hale Williams), the first clock maker in America and surveyor of the District of Columbia(Benjamin Banneker), the first man to set foot on the north pole (Matthew Henson), the founder of blood plasma and director of the Red Cross blood bank (Dr Charles Drew), the inventor of the first stop light and gas mask (Garrett Morgan), the founder of the city of Chicago (Jean Baptiste), and the woman who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad (Harriet Tubman).
Essentially, “Black Man” presents Stevie’s vision of a multiracial democracy, as expressed in the chorus:
We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
Its time we learned
This world was made for all men
Words to live and learn by!
For a full listing of the celebrated historical figures mentioned in the song, check out this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Man_(song)
Youtube version of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEoE2UQXduA