In celebration of Black History Month, Dom Flemons curates this playlist featuring songs and sounds that showcase Black love and joy, including "Slow Dance With You" from his upcoming album, Traveling Wildfire.
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“Darling you are the one I love You are my turtle dove
Let me hold you tight, tight, tight And with all my might
You shouldn’t stay away from me Oh no Dorothy...”
“Dorothy”, a passionate love song from The Calypso King of Trinidad, The Mighty Sparrow, starts out the proceedings for this wonderful Black History Month playlist dedicated to “Black Love & Joy.” On this playlist which runs just under two hours, I have curated 40 songs, poems and spoken word recitations that present the many ways in which “Black Love & Joy” have been expressed by the many Black artists who have recorded for the Smithsonian Folkways label.
“Black Love” is expressed by the brilliant reimagining of Gene Austin’s “My Blue Heaven” by pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams. With a sharp crackle of the snare drum, Mrs. Williams transports us to a place where we see Black couples floating on the clouds, in a beautiful cafe free from the hang ups of American Life. The atmosphere she and the band create give a moment of clarity, allowing us to finally see ourselves and our partners clearly and distinctly with compassion and tear dimmed eyes. In his own way, Big Bill Broonzy’s aggressive yet perfectly played guitar arrangement of Billy Hill’s “Glory of Love” take us to the smoky bars of the Netherlands as seen in his film “Low Light and Blue Smoke”. The Blues always puts people in the mood for love and the brilliant musicians, singers & poets on this collection will use their hearts, hands, voices and minds to weave a transcendent narrative of “Black Love & Joy” through their experiences.
“Black Joy” can only be derived from one’s own heart but a person’s environment can also influence the way they view any future love they might meet on the dance floor. Many songs are joyful outbursts of swagger and glitter. Whether careless, thoughtful, well-planned, off-the-cuff or for the thrill of it, songs about “Black Love & Joy” define the smiles hidden behind the sadness of racial oppression. Other times they are the lighter moments of a heavy gathering of family and friends where “Black Love & Joy” take the form of conversations around timelines, heritage, self worth and future dreams as expressed by Ella Jenkins in her recitation “Black Royalty” and Nikki Giovanni in her poem “Joy”.
These kings and queens of song are more than happy to advertise that they have plenty of love to go around. Others are reaching out from the speakers and asking you, the listener, to join them. This is because many times in Black lives, “Black Love & Joy” is a communal experience and is best shared with others.
Drawing from the Smithsonian Folkways, Arhoolie, Blue Ridge Music Institute, Folk-Legacy and Cook Collections, several tracks are exuberant instrumentals with titles that reflect the many feelings of “Black Love & Joy” that words cannot express. From the New Orleans strut of “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” by Emile Barnes to the laughing trumpet improvisation of the Bahamian “When A Man Marries His Troubles Just Begin” by the Daniel Saunders Brass Band, we find whether successful or not, “Black Love & Joy” always has a brilliant story and history to tell. The gentle and immaculate guitar piece “Romance” by Haitian composer Franz Casseus symbolizes “Black Love & Joy’s” more quiet and intimate moments beside the warm and fleeting embrace of the poem “Dawn” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar recited by Harlem Renaissance poet Arna Bontemps.
In conjunction with my song, "Slow Dance With You," I hope people will enjoy this varied and passionate collection of “Black Love & Joy” from the front porches and living room parlors to the coffeehouses, night clubs, juke joints and performance stages that produced these magnificent confessions of love gained and lost.
“I wanna pull you close
And slow dance with you
Darlin’, I ain’t the perfect man
But I see the sun’s coming up
And you’re lovely wrapped in dawn Darlin’, take my hand.”
Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Black History Month!
The American Songster