"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Every so often, I get ahold of a CD that I believe I should listen to for educational purposes, but really don't have the desire to hear at one sitting. In such cases, I will rip the disc to my hard drive and add the tracks to my iTunes library. That way, I will eventually hear the whole thing, in digestible chunks.
One such disc was a collection entitled Classic Folk Music from Smithsonian Folkways. I ripped it last August, but there are still several songs that have yet to show up in the shuffle. One of those songs showed up today, and it knocked me for a loop - a piece by Earl Robinson called "Black and White."
Flash back to 1972 - I'm an eleven-year-old kid, standing in the record department at a general merchandise store in Spokane. I'm about to buy my first-ever 7" single. This is a difficult choice, because the things aren't cheap. Eighty-five cents each. I know this because I still have the record I bought that day, and it still has the price sticker on it. The record I bought was "Black and White," by Three Dog Night.
It's the same damn song!
Now, I had never heard of Earl Robinson before today. The folk music geeks among you are reeling, because Earl Robinson, I have learned, was something of a legend. He wrote the union anthem "Joe Hill," as well as the 1945 Sinatra hit, "The House I Live In." He also wrote a song (which I have never heard) called "Ballad for Americans," which was recorded by both Paul Robeson and Bing Crosby and which (I kid you not) was the theme song for both the Republican Party and Communist Party conventions in 1940. It is not surprising, given his associations with labor and leftist politics, that he was blacklisted during the '50's. "Black and White" was written by Robinson and David Arkin (father of actor Alan Arkin) in 1955, to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Furthermore, he was my homeboy - he was born, and died (in a 1991 car accident), in West Seattle, just a few miles away from where I'm sitting right now. That notwithstanding, I still prefer the Three Dog Night version. It was, after all, the first record I ever bought.