*Since the month of June has been designated “Black Music Month,” I’d like to highlight a few significant recordings. There have been many recorded protest songs, but in the climate of today, I think these are still important.
In 1939, singer Billie Holiday recorded a song called “Strange Fruit” – a song composed by Jewish American Abel Meeropol (under the pseudonym Lewis Allan). The story goes that the lyrics were taken from a poem Meeropol wrote which was published in 1937. The protest song depicts the lynching of Black Americans hanging on trees like fruit. It makes you wonder why it took until 2022 to pass the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Law.
Another song “You Know It Ain’t Right” by Joe Hinton was released 60 years ago in 1963. I was nine years old when it came out, and all through the years I thought Hinton was singing about a lost love (The B-side was “Love Sick Blues”), but as I listened more closely to the lyrics, it sounds more like a protest song – a precursor to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Do you recall the long version of Cooke’s “Change”: “I go to the movie, and I go downtown, somebody keeps telling me don’t hang around…”? Hinton sang on “It Ain’t Right”: “Walking down the main street, I’m trying to hide my tears, talking about tears I’ve been crying baby, for so, so many years…”
Because of Jim Crow, they could have been singing about segregation: the Colored and White water fountains, the so-called “sundown” rule where Blacks could not be in certain areas after sundown; or they could have been singing about the “back of the bus”, the “step aside on the sidewalk”, and the “don’t look White folks in the eye” rules.
The biography of Joe Hinton according to Wikipedia reads [Though Clarksdale, Mississippi has been claimed as his birthplace, most sources state that Hinton was born in Evansville, Indiana, where he married LaVerne Flowers and started a family. He began as a gospel singer with the Blair Gospel Singers, the Chosen Gospel Quartet and the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. Producer Don Robey asked the singer to try doing secular tunes, and Hinton began recording for Robey’s record label, Peacock Records, in 1958. It was not until 1963, with his fifth single on the label, that he managed to chart with “You Know It Ain’t Right”; the next single, “Better to Give Than to Receive”, also hit the lower regions of the charts.
His biggest hit was 1964’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”, written by Willie Nelson; the tune (simply credited as “Funny” on the original record label) peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. Cash Box magazine listed “Funny How Time Slips Away” as #1 for four weeks on their R&B chart. The track sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. “I Want a Little Girl,” the next single, also charted, but it was his last hit.]
Hinton died of skin cancer in 1968 in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 38, while still in the prime of his recording career.
Larry Buford is a contributing writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon). Email: [email protected]
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