Black Is the Color (of My True Love's Hair)
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"Black Is the Color (of My True Love's Hair)" (Roud 3103) is a traditional folk song first known in the USA in the Appalachian Mountains but originating from Scotland, as attributed to the reference to the Clyde in the song's lyrics. The musicologist Alan Lomax supported this Scottish origin, saying that the song was an American "re-make of British materials."
Many different versions of this song exist, some addressed to females and others addressed to males, as well as other differences:
- ...like some rosy fair... or ...like a rose so fair... or ... something wondrous fair
- ...the prettiest face and the neatest hands... or ...the sweetest face and the gentlest hands... or ...the clearest eyes and the strongest hands (addressed to a male)
- ...still I hope the time will come... or ...some times I wish the day will come... or ... I shall count my life as well begun, when he and I shall be as one.
- ...you and I shall be as one... or ...s/he and I can be as one...
These words are set to two distinct melodies, one of which is traditional and the other was written by the Kentucky folk singer and composer John Jacob Niles. Niles recalled that his father thought the traditional melody was "downright terrible", so he wrote "a new tune, ending it in a nice modal manner." This melody was used in the Folk Songs song cycle by Luciano Berio.
The song has become a part of the traditional repertory of Celtic music artists. In 1916, a recording was made by Mrs. Lizzie Roberts as "Black Is the Color". In the 1960s, Patty Waters sang an extended version for an ESP record which veered towards the avant garde and extremes of vocal improvisation,[unreliable source?] standing as a landmark in the use of folk tunes as a starting point to other musical areas.
Versions of the song have been recorded by many artists, including:
|John Jacob Niles||American Folk Lore Vol. 3||1941||Also appears on American Folk Love Songs to Dulcimer Accompaniment, Six Favorite Folk Songs, John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs, I Wonder As I Wander / Carols and Love Songs, The Best of John Jacob Niles, and The John Jacob Niles Collection.|
|Burl Ives||Wayfaring Stranger||Traditional folk||1944|
|Jo Stafford||American Folk Songs||Traditional folk||1950|
|Gordon Heath & Lee Payant||Chants Traditionnels Des États-Unis / The Ballad Of The Boll Weevil and other Traditional Songs Of The United States||Traditional folk||1955|
|Robert Shaw Chorale||My True Love Sings||Traditional folk||1956|
|Phineas Newborn, Jr.||While My Lady Sleeps||1957|
|Pete Seeger||American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 2||1958|
|Nina Simone||Nina Simone at Town Hall||Jazz||1959||Nina Simone made it part of her standard repertoire, revitalizing the song's popularity.|
|Joan Baez||Joan Baez in Concert||Folk music||1962|
|Smothers Brothers||Think Ethnic||Folk||1963||"Black Is The Colour (Of My True Love’s Hair)" (3:04) - Turned into "Black Is the Colour of My Love's True Hair" [But only her Hairdresser knows--/("Does she or Doesn't she?")--/Only her Hairdresser knows!] (a play on the advertising 'tag line' at that time for Clairol hair-coloring products).|
|Orriel Smith||A Voice in the Wind||Folk||1963|
|Davy Graham||Folk, Blues and Beyond||Folk||1964|
|Smothers Brothers||It Must Have Been Something I Said!||Folk||1964||They also did a parody version: Black is the color (of my love's true hair)|
|Nina Simone||Wild Is the Wind||Jazz||1965|
|Patty Waters||Patty Waters Sings||Jazz||1965||Described as "the performance that established her as a vocal innovator"|
|Hamish Imlach||Hamish Imlach||1966|
|Carola||Carola & Heikki Sarmanto Trio||Jazz||1966||Recorded in the spirit of the modal jazz scene in Europe in the 1960s, Carola's accosting tone and the groovy approach of the Heikki Sarmanto Trio remained undiscovered until issued by the Jazzpuu label in 2004.|
|The Throb||Single||1966||A version by Australian act recorded as "Black"|
|The Human Beinz||Nobody But Me||1968||A version by US act|
|Cathy Berberian||Folk Songs||1968||Recorded with the Berio setting, followed by two more recordings next decade, all conducted by the composer to whom she was married for a time|
|Esther Ofarim||N/A||Jazz||1969||The song is part of a film, "11 Uhr 20"|
|Mike Seeger||Music from True Vine||Folk||1971||This a capella recording was done on his solo album of Appalachian and America Folk music on the Mercury label|
|Tia Blake And Her Folk-Group||Folk Songs & Ballads||Folk||1971||Released on SFP (Société Française De Productions Phonographiques)|
|Alfred Deller, Desmond Dupré, Mark Deller||Folksongs||1972|
|Marc Johnson with Bass Desires||Bass Desires||Jazz rock||1985|
|Linda Hirst||Songs Cathy Sang||1988||The Berio setting|
|Joe Sample||Invitation||Jazz||1993||Instrumental version recorded as "Black Is The Color".
This version has been featured on The Weather Channel's Local On The 8s segments.
|Christy Moore||Live at the Point||1994|
|The Irish Descendants||Livin' on the Edge||Folk, World, & Country||1996|||
|The Stomping Clawhammers||All Change... Small Change||Traditional folk||1996||Female-addressed version|
|The Eccentric Opera||Hymne||1997||The eighth track of Hymne album|
|Kendra Shank||Wish||Vocal jazz||1998|
|Susan McKeown||Mighty Rain||Traditional folk||1998|
|Judy Collins||Both Sides Now||Traditional love song||1998|
|Niamh Parsons||In My Prime||Traditional folk||2000||Also performed on Live At Fylde (2005)|
|Gaelic Storm||Tree||Folk rock||2001||Sixth track of the album Tree. Female-addressed version|
|The Liberty Voices||A Cappella Americana||2001||As seen at Epcot's American Adventure|
|Cara Dillon||Cara Dillon||Folk||2001||Irish folk singer Cara Dillon chose to perform a female-addressed version opening her eponymous album which won her many awards including "Best Traditional Song" at the 2002 BBC Folk Awards. It has become a favourite in her live repertoire and has undergone huge success as a Trance remix by 2Devine (see below)|
|Blue Mountain||Roots||Alternative country/roots rock||2002|
|Banshee in the Kitchen||If We Were Us||Celtic/Irish||2002||Male-addressed version by Californian/World Celtic trio.|
|Clann Lir||Clann Lir||Traditional folk||2002||Male-addressed version by Russian Irish Celtic act, sung by Melnitsa front-woman Hellawes|
|Grace Griffith||Sands of Time||2003|
|Larry Mathews||Easy and Slow||Folk||2003||Third track on the Album Easy and Slow|
|Nurse with Wound||She and Me Fall Together in Free Death||Experimental||2003|
|Ensemble Planeta||Aria||A capella||2003||Tenth track of the Aria Album|
|Paul Weller||Studio 150||Rock||2004|
|Julie Poole||The Ash Grove||2005|
|2Devine featuring Cara Dillon||House||2005||DJ Pete Devine (also known as 2Devine and Coco & Green) produced a trance remix to Cara Dillon's version.|
|The Corrs||Home||Pop folk||2005|
|Espers||The Weed Tree||Psychedelic folk||2005|
|Eilis Kennedy||Time to Sail||Folk||2005|
|Elane||Lore of Nén||Neo-folk||2006|
|Tellen Gwad||N/A||Neo-folk||2006||Female-addressed version by Russian acoustic act|
|The Czars||Sorry I Made You Cry||Rock||2006||Male-addressed version by American rock band|
|The Twilight Singers||She Loves You||Rock||2007||Female-addressed version|
|Cara Dillon vs. 2 Devine||Trance||2007||Above & Beyond's Devine Intervention Mix|
|Karan Casey||Ships in The Forest||Folk||2008||Acoustic piano version by Karan Casey, an Irish folk singer|
|Elane||Lore of Nén||Medieval folk||2008|
|Andre Ethier||Born of Blue Fog||Neo-Folk||2008||Canadian artist|
|The King's Singers||Simple Gifts||Classical/Folk||2008||A capella|
|Kokia||Fairy Dance: Kokia Meets Ireland||Celtic||2008||Female-addressed version by Japanese songstress.|
|Natacha Atlas||Ana Hina||Arabesque/World||2008||Male-addressed version with the Mazeeka Ensemble|
|Angelo Kelly||Lost Sons
|Pop rock||2008||Appears as the last track in Lost Sons and was also recorded live for Up Close|
|Rea Garvey||often covers it on tours and performed it on the voice|
|Julie Murphy||Black Mountains Revisited||Folk/Singer-songwriter||2009|
|Nyle Wolfe||Home Ground||Folk/Classical||2009|
|Wye Oak||Splice Today Presents: The Old Lonesome Sound||Folk||2009||An original compilation album|
|Silverwheel||Single studio recording||Unknown||Silverwheel plays live and maintains several websites with their tracks sampled.|
|Phil Coulter||Timeless Tranquility: 20 Year Celebration||Folk Celtic Classical||2008|
|Marc Gunn||Irish Drinking Songs: A Cat Lover's Companion||Folk||2007||Album was a followup of Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers which included the track "Black Is the Color (of My Cat's Fur)" based on this song.|
|Sara Mitra||April Song||Jazz||2010|
|Angel Olsen||Lady Of The Waterpark||Indie Folk||2010||Limited cassette-only release|
|Lisa Lambe||Celtic Woman: Believe||Folk Celtic||2011||Female-addressed version|
|Katherine Jenkins||Daydream||Classical-popular crossover||2011||Male-addressed version|
|Celtic Thunder||Heritage||Folk Celtic||2011|
|Mark Stewart & Richard H. Kirk||The Politics of Envy||Rock dub||2012||Bonus track on the iTunes version of Mark's 2012 album|
|Siobhan Owen||Storybook Journey||Folk Celtic Classical-popular crossover||2012||Male-addressed version, vocal and harp|
|Papa M (David Pajo)||Five Ep - Drag City Rec.||Folk Rock||2003|
|Brian McFadden||The Irish Connection||Soft rock||2013||featuring Sinéad O'Connor|
|Méav Ní Mhaolchatha||The Calling||Folk||2013||Male-addressed version|
|Arven||Black is the colour||Metal||2013|
|Shearwater||N/A||Indie Rock||2014||Male-addressed version, later verses are rewritten.|
|Didges Christ SuperDrum||Alien Technology||Indie Rock||2013||Featured on the soundtrack of the film Evangeline.|
|Peter Hollens & Avi Kaplan||"Peter Hollens"||Folk||2014||Female-addressed version|
|Hausfrau||Night Tides||Darkwave||2014||Female-addressed version|
|Rhiannon Giddens||Tomorrow Is My Turn||Americana||2015|
|Damien Leith||Songs From Ireland||2015||Sony Music Australia|
|Toby Robinson||Toby Robinson||Folk/Alt-Country||2015||Independent|
|The Bombadils||New Shoes||Chamber Folk||2016||Borealis Records|
|Bannkreis||Sakrament||Folk Rock||2018||Universal Music; Song called Rabenflug with different lyrics in german.|
Pop culture references
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"Black Is the Color" is featured in The Twilight Zone season 3 episode entitled "The Passerby", which aired on October 6, 1961.
"Black Is The Color" is featured in the 1962 pilot for the western TV series Gallaway House, starring Johnny Cash, Merle Travis, Karen Downs and Eddie Dean.
"Black is the Color" is featured in The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. A sailor sings it to Heather as she and her new husband, Brandon Birmingham, pass by on the way to an inn before leaving London.
The "Lover's Lament" / "Love's Jewels" lyrics sung in Anne Bishop's Tir Alainn book series are loosely based on this song.
A cover of the song by Jim Moray featured on the Class season 1 finale "The Lost", appearing in both the post credit opening and closing fight sequence.
- Reprint Sing Out magazine nº 5, 289
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