Black Man (song)

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"Black Man"
Song by Stevie Wonder from the album Songs in the Key of Life
Genre Soul, funk, disco
Length 8:30
Writer(s) Stevie Wonder, Gary Byrd
Producer(s) Stevie Wonder
Songs in the Key of Life track listing
"Joy Inside My Tears"
"Black Man"
"Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing"

"Black Man" is a track on the 1976 Stevie Wonder album Songs in the Key of Life. The song was written by Wonder and Gary Byrd.[1]

The song was written about Wonder's desire for worldwide interracial harmony,[2] and criticism of racism,[3] as evidenced in earlier works such as "Living for the City". The lyrics referred prominently to Crispus Attucks, widely considered a martyr of the American Revolution. Wonder deliberately chose this theme as the United States Bicentennial was underway at the time of recording.[4]

The song uses color-based terminology; (i.e. black, red, yellow, white, brown) to describe different racial groups and although this language has become less acceptable culturally, these terms are mentioned below, as in the original form of the song, along with the activity for which the song holds each historical figure to be famous.


Section 1

The opening verses refer to 12 people, or groups of people.[1] In two cases, however their names are not mentioned in the song itself. The numbers of people mentioned for each racial grouping are as follows: Black - 3, Red - 3, Yellow - 2, White - 2, Brown - 2.

  1. a black man - first man to die for the American flag (Crispus Attucks)
  2. the redman - first people on American ground (Native American people)
  3. a brown man - guide on the first Columbus trip (Pedro Alonso Niño)
  4. the yellow man - laid tracks for railroads (Chinese workers)
  5. a black man - first heart surgeon (Dr. Daniel Hale Williams)
  6. a redman - helped pilgrims to survive at Plymouth (Squanto)
  7. a brown man - leader for farm workers' rights (Cesar Chavez)
  8. a white man - inventor of incandescent light bulb (Thomas Edison)
  9. a black man - created first clock to be made in America (Benjamin Banneker)
  10. a red woman - scout who helped lead Lewis and Clark expedition (Sacagawea)
  11. a yellow man - pioneer of martial arts in America (Bruce Lee)
  12. a white man - Emancipation Proclamation (Abraham Lincoln)

Section 2

17 people are mentioned in this call-and-response section[1] (although the last name, T. J. Marshall, is difficult to hear clearly in the song's fade-out.) The numbers for each racial grouping are as follows: Black - 7, Red - 4, Yellow - 3, White - 2, Brown - 1.

  1. Matthew Henson - a black man - first man to set foot on the north pole
  2. Squanto - a redman - first American to show the pilgrims at Plymouth the secrets of survival in the New World
  3. Sing Lee[5] – a yellow man - soldier of Company G who won high honors in World War I
  4. Cesar Chavez - a brown man - leader of United Farm Workers who helped farm workers maintain dignity and respect
  5. Dr. Charles Drew - a black man - founder of blood plasma and the director of the Red Cross blood bank
  6. Sacagawea - a red woman - heroine who aided the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  7. Hayakawa - a yellow man - famous educator and semanticist who made contributions to education in America
  8. Garrett Morgan - a black man - invented the world's first stop light and the gas mask
  9. Harvey William Cushing - a white man - surgeon who was one of the founders of neurosurgery
  10. Benjamin Banneker - a black man - man who helped design the nation's capitol, made the first clock to give time in America and wrote the first almanac
  11. Hiawatha - a red man - hero who helped establish the league of Iroquois
  12. Michio Kushi - a yellow man - leader of the first macrobiotic center in America
  13. Jean Baptiste - a black man - founder of the city of Chicago in 1772
  14. Dennis Banks - a red man - one of the organizers of the American Indian movement
  15. Luis de Santángel - a white man - Jewish financier who raised funds to sponsor Christopher Columbus' voyage to America
  16. Harriet Tubman - a black woman - leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad
  17. T. J. Marshall[6] – a black man - inventor of the fire extinguisher

Four people are referred to twice in the song (both in section 1 and section 2): Squanto, Cesar Chavez, Sacagawea, Benjamin Banneker; which means 25 different people or groups of people are referenced in the song.


  1. ^ a b c Wonder, Stevie; Byrd, Gary. "Black Man Lyrics". MetroLyrics. Archived from the original on 2013-06-25. Retrieved 2016-03-28. 
  2. ^ Werner, Craig Hansen (2006). A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America. University of Michigan Press. p. 187. ISBN 9780472031474. 
  3. ^ Gulla, Bob (2008). Icons of R&B and Soul: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles ; The Temptations ; The Supremes ; Stevie Wonder. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 322. ISBN 9780313340468. 
  4. ^ Wilson, Ivy G (2011). Specters of Democracy:Blackness and the Aesthetics of Politics in the Antebellum U.S. Oxford University Press. p. 169. ISBN 9780199843725. 
  5. ^ "Sing Lee". Hall of Valor. Military Times. Archived from the original on 2016-03-29. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  6. ^ "Black or Afro-American Inventors: Patent and Invention Index" (PDF). Turlock, California: California State University, Stanislaus. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-29. Retrieved 2016-03-29.