I Know Where I've Been

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"I Know Where I've Been" is a gospel-style, soul song [1] from the musical Hairspray. It is performed by "Motormouth" Maybelle.


During the filming of the scene in the movie, technical issues forced the crew to record much of the song straight on in wide shots.


"Motormouth" Maybelle leads a protest for racial equality through the streets of Baltimore.


Answers.com provides insight into the song's themes and musical composition:[2]

This song moves the story away from the bright, often silly tone of the rest of the movie and brings attention to the racial strain of the time. Tracy is determined that the world should be integrated and that the whites and blacks should have the opportunity to dance and live together peacefully. She plans a protest to integrate the show and invites Maybelle and the other blacks in the community. This song is the theme of this protest, sung while they march toward the TV station. The lyrics speak of the struggle of the blacks and the hope for the changes that are coming.

About.com adds further information:[3]

The most serious minded song, and perhaps the most inspiring one, is sung by Motormouth, the mother of Inez and Seaweed. Her solo "I Know Where I've Been," is a testament to the historical struggles of African Americans. It's a powerful anthem that reflects on the past while still endeavoring to fulfill the promises of the future.

Critical reception[edit]

The song received acclaim from audiences and critics alike. Reviewing a stage version, Broadway World wrote "When the fabulous Arthella Williams' "Maybelle" brings down the house with the show's one genuinely serious song "I Know Where I've Been," the audience is already being prepped for a standing ovation."[4] In other stage musical reviews, CurtainUp notes "Inga Ballard as "Motormouth" Maybelle, stops the show with "I Know Where I've Been",[5] while MD Theatre Guide writes "Aaliyah Dixon's voice soared to phenomenal heights in the tearjerker, "I Know Where I've Been" drawing the audience to roaring applause".[6] CatholicNews explains "Maybelle's stirring civil rights number -- "I Know Where I've Been"—is sung during a torch-lit protest march to the TV station and provides the film's most serious, genuinely moving sequence."[7] RationalMusic wrote "The song "I Know Where I've Been" is very pretty, but its slow and serious tone is jarring after the frivolity of the rest of the score. Also, is there some unwritten rule that says that if a show has black characters, they have to sing a gospel-style or religious song? "[8] It has been described as "anthemic",[9] "a power ballad about the struggles of racism",[10] "one of the film's true highlights",[11] and the "rousing, showstopper act two song".[12] VeniceStage writes "Despite all the fun and fluff of hairspray, that message of tolerance and acceptance is one that hits home without preachiness."[13] SparksUnderland wrote "The soul gospel filled number, 'I Know Where I've Been', seemed to raise the hairs on the back of my neck along with every other audience member there."[14] A series of reviews compiled by NMST described the song as "soulful", a "powerful gospel-like blues ballad", "spiritual", "dramatic", and "knockout anthem".[15]


  1. ^ "{title}". Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  2. ^ "Meaning Behind the Fun: Hairspray Soundtrack List". Answers.com. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16.
  3. ^ Wade Bradford. "An Analysis of Songs and Themes in 'Hairspray'". About.com Education.
  4. ^ Joseph Baker. "BWW Reviews: Playhouse on the Square Teases Its Beehives in HAIRSPRAY". BroadwayWorld.com.
  5. ^ CurtainUp, Chesley Plemmons. "Hairspray, a Curtainup Connecticut review". curtainup.com.
  6. ^ "Cappies Review: 'Hairspray' at Thomas S. Wootton High School". Maryland Theatre Guide.
  7. ^ "CNS Movie Review: Hairspray". catholicnews.com.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Bursting with Song--Review of Hairspray". rationalmagic.com.
  9. ^ Jay Handelman. "THEATER REVIEW: Energetic 'Hairspray' raises spirits at Venice Theatre". heraldtribune.com.
  10. ^ "Wootton Production of 'Hairspray' is High Energy with Unstoppable Beat". Rockville, Maryland Patch.
  11. ^ "The Independent Critic - "Hairspray" Review". theindependentcritic.com.
  12. ^ "Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews, Phoenix - "Hairspray" - 10/17/13". talkinbroadway.com.
  13. ^ "Hairspray". Venice Theatre. Archived from the original on 2014-06-24. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  14. ^ "Review: Hairspray - Sunderland Empire » Spark Sunderland". sparksunderland.com. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  15. ^ Mike Ceceri. "North Shore Music Theatre - Hairspray - Reviews". nsmt.org. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2014-06-24.