You've Got to Be Carefully Taught
|"You've Got to Be Carefully Taught"|
|Lyricist(s)||Oscar Hammerstein II|
South Pacific received scrutiny for its commentary regarding relationships between different races and ethnic groups. In particular, "You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught" was subject to widespread criticism, judged by some to be too controversial or downright inappropriate for the musical stage. Sung by the character Lieutenant Cable, the song is preceded by a line saying racism is "not born in you! It happens after you’re born..."
Rodgers and Hammerstein risked the entire South Pacific venture in light of legislative challenges to its decency or supposed Communist agenda. While the show was on a tour of the Southern United States, lawmakers in Georgia introduced a bill outlawing entertainment containing "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow." One legislator said that "a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life." Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, "The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in."
The song has been covered by Michael Johnson (known for his beautiful acoustic guitar arrangements) on his landmark 1973 LP ‘’There is a Breeze’’; Iain Matthews on his 1979 LP Stealin' Home; by Barbra Streisand on her Live in Concert 2006 album; by John Pizzarelli on his 2008 album With a Song in My Heart; by Billy Porter on his 2017 album The Soul of Richard Rodgers; and by James Taylor on his 2020 album American Standard.
The song is also referenced in the 2015 musical Hamilton in the song “My Shot”, with the line, “I’m with you, but the situation is fraught. You’ve got to be carefully taught; if you talk, you’re gonna get shot!”
- Andrea Most, "‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’: The Politics of Race in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific", Theatre Journal 52, no. 3 (October 2000), 306.
- Most (2000), "You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught," 307.
- Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers