I was doing a little pop music research after making my lists. I'm sure many of you have heard the song "Black Betty" by Ram Jam. It was a top 20 hit in the late '70's and was featured rather prominently in the film Blow a few years ago. It occured to me that I didn't know much about the song or the band. So, I was reading about Ram Jam and how the NAACP and CORE protested at the time of it's release, calling for a boycott of the song saying that it insulted black women.
I guess the fact that "Black Betty" is a traditional African-American song, recorded most prominently by Leadbelly was lost on the good-meaning folks at these activist groups. Or was it insulting that white pop acts were co-opting it? Of course, this was 25 years ago, so I don't know why my feathers are getting ruffled now.
I guess I just find it ironic that two groups who champion the achievements and contributions of black folk to American culture would boycott a song that came out of their musical tradition, regardless of the pigmentation of the person performing it.
If you're interested, Leadbelly's a capella version of "Black Betty" is readily available on Kaazaa, as well as interpretations by Ram Jam, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas, Bad Company, Tom Jones, Nick Cave, ZZ Top, and Nazareth.
And if you're too lazy to do any downloading yourself, here are Leadbelly's original lyrics (roughly, there's lots of reptition):
Oh black betty bama lam
Oh black Betty bama lam
Black Betty had a baby, bama lam
Damn thing gone crazy bama lam
Oh big black Betty, bama lam
Oh Betty's black baby, bama lam
Oh black Betty had a baby, bama lam
Damn thing gone crazy, bama lam
Baby wasn't none o' mine, bama lam
Damn thing gone blind, bama lam
Lookie here, black Betty, bama lam
Jump steady black Betty, bama lam