Blacks and Jews, the song


Here’s a gem I uncovered by noodling through the web tonight.

First, though, by way of explanation: there’s been a lot of talk, naturally, about black-Jewish cooperation in the age of Obama – and why not, the president made it the centerpiece of his AIPAC speech a year or so ago.

Jeffrey Goldberg shvitzes a little about the products of black-Jewish relationships, here, (although what, no Lisa Bonet? And what about the second generation, Zoe Kravitz?).

Below is another such product, also wrapped in a precious intimacy: Three Jewish songwriters, Toni Wine, Irwin Levine and Phil Spector writing a ballad for an R&B band, The Checkmates, about how pride and beauty cross color lines. It’s a sharp, moving lyric from writers better known for the cloyingest of bubblegum (Levine and Wine wrote "Candida" and Levine is half responsible for – ulp – "Tie a Yellow Ribbon".).

I find this verse heartbreaking:

My world is built around
The very smile that’s on your face
You’ll never win a beauty show
No they won’t pick you
But you’re my Miss America
I love you

This was 1969; since then, more than a few black women have won major beauty contests, and the idea that race inhibits style seems almost laughable in the age of Michelle Obama.

But then there were bridges to cross, and maybe this song helped a little. And listening to it, you can’t help but wonder if the Jewish writers didn’t recall a much older song about honoring strong, silent women.


You been in the background much too long
You been working so hard your whole life through
Tendin’ other people’s houses
Raisin’ up their children too


She seeks wool and flax, and works with her hands willingly.
She is like the merchant ships, she brings her bread from afar.
She arises while it is still night, and gives food to her household and a portion to her maidservants.

She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise and praise her, her husband lauds her.
Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.

Okay, it’s a stretch from Eshet Hayil to Black Pearl. But not by much: Consider the hymn’s first line: "An accomplished woman, who can find? Her value is far beyond pearls."

Irwin Levine passed in 1997. Phil Spector, well, it’s not a great end.

Toni Wine, though, seems to be having a blast; she was something of a prodigy in her day and hangs with Tony Orlando now.

And not to delve to deeply into her biography, but she provided the girl voices for "The Archies," giving the world perhaps the sexiest flourish in bubblegum history: "I’m gonna make your life so sweet!"

Pour it on.

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