I don’t remember the first time I heard “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” I do recall, however, the first time I was instructed to listen to it.
The version was Donny Hathaway’s take, from his 1970 album Everything Is Everything. At the time, headed to fifth grade and abruptly leaving the familiar bubble of my all-black school, I was told to pay attention to the lyrics. I didn’t know the full history of the song, or lineage of the phrase. I didn’t know about the Aretha Franklin version, from an album of the same name. I didn’t know about the original Nina Simone version. And I didn’t know that Simone wrote the song in memory of her friend Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun.