Bob and Marcia's gift to blacks
COVER Me GoodSaturday, October 02, 2021
BY KEDIESHA PERRY
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk continues a 30-part feature titled Cover Me Good. It will look at songs covered by Jamaican artistes which became hits.
WHEN Marcia Griffiths and Bob Andy decided to cover Nina Simone's Young, Gifted And Black in 1970, it was not because of its catchy melody, but admiration for a revolutionary, black conscious track.
“I loved it because it had a strong message, not just to young people, to everyone globally. To my surprise, when we toured Europe shortly after its release, most of the turnout was white people, and they all loved it and were singing along to it,” Griffiths told the Jamaica Observer from her Florida home. “Regardless of the lyrics, they, too, were inspired by it. At that time the song was number two on the UK chart. There are certain songs that you know you cannot better, because they're done so perfect, and this was one of them. However, we still wanted to add our own interpretation and melody.”
Simone's jazzy version was released in August the previous year and caught on among militant organisations like the Black Panthers.
The Andy/Griffiths cover was recorded at Harry J studios in Kingston and produced by its owner, Harry “Harry J” Johnson. The duo had great success during the 1960s at Studio One with solo songs such as Too Experienced and Unchained, Feel Like Jumping and Melody Life, and the duet Really Together.
According to Griffiths, Young, Gifted And Black's message is timeless.
“You can't take away from truth and reality. That song relates for a lifetime. Whether it's this generation or then. 'Oh, what a lovely thing to be young, gifted and black.' It will continue to be relevant no matter the changing times,” she said.
Nina Simone, whose given name is Eunice Waymon, was a talented singer-songwriter who emerged during the 1950s with songs like My Baby Don't Care. A decade later, she was part of the civil rights movement, along with other popular entertainers, including Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr, and author James Baldwin.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were critical times for black people in Jamaica and the United Kingdom. That trying period coincided with the emergence of reggae and Rastafari. Jimmy Cliff, Toots And The Maytals, and Desmond Dekker helped introduce Jamaican culture to the UK.
While Andy and Griffiths were socially aware, that was not the inspiration for covering Young, Gifted And Black.
Griffiths remembers them recording it on a whim. It was one of the best decisions she ever made.
“We were at Harry J's Studio One, and he played Nina's version and we loved the song, so we decided that we'd give it a shot and do it in our style. It's still one of the most memorable projects,” she said.
In the 1970s, Marcia Griffiths had a fruitful career as a solo artiste and as a member of the I Three, Bob Marley's harmony group. She continues to tour and record.
Bob Andy, whose given name is Keith Anderson, is regarded as one of reggae's great songwriters. He died from pancreatic cancer on March 27, 2020 at age 75.