Watch Nina Simone Sing the Black Pride Anthem, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” on Sesame Street (1972)

In her brief 34 years, Lor­raine Hans­ber­ry left a for­mi­da­ble lega­cy as the first African-Amer­i­can and the youngest play­wright to win the cov­et­ed New York Crit­ics’ Cir­cle Award for A Raisin in the Sun. (It was also the first play by a black writer to be pro­duced on Broad­way.) What’s more, Hans­ber­ry was a com­mit­ted civ­il rights cam­paign­er, from a fam­i­ly who had fought hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion in the Supreme Court. She her­self orga­nized with Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Har­ry Bela­fonte, Lena Horne, James Bald­win, and many oth­ers; wrote for Paul Robeson’s Free­dom; and joined the first les­bian civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion, the Daugh­ters of Bili­tis, con­tribut­ing to their mag­a­zine, The Lad­der.

Hans­ber­ry was indeed “Young, Gift­ed, and Black,” which also hap­pens to be the title of an auto­bi­og­ra­phy pub­lished after her death from pan­cre­at­ic can­cer in 1965, and of a posthu­mous­ly pro­duced play. But the title has maybe most famous­ly lived on in a trib­ute to Hans­ber­ry by her friend, the prodi­gious­ly gift­ed Nina Simone. Among Simone’s many men­tors, Hans­ber­ry “offered her a spe­cial bond,” writes Clau­dia Roth Pier­pont at The New York­er, and pushed her into activism. “We nev­er talked about men or clothes,” Simone wrote in her mem­oir, I Put a Spell on You, “It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution—real girls’ talk.” After the 1963 Bap­tist Church bomb­ing in Birm­ing­ham, Simone ded­i­cat­ed her­self to the move­ment with a pas­sion for jus­tice and lib­er­a­tion.

And yet, “for every lyric about lynch­ings and the strug­gle for equal­i­ty,” notes the Blan­ton Muse­um, “Simone would write anoth­er about free­dom and black pride, rein­forc­ing her belief that African Amer­i­can men and women should know the beau­ty of their black­ness.” As she put it in an inter­view, “My job is to some­how make [black peo­ple] curi­ous enough, or per­suade them, by hook or crook, to get them more aware of them­selves and where they came from and what is already there.” What was already there includ­ed the work of friends like James Bald­win and Lor­raine Hans­ber­ry, from whom Simone drew “To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black,” one of the “most tri­umphant anthems of the black pride move­ment of the 1970s.”

At the top of the post, you can see Simone sing the song to four young kids on a 1972 episode of Sesame Street, bring­ing them the news: “There’s a world wait­ing for you.” As she announces in the song itself, “We must begin to tell our young” the impor­tance of their cul­ture and his­to­ry. The young respond­ed with grat­i­tude for Simone’s advo­ca­cy. In the short Sesame Street clip, the four adorable kids look on admir­ing­ly, and one girl sings along. The inspi­ra­tion for the song came not only from Hansberry’s influ­ence on Simone’s polit­i­cal con­scious­ness, but also from a pho­to­graph of Hans­ber­ry she saw in the New York Times.

The pic­ture, “caught hold of me,” Simone says in the brief inter­view clip above, “I remem­ber get­ting a feel­ing in my body.… I knew what I want­ed it to say in essence.… I real­ly think that she gave it to me.” After the short inter­view, you can see Simone per­form the song in a 1969 ses­sion at More­house Col­lege, to rap­tur­ous applause from the audi­ence. “To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black” has been cov­ered by duo Bob & Mar­cia, Don­ny Hath­away, Aretha Franklin, and—most recent­ly, Solange Knowles. Though none of these artists have had the inti­mate, per­son­al con­nec­tion to the lyrics and their inspi­ra­tion that Nina Simone did, all of them have helped trans­mit her mes­sage. Even in the face of gross injus­tice and seem­ing­ly implaca­ble oppo­si­tion to equal­i­ty and civ­il rights, “There’s a world wait­ing for you / This is a quest that’s just begun.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nina Simone Sings Her Break­through Song, ‘I Loves You Por­gy,’ in 1962

Watch a New Nina Simone Ani­ma­tion Based on an Inter­view Nev­er Aired in the U.S. Before

Chris Rock Reads James Baldwin’s Still Time­ly Let­ter on Race in Amer­i­ca: “We Can Make What Amer­i­ca Must Become”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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