To Be Young, Gifted and Black

Nina Simone, 1969

This song was written in memory of Lorraine Hansberry. Who was Lorraine Hansberry, and how does the song honor her life and career?

To whom is this song addressed? Why do you think Nina Simone felt it necessary to write a song for this audience in the late 1960s?

Simone conveys a sense of optimism but also refers to being "haunted" by her youth. What happened in the 1960s that might have made her more optimistic than she was in her youth?

What stereotypes about young African Americans does this song challenge?

"To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" recorded by Nina Simone on Sugar In My Bowl: The Very Best of Nina Simone 1967-1972, ©1998. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

For more information on Nina Simone, visit

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source

Nina Simone (1933–2003) was born in North Carolina. Her mother, a Methodist minister, objected to her daughter playing the "devil's music." At a young age Simone aspired to be a concert pianist and attended Juilliard with the help of a community scholarship. In 1954 she was hired as a cocktail pianist in Atlantic City, where she demonstrated a keen talent and ability to mix popular song with classical music (especially the counterpoint of J. S. Bach), jazz, and blues. In 1958 she moved to New York and made a name for herself playing in the bars of Greenwich Village. In 1964 the song "Mississippi Goddam" (VAT Unit 8) established her as as a leading voice in the Civil Rights Movement.

Single cover for "to be young, gifted and black."

"To Be Young, Gifted and Black" was composed in memory of Simone's friend, Lorraine Hansberry, the first Black woman to write a play performed on Broadway and author of the play A Raisin in the Sun (1957). The title is from an unfinished play Hansberry had been working on, and it was also a phrase that Hansberry had used when addressing a group of Black students. Simone asked poet and fellow musician Weldon Irvine to craft the lyrics, stating that she wanted something that would encourage Black children and instill in them a sense of confidence.

The song reached the top ten in the 1969 R&B charts, becoming one of Simone's biggest hits. Several other prominent artists, including Aretha Franklin, subsequently covered it.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry



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