Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth

by Richard Wright

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What songs represent the themes in Richard Wright's Black Boy?

Quick answer:

Songs to consider for Richard Wright's Black Boy include: "Strange Fruit" (1959) by Billie Holliday; "Mississippi Goddamn" (1961) by Nina Simone; "Death of Emmett Till" (1958) by Bob Dylan; "Wade in the Water" or "Deep River"; and songs that represent Wright's political awakening such as, "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" (1968) by James Brown; "The Revolution Will Not be Televised" by Gil Scott Heron (1970); and "Alright" or "Blacker the Berry" (2015) by Kendrick Lamar. Music is a powerful way to express your response to this text.

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"Black Boy" is divided into two parts: "Southern Night," which explores Wright's formative years growing up in the Jim Crow South and "The Horror and the Glory" which documents Wright's political awakening and the different forms of racism and prejudice he encounters after moving North as a young adult. You might approach this assignment by choosing songs that correspond to each of these two sections.

"Southern Night": Soulful and mournful music that explores the social landscape and aggressively oppressive factors of the south would be appropriate here.

As a starting point, check out the following: "Strange Fruit" (Billie Holiday and Nina Simone both have amazing versions); "Mississippi Goddamn" (Nina Simone); and "The Death of Emmett Till" (Bob Dylan).

A few gospel songs or a traditional black spiritual to reflect the fortifying role that religion played in the lives of the women surrounding Wright might also be a thoughtful inclusion. Think about "Wade in the Water" or "Deep River," for instance. You can find many versions on You Tube or your favorite streaming service.

"The Horror and the Glory": Music that reflects Wright's growing political consciousness, disillusionment, and empowerment would be a good fit to reflect the second half of the book. You might include some classics and some more recent songs that reflect the continuing relevance of Wright's experiences and perspective today, such as the following: "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud") by James Brown; "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gil Scott Heron; "Alright" or "Blacker the Berry" by Kendrick Lamar; and "Freedom" by Beyoncé.

For more ideas of recent music, you might explore options from Joey Badass, the Roots, Solange, J. Cole, or some of your own favorite artists.

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Another theme in Wright's Black Boy is the power of writing and reading. Wright turns to writing to express the outrage he feels about racism, and he reads to survive a childhood filled with poverty and despair. Some songs that might express Wright's faith in writing include the following:

  • "Every Day I Write the Book" by Elvis Costello
  • "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen has a line that refers to writing a book
  • "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" by Fats Waller

Wright wants to become a writer to inspire social revolution that will result in serious change in a society that is pervaded by racism. Here are some songs on the theme of revolution:

  • "Revolution" by The Beatles
  • "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan
  • "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" by U2
  • "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy
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I have always loved assignments like this. They allow readers to truly examine the novel. Songs really speak to everyone, and using them to relate to a novel helps understanding.

The themes of Richard Wright's Black Boy are prejudice/tolerance, race/racism, meaning of life, and individualism. Therefore, one really has a lot to work with in regard to songs which speak to the same ideas.

Race and racism:

"Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke.

"Where Is Home" by Bloc Party.

"Trouble Every Day" by Frank Zappa.


"Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone.

"Every Kinda People" by Robert Palmer.

Meaning of life:

"Let Me Die in My Footsteps" by Bob Dylan.

"The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics.


"Born This Way" by Lady Gaga.

"My Best Theory" by Jimmy Eat World.

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