Frosting on the KKKake
Last time I sat in for the Movie Mogul was four years ago with "Next Time Stay to the End Credits," claiming that you would miss things you'd rather see and hear and know. Now, and through at least Aug. 30, we have end credits that you might miss even if you stay.
Such is Spike Lee's choice of a song to accompany the list of actors and technicians and musicians and stunt doubles, and locations and caterers and all else in his new film, BlacKkKlansman.
Most will recognize the singer as Prince, but the song is a spiritual sung by slaves on Southern plantations decades before the Civil War. “Mary Don’t You Weep” was popularized by the vocal gospel group, The Caravans in 1958, and again by The Swan Silvertones in 1959.
Four years later, Black writer James Baldwin chose the last four words of one the song’s lyrics, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time,” as the title of a book that became an instant sensation, a watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement that informed Martin Luther King’s Dream Speech 55 years ago this month.
(By pure coincidence, I covered that connection in a guest column scheduled to run in the Daily News last week of this month—a column written long before I knew the song is inKlansman.)
Silvertones' lead singer Claude Jeter added a lyric of his own, "I'll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name," which inspired Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
Simon likely first heard it from Pete Seeger who made it a staple of folk music at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and performed it to his dying day, adapting the lyrics and introducing it as a Negro spiritual that had become “an American song,” with relevance unlimited to region, race, or time.
Lee may have picked “Mary, Don’t You Weep” simply to echo Klansman’s opening scenes of footage from Gone With the Wind set to the soaring strains of “Dixie” and "Swanee River,” but whether he intended it or not—I think he did—his choice captures an entire history that spans from slavery to Jim Crow and to Civil Rights which are threatened anew to this day.
Can’t pretend to know what King or Seeger or Simon would think, but I’d bet my Sixties membership card that James Baldwin would be proud.