Our Black Birthday Song(s)

In the United States, we have been trained to see candles on cakes and immediately complete the remainder of the song that starts with “Happy Birthday to you…” Whether at a restaurant, a children’s birthday party or anywhere the opening to the song starts, we generally join along in the chorus of this song as part of the collective US birthday experience.

And in some cases, we riff on the Stevie Wonder version of the song to celebrate birthdays when among our black friends and family. Wonder’s song keeps the foundations of what we have come to expect for *the* birthday celebration song. However, the infusion of soulful tunes, the ability to adlib and the song’s purpose — Stevie Wonder penned “Happy Birthday” (1981) as part of the campaign to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday — is peak blackness.

But there is another birthday song that centers around blackness rather than infusing it into an existing framework. I learned this song from a colleague who sings it to (and now with) her children at their birthdays:

Look at [name], [he/she] is black and beautiful!
[Repeat 3 times with increasing excitement and hand drumming or beat boxing!]
Saying Power to [name]
Power to [name]
Power to [name]
You’re black and beautiful

At the heart of this tradition with roots in a black community school in Brooklyn is the celebration of blackness and the importance of upholding its value and beauty. It is the basis for developing a strong black identity for children at a young age and an annual reminder to never forget that we are black and beautiful.

Send us a video of you singing at your next birthday gathering and we just might feature your video here or on social media!

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