Toni Morrison titled her new novel about the tough reality of contemporary black womanhood God Help the Child. Morrison does not have to cover anyone else, certainly, but the words on her new cover are truly a nod.
If it sounds familiar, black women and all people have a legacy of loving the song “God Bless the Child” -written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr., first made famous by Holiday and one of American jazz’s most enduring ballads. If anything, the song’s title phrase carries as a frequent, empowering mantra where I am from and in circles of sisters I have traveled in now: be independent, take your dreams seriously, protect your life, keep your hair done and a smile on your face, carry a purse full of your own money, limit partying for partying’s sake, limit partying period, and (well) people are great but God is the only one who is sure to come in for the save.
Beyond her fiction commitment to the open wounds and unanswered questions of racism in America for all blacks, Morrison has proved to be the most thorough documentarian of African-American female existence in all its forms: in the womb, baby, child, girl, woman, senior, from the afterlife. The mantra of “God bless the child…” is actually her most consistent answer to black women. Enjoy Holiday’s original version, as well as these covers.
Read my story “What Billie and Phyllis Sang About”, about a determined black woman’s will to survive alone in Harlem, in the new issue of Atticus Review. My favorite Billie Holiday and Phyllis Hyman music is on the story’s companion soundtrack Here. #BillieandPhyllis