Black Is the Colour (Of My True Love’s Hair)

Celtic Woman, Nina Simone and Christy Moore versions of the famous Scottish-American folk song “Black Is the Colour (Of My True Love’s Hair)”.

“Black Is the Colour (of My True Love’s Hair)” (Roud 3103) is a traditional folk song first known in the Appalachian Mountains region of the United States in 1915, but most probably originating from Scotland, as attributed to the reference to the Clyde in the song’s lyrics. The musicologist Alan Lomax supported this Scottish origin, saying that the song was an American “re-make of British materials.”

Many different versions of this song exist, some addressed to females and others addressed to males, as well as other differences:

  • …like some rosy fair… or …like a rose so fair… or … something wondrous fair
  • …the prettiest face and the neatest hands… or …the sweetest face and the gentlest hands… or …the clearest eyes and the strongest hands (addressed to a male)
  • …still I hope the time will come… or …some times I wish the day will come… or … I shall count my life as well begun, when he and I shall be as one.
  • …you and I shall be as one… or …s/he and I can be as one…

These words are set to two distinct melodies, one of which is traditional and the other was written by the Kentucky folk singer and composer John Jacob Niles. Niles recalled that his father thought the traditional melody was “downright terrible”, so he wrote “a new tune, ending it in a nice modal manner.” This melody was used in the Folk Songs song cycle by Luciano Berio.

The song has become a part of the traditional repertory of Celtic music artists. The first recording was made by Mrs. Lizzie Roberts in 1916 as “Black Is the Colour”. In the 1960s, Patty Waters sang an extended version for an ESP record which veered towards the avant garde and extremes of vocal improvisation, standing as a landmark in the use of folk tunes as a starting point to other musical areas.

“Black is the colour” lyrics (Christy Moore version)

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,
Her lips are like some roses fair,
She’s the sweetest smile, And the gentlest hands,
I love the ground, Whereon she stands.

I love my love and well she knows,
I love the ground, whereon she goes,
I wish the day, it soon would come,
When she & I could be as one.

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,
Her lips are like some roses fair,
She’s the sweetest smile, And the gentlest hands,
I love the ground, Whereon she stands.

I go to the Clyde and I mourn and weep,
And satisfied, I never can be,
And the I write her a letter, just a few short lines,
And suffer death, a thousand times.

(Guitar)

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,
Her lips are like some roses fair,
She’s the sweetest smile, And the gentlest hands,
I love the ground, Whereon she stands.

Celtic Woman

Celtic Woman is an all-female Irish musical ensemble conceived and created by Sharon Browne and David Downes, a former musical director of the Irish stage show Riverdance. In 2004, he recruited five Irish female musicians who had not previously performed together: vocalists Chloë Agnew, Órla Fallon, Lisa Kelly and Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, and fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt, and shaped them into the first line-up of the group that he named Celtic Woman. Downes chose a repertoire that ranged from traditional Celtic tunes to modern songs.

The group’s line-up has changed over the years; in 2009, the group consisted of Chloë Agnew, Lynn Hilary, Lisa Kelly, Alex Sharpe and fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt; Alex Sharpe left the group in May 2010.

Cumulatively, albums by Celtic Woman have sold over 6 million records worldwide.

The foundation for Celtic music’s popularity outside Ireland and Europe was built by tapping into the success of artists such as Enya, Moya Brennan and Clannad, along with stage shows Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. Celtic Woman has been described as being “Riverdance for the voice.”

Nina Simone

Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon; February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. She worked in a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.

Her musical style arose from a fusion of gospel and pop songs with classical music, in particular with influences from her first inspiration, Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied with her expressive jazz-like singing in her characteristic contralto voice. She injected as much of her classical background into her music as possible to give it more depth and quality, as she felt that pop music was inferior to classical. Her intuitive grasp on the audience–performer relationship was gained from a unique background of playing piano accompaniment for church revivals and sermons regularly from the early age of six years old.

Christy Moore

Christopher Andrew “Christy” Moore (born 7 May 1945) is an Irish folk singer, songwriter and guitarist. He is one of the founding members of Planxty and Moving Hearts. His first album, Paddy on the Road was recorded with Dominic Behan in 1969. In 2007, he was named as Ireland’s greatest living musician in RTÉ’s People of the Year Awards.

Sources