“Mama are there any angels black like me?”; from an 1899 song by Thurland Chattaway

Little Black Me Sheet Music Cover
Cover to the Sheet Music for “Little Black Me” by Thurland Chattaway
Image Source: New York Public Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Music Division; American popular songs / Sheet music, 1899; Digital ID: 1256368; Record ID: 608633. See also this from the John Hopkins University-Levy Collection of sheet music.

Little Black Me, by Thurland Chattaway

Within a Sunday school, a little child, one day,
Was listening to the teacher tell a story
She told about the Angels and she heard her say
If little girls were good as they should be
That’s some day they might all of them be angels fair,
Like those above that sang sweet songs of glory
But when that night at mother’s knee she said her prayer,
There came a sob; she sadly said: “They’re not all black like me.”

Mama are there any angels black like me
Are they as good as any little girl but me
If I hide my face do you think they will see
If wonder if they’ll find a place for little black me

And then the mother put the little child in bed;
She brushed away the tears while she was sleeping
And in the night the Angels gathered o’er her head;
Within their midst her child seemed to see
And when the morning came the child had passed away
And while the mother by her side was weeping
She thought her darling smiled;
she seemed to hear her say
“I’m with the angels mama, now; they’ve found a place for me”


A 1901 recording of this song, featuring vocalist Addison Dashiell Madeira and Harry Macdonough, is available for listening at the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox site; see here. It is not a good recording, but it does give a good feel for the song.

Thurland Chattaway, who is apparently of European descent, is described on Wikipedia as “a popular music composer, active from approximately 1898 to 1912.” This is a song in the minstrel music genre. Note above that the sheet music cover calls this song a “pathetic story in verse & melody.” Although the minstrel genre has been characterized as “lampoon(ing) black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky,” there were songs that spoke to the wretched and glum aspects of black life, such as this one. While “pathetic” in tone, and sad in its events, the song is ultimately uplifting and redeeming: God has made a place in heaven for this little black angel.

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