Abstract

This article explores the historical context, inspirations, and legacy of Paul McCartney's 1968 White Album song, “Blackbird.” We discover heretofore unexplored connections to the 1926 pop standard, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” as well as the potential for the Beatles' song to house a civil rights message, the nest McCartney tries to build for “Blackbird” in this century. To appreciate the song's availability for civil rights solidarity, we consider Billy Preston, whose cover aligns “Blackbird” with African American culture during the decades in which McCartney was not telling his “Blackbird” legend. Preston's gospel-infused cover, along with his own bird imagery in “Will It Go Round in Circles,” point toward the theme of flight-as-liberation in African American arts. This bird-theme is also exemplified by the folk ballad “Grey Goose,” famously performed and recorded by Lead Belly, a formative influence on the so-called British Invasion rockers. These connections reveal a thematic and political depth to “Blackbird,” illustrating the song's indebtedness to African American music and other arts.

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