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

This article is about the folk song. For the 2003 Twilight Singers EP, see Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair (EP).

"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."[1]

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

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.[2]

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".[3] In the 1960s, Patty Waters sang an extended version for an ESP record which veered towards the avant garde and extremes of vocal improvisation,[4] standing as a landmark in the use of folk tunes as a starting point to other musical areas.

Recorded versions

Versions of the song have been recorded by many artists, including;

Artist Album Genre Year Comments
John Jacob Niles American Folk Lore Vol. 3 1941 Also appears on American Folk Love Songs to Dulcimer Accompaniment, Six Favorite Folk Songs, John Jacob Niles Sings American Folk Songs, I Wonder As I Wander / Carols and Love Songs, The Best of John Jacob Niles, and The John Jacob Niles Collection.
Burl Ives Wayfaring Stranger Traditional folk 1944
Jo Stafford American Folk Songs Traditional folk 1950
Gordon Heath & Lee Payant Chants Traditionnels Des États-Unis / The Ballad Of The Boll Weevil and other Traditional Songs Of The United States Traditional folk 1955
Robert Shaw Chorale My True Love Sings Traditional folk 1956
Phineas Newborn, Jr. While My Lady Sleeps 1957
Pete Seeger American Favorite Ballads, Vol. 2 1958
Nina Simone Nina Simone at Town Hall Jazz 1959 Nina Simone made it part of her standard repertoire, revitalizing the song's popularity.[5]
Joan Baez Joan Baez in Concert Folk music 1962
Smothers Brothers Think Ethnic Folk 1963 "Black Is The Colour (Of My True Love’s Hair)" (3:04) - Turned into "Black Is the Colour of My Love's True Hair" [But only her Hairdresser knows--/("Does she or Doesn't she?")--/Only her Hairdresser knows!] (a play on the advertising 'tag line' at that time for Clairol hair-coloring products).
Orriel Smith A Voice in the Wind Folk 1963
Davy Graham Folk, Blues and Beyond Folk 1964
Smothers Brothers It Must Have Been Something I Said! Folk 1964 They also did a parody version: Black is the color (of my love's true hair)
Nina Simone Wild Is the Wind Jazz 1965
Patty Waters Patty Waters Sings Jazz 1965 Described as "the performance that established her as a vocal innovator"[6]
Hamish Imlach Hamish Imlach 1966
Carola Carola & Heikki Sarmanto Trio Jazz 1966 Recorded in the spirit of the modal jazz scene going down in Europe in the 1960s,[7] Carola's accosting tone[8] and the groovy approach of Heikki Sarmanto Trio remained undiscovered until issued by the Jazzpuu label in 2004.[7]
The Throb Single 1966 A version by Australian act recorded as "Black"
The Human Beinz Nobody But Me 1968 A version by US act
Cathy Berberian Folk Songs 1968 Recorded with the Berio setting, followed by two more recordings next decade, all conducted by the composer to whom she was married for a time
Esther Ofarim N/A Jazz 1969 The song is part of a film, "11 Uhr 20"
Mike Seeger Music from True Vine Folk 1971 This a capella recording was done on his solo album of Appalachian and America Folk music on the Mercury label
Alfred Deller, Desmond Dupré, Mark Deller Folksongs 1972
Marc Johnson with Bass Desires Bass Desires Jazz rock 1985
Linda Hirst Songs Cathy Sang 1988 The Berio setting
Joe Sample Invitation Jazz 1993 Instrumental version recorded as "Black Is The Color".
This version has been featured on The Weather Channel's Local On The 8s segments.
Luka Bloom Turf Folk/Singer-songwriter 1994
Christy Moore Live at the Point 1994
The Stomping Clawhammers All Change... Small Change Traditional folk 1996 Female-addressed version
The Eccentric Opera Hymne 1997 The eighth track of Hymne album
Kendra Shank Wish Vocal jazz 1998
Susan McKeown Mighty Rain Traditional folk 1998
Judy Collins Both Sides Now Traditional love song 1998
Niamh Parsons In My Prime Traditional folk 2000 Also performed on Live At Fylde (2005)
Stringmansassy Persuasion 2000
Gaelic Storm Tree Folk rock 2001 Sixth track of the album Tree.[9] Female-addressed version
The Liberty Voices A Cappella Americana 2001 As seen at Epcot's American Adventure
Cara Dillon Cara Dillon Folk 2001 Irish folk singer Cara Dillon chose to perform a female-addressed version opening her eponymous album which won her many awards including "Best Traditional Song" at the 2002 BBC Folk Awards. It has become a favourite in her live repertoire and has undergone huge success as a Trance remix by 2Devine (see below)[10]
Blue Mountain Roots Alternative country/roots rock 2002
Banshee in the Kitchen If We Were Us Celtic/Irish 2002 Male-addressed version by Californian/World Celtic trio.
Clann Lir Clann Lir Traditional folk 2002 Male-addressed version by Russian Irish Celtic act, sung by Melnitsa front-woman Hellawes
Grace Griffith Sands of Time 2003
Larry Mathews Easy and Slow Folk 2003 Third track on the Album Easy and Slow[11]
Nurse with Wound She and Me Fall Together in Free Death Experimental 2003
Ensemble Planeta Aria A capella 2003 Tenth track of the Aria Album[12]
Eala Clarke Longing Celtic 2004
Paul Weller Studio 150 Rock 2004
Julie Poole The Ash Grove 2005
2Devine featuring Cara Dillon House 2005 DJ Pete Devine (also known as 2Devine and Coco & Green) produced a trance remix to Cara Dillon's version.
The Corrs Home Pop folk 2005
Espers The Weed Tree Psychedelic folk 2005
Eilis Kennedy Time to Sail Folk 2005
Elane Lore of Nén Neo-folk 2006
Tellen Gwad N/A Neo-folk 2006 Female-addressed version by Russian acoustic act
The Czars Sorry I Made You Cry Rock 2006 Male-addressed version by American rock band
The Twilight Singers She Loves You Rock 2007 Female-addressed version
Cara Dillon vs. 2 Devine Trance 2007 Above & Beyond's Devine Intervention Mix
Karan Casey Ships in The Forest Folk 2008 Acoustic piano version by Karan Casey, an Irish folk singer
Elane Lore of Nén Medieval folk 2008
Andre Ethier Born of Blue Fog Neo-Folk 2008 Canadian artist
The King's Singers Simple Gifts Classical/Folk 2008 A capella
Kokia Fairy Dance: Kokia Meets Ireland Celtic 2008 Female-addressed version by Japanese songstress.
Natacha Atlas Ana Hina Arabesque/World 2008 Male-addressed version with the Mazeeka Ensemble[13]
Angelo Kelly Lost Sons

Up Close

Pop rock 2008 Appears as the last track in Lost Sons and was also recorded live for Up Close
Rea Garvey often covers it on tours and performed it on the voice
Julie Murphy Black Mountains Revisited Folk/Singer-songwriter 2009
Nyle Wolfe Home Ground Folk/Classical 2009
Wye Oak Splice Today Presents: The Old Lonesome Sound Folk 2009 An original compilation album
Silverwheel Single studio recording Unknown Silverwheel plays live and maintains several websites with their tracks sampled.
Phil Coulter Timeless Tranquility: 20 Year Celebration Folk Celtic Classical 2008
Marc Gunn Irish Drinking Songs: A Cat Lover's Companion Folk 2007 Album was a followup of Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers which included the track "Black Is the Color (of My Cat's Fur)" based on this song.
Sara Mitra April Song Jazz 2010
Angel Olsen Lady Of The Waterpark Indie Folk 2010[14] Limited cassette-only release
Lisa Lambe Celtic Woman: Believe Folk Celtic 2011 Female-addressed version
Katherine Jenkins Daydream Classical-popular crossover 2011 Male-addressed version
Celtic Thunder Heritage Folk Celtic 2011
Mark Stewart & Richard H. Kirk The Politics of Envy Rock dub 2012 Bonus track on the iTunes version of Mark's 2012 album
Siobhan Owen Storybook Journey Folk Celtic Classical-popular crossover 2012 Male-addressed version, vocal and harp
Arborea Red Planet Psych-Folk 2011
Papa M (David Pajo) Five Ep - Drag City Rec. Folk Rock 2003
Brian McFadden The Irish Connection Soft rock 2013 featuring Sinéad O'Connor
Méav Ní Mhaolchatha The Calling Folk 2013 Male-addressed version
Arven Black is the colour Metal 2013
Shearwater N/A Indie Rock 2014 Male-addressed version, later verses are rewritten.
Didges Christ SuperDrum Alien Technology Indie Rock 2013 DCSD remake of the 100-year-old Scottish folk song "Black Is The Colour (of my true love's hair)". This song is featured on the soundtrack of the feature-length film Evangeline which was written and directed by Karen Lam. This song is on the DCSD album "Alien Technology" which was officially released on 4/20/13 and is available on iTunes, CDBaby, and the band's website.
Peter Hollens & Avi Kaplan "Peter Hollens" Folk 2014 Female-addressed version
Hausfrau Night Tides Darkwave 2014 Female-addressed version
Coppelius Hertzmaschine Metal 2015
Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is My Turn Americana 2015
Damien Leith Songs From Ireland 2015 Sony Music Australia
Toby Robinson[15] Toby Robinson[16] Folk/Alt-Country 2015 Independent


Pop culture references

"Black Is the Color" is featured in The Twilight Zone season 3 episode entitled "The Passerby", which aired on October 6, 1961.

"Black is the Color" is featured in The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. A sailor sings it to Heather as she and her new husband, Brandon Birmingham, pass by on the way to an inn before leaving London.

The "Lover's Lament" / "Love's Jewels" lyrics sung in Anne Bishop's Tir Alainn book series are loosely based on this song.


  1. Reprint Sing Out magazine nº 5, 289
  2. "Program notes for performances by the Concertgebouw for 10-11 february 2007" (PDF). Barbican Centre. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
  4. Monypeny, Derek (June 2000). "What Is the Color When Black is Burned? A Patty Waters Appreciation". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  5. "Nina Simone dies". The Age. 2003-04-22. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
  6. Unterberger, Richie. "Patty Waters Sings: Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  7. 1 2 "Carola & Heikki Sarmanto Trio". Dusty Groove.
  8. Carola & Heikki Sarmanto Trio Archived August 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. (In Finnish). Soundi magazine
  9. "Gaelic Storm: Discography". Retrieved 2008-07-22.
  10. Caral Dillon in Swindon on October 30
  11. "Black is the Colour - Larry Mathews". YouTube. 2011-04-30. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
  12. Ensemble Planeta Discography Archived March 8, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Denselow, Robin (2008-05-23). "Natacha Atlas, Ana Hina". The Guardian Online. Retrieved 2008-07-22.
  14. Katherine Jenkins (2010-12-10). "Angel Olsen - B.I.T.C.O.M.T.L.H.". Youtube. Archived from the original on 2013-10-01. Retrieved 2011-04-27.

External links

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