Chances are that you have heard the song "Black and White" at some point in your life and its more than likely you've heard the Three Dog Night Version which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1972. Its more unlikely, unless you are a fan of reggae from the 60's and 70's, that you would know that a Jamaican band called Greyhound recorded a version first for the Trojan label in the UK in 1971 that was a huge hit there and inspired Three Dog Night to record their chart topper.
The back story behind this song that was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic a year apart is quite intriguing. Black and White" was written in 1954 by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson. The song was inspired by the United States Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed racial segregation of public schools. The original folk song was first recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1957. The original lyrics of the song opened with this verse, in reference to the court:
Their robes were black, Their heads were white,
The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight,
Nine judges all set down their names,
To end the years and years of shame.
David Arkin's lyrics and Earl Robinson's music were originally published as a song in 1956, a tune that celebrated desegregation specifically and the Civil Rights Movement in general. Arkin decided to illustrate the song himself ten years later with simple black and white pencil drawings and, at the end of the story, sparse splashes of color. David Arkin was a teacher, painter, writer, and lyricist and is the father of actor Alan Arkin. In 1945, Arkin moved his family to Los Angeles to take a teaching job. Arkin attempted to obtain work in the entertainment industry, but was unsuccessful. An eight-month Hollywood strike cost Arkin a set designer job, but the greater blow was as a result of the McCarthy "witch hunt". Arkin, a leftist, was accused of being a communist but Arkin refused to answer questions regarding his political affiliation. As a result, he was fired from his teaching job and was unable to gain work in Hollywood. Arkin challenged his dismissal, but did not achieve exoneration until after his death.
Earl Robinson was a songwriter and composer from Seattle. Robinson is probably as well remembered for his left-leaning political views (a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s) as he is for his music, including the songs "Joe Hill", "The Ink is Black, the Page Is White", and the cantata "Ballad for Americans". In addition, he wrote many popular songs and was a composer for Hollywood films.
Greyhound was originally formed by Danny Smith and Freddie Notes as The Rudies in the late 1960s and released tracks under a variety of names, including the Rudies, the Tilermen and Des All Stars, before settling on the Greyhound name. As the Rudies, the group had hits with reggae versions of Clarence Carter's "Patches" and Bobby Bloom's "Montego Bay." Notes left as the decade closed, and was replaced by Glenroy Oakley, and the reconstituted Greyhound hit with "Black & White." A cover of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" followed, and the group had a final run at the charts with"I Am What I Am" before breaking up.
Here is a video of Greyhound performing "Black and White" on Top Of The Pops in 1971