Chris Pierce’s ‘Young, Black and Beautiful’ Music Video Embraces Self-Love and Empathy [Exclusive Premiere]
At first glance, both Chris Pierce's song "Young, Black and Beautiful" and its accompanying music video are introspective, the product of just one artist's creation. Pierce wrote the song solo and performed all the vocals — including the background choir — himself, accompanied by his own acoustic guitar, for example.
The music video, meanwhile, is simple and understated, a collection of portraits of Black children and young adults. But when you look deeper, the song and its message are both the product of powerful collaboration.
When coming up with the concept for the music video — premiering exclusively with The Boot — Pierce got in touch with Mathieu Bitton, a close friend and his album artwork photographer of 20 years. An art director and traveling photographer who has spent time on the road with, among others, musician Lenny Kravitz and comedian Dave Chappelle, Bitton has a longstanding side project of taking photos on the streets of the places he travels — including the people he happens to meet there.
"I said, 'Hey, man, I have this song ... I know you have some photos of young people, and I'd love, if you're open to it, to look at some of those and work with them,'" Pierce recounts to The Boot. "Mathieu sent me these images that were so beautiful, so powerful — just stunning work — and, for me, they were also very vulnerable, which brought me back to writing the song."
The images Pierce chose were the ones that best expressed how he felt when he wrote "Young, Black and Beautiful." The song, he says, conveys his own experiences growing up as a Black boy, and the period of time when he realized that the world around him was beginning to register him as a threat because of his Blackness: "when I started hearing those doors lock. When people started walking to the other side of the street," Pierce says.
Although the songwriting process was a solo effort, and a time of reflection on Pierce's own experiences, in a way, it, too, was a collaboration. He got the idea for "Young, Black and Beautiful" from a social media post made by actor and singer-songwriter Renée Elise Goldsberry, a friend of Pierce's from college.
"She wrote a post about her son, about her concern that folks were starting to see him in a different way, and, as a mother, what that felt like," Pierce explains. "It really brought up all these emotions for me, that time in my life and my mother — who was a white mother with a Black son — and what she was going through."
Pierce wrote the song in the early summer of 2020, when Black Lives Matter protests and calls for an end to police brutality were occurring all across the United States. While the song's topic and the memories Pierce associates with it are painful ones, he says that "Young, Black and Beautiful" is by design an optimistic song.
"I imagine, if I could have written a song for myself [as a child], what would the message be? That's what came out," he goes on to say. "... To keep going, keep getting up. Things may not be easy, but don't ever lose sight of the things that matter. That you have strong roots. That your authenticity is beautiful. That you should never be ashamed of your skin, your Blackness."
For Pierce, writing this song underscored the importance of family roots and ties. Even though he sings it alone, he and his engineer weren't really alone in the recording studio: As he sang the choral background vocals, he felt the presence of his late, musical father, as well as his nine aunts and uncles, singing with them.
"I wanted to create a choir of voices, kind of calling on my ancestors, a little bit," Pierce notes. "My dad was the youngest of 10, and he and all his brothers and sisters were beautiful singers; they're all gone now. They were from St. Petersburg, Fla., so I wanted to call them the Saints of St. Pete. I wanted to kind of have that feeling of an ancestral choir."
Capturing that familial vibe of togetherness and solidarity makes the song an expression of joy, even though its subject matter is fear.
Pierce's "Young, Black and Beautiful" music video is timed to Juneteenth (June 19), the annual holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865, the date on which the U.S. Army freed the final enslaved Black Americans in Texas. On Thursday (June 17), Pres. Joe Biden signed legislation to make the date a federal holiday.
"When I think of Juneteenth, I think of ... food and laughter and dancing, celebrating," Pierce shares. "A chance to be with the community. A chance to be protected. A chance to feel how folks should feel every day. And within that, Black music-wise, it's a reminder about Black music and the contributions of Black creators."
Overall, Pierce adds, he hopes "Young, Black and Beautiful" will convey a larger message of empathy.
"It's not just for Black parents of Black kids, but a message of empathy for the Black experience that can be carried over to all," he points out. "... It's a reminder to lift every voice."
Meet The Boot's 2021 Artists to Watch: