A hauntingly beautiful love letter exploring colorism, racism, and black American identity past and present, Amber Lewis’ moving song “Clotel” is as heartfelt and compelling as it is downright heartbreaking.
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Flow: “Clotel” – Amber Lewis


Hof aunt beauty and aching tenderness, Amber Lewis”Clotelis as compelling as it is heartbreaking: an emotionally moving love letter delving into the raw depths of colorism, racism, and past and present Black American identity.

Lips and Teeth - Amber Lewis
Lips and Teeth – Amber Lewis
You were the prettiest girl in town
You were pretty “fit-for-a-fancy-girl”
They said you were fair and you
Braided your hair when you settled down
And Wells Brown, he wrote it all down
They sold you, and they sold me
Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep well

A scintillating and touching outpouring of soft folk and intimate humanity, “Clotel” is the penultimate track on Amber Lewis’ debut album. Lips & Teeth, released March 11, 2022 via Day Off Recordings. Since releasing her debut single (“Honey Days”) in late 2020, Lewis has emerged over the past two years as a pensive, dreamy songwriter with a stunning voice. His mix of acoustic and electric instruments in addition to rich and compelling harmonies gives his music a soothing quality: melodious, light and lush, his music is a blend of dreamy wonder and down-to-earth reality. In her visual art as in her musical work, Lewis is an impressionist and an observer.

Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky
Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky


Lips & Teeth is an enchanting and comprehensive introduction to the introspective and multi-faceted art of Amber Lewis. “There’s an equal focus on my personal relationships and my moments of loneliness, which are many,” she says of her debut album. “That kind of contact with Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, with young adulthood supposedly having the theme of intimacy versus isolation.”

“Clotel” is a particularly powerful song, written for and for Thomas Jefferson’s fictional daughter with one of his slaves, named Clotel (as described in William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel). Lewis’ touching lyrics explore two lives through Clotel’s eyes, blending sympathy and empathy (as Lewis explains, she’s also half black and half white) with observations of Clotel’s experience as a slave at the end of the 18th century.

And yet, there’s so much more to this song than meets the eye: the deeper we dive into “Clotel,” the more we can come to appreciate it not just as a musical manifestation of that character’s world and of that of black Americans throughout the past. four centuries, but also as Lewis’ attempt to deepen his understanding of his own identity. “Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep wellshe sings in the song’s chorus, her moving words evoking a weight unsaid, but felt deep in her gut.

My eyes aren’t the color I want them to be
Dead leaves not green but brown
You lay your eyes up there and you
Raise your hands in the air before you hit the floor
And Wells Brown, he wrote it all down
They sold you, and they sold me
Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep well
Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep well
It is only a fragmentary memory; it’s only in a fever dream…
Dream away, follow me while we sleep…
He wrote it…

Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky
Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky

Clotel or the president’s daughterwas the brainchild of William Wells Brown, one of the first African-American authors,” says Lewis Atwood magazine. “She’s Thomas Jefferson’s imaginary daughter by a slave – quite a plausible character, given the relationship he had with those he enslaved. She was ‘fit for a classy girl“, as depicted in the book when she is auctioned off, alluding to the colorism and relative privilege she enjoys throughout the novel due to her lighter skin tone.”

“However, like all black women in the United States at the time, this mixed-race woman lived her life in slavery. Eventually, she dies by suicide, throwing herself from a building. As a woman (half black, half white), I felt connected to Clotel and its history. “Clotel”, the song is a love letter to the character and a reflection on what it means to be racialized as Black in this country, past and present. »

“Clotel” is manifest pain and beauty at the same time. It is generational trauma and generational transmission, racism and colorism, prejudice and bigotry, experienced and explored in a musically serene, yet emotionally turbulent environment. Lewis treats these subjects with elegance, intelligence and grace; by the time she gets to that dreamily sung final upheaval (“It is only a fragmentary memory; it’s only in a fever dream, go away in a dream, follow me while we sleep…“), there is not a dry eye in sight.

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Flow: “Clotel” – Amber Lewis

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Lips and Teeth - Amber Lewis

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📸 © David Kaminsky

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