The Hidden Meaning Of The Beatles' "Blackbird"

It is one of the most popular songs by The Beatles, but most people don't actually know what "Blackbird" means. And no, the song is not about a bird. Even the Audobon Society clarified that misconception.

Paul McCartney wrote the song in 1968 as part of The Beatles' White Album, at a time when the Civil Rights Movement in the US was coming to a head. In an interview with the radio station KCRW in 2002, McCartney confirmed he wrote the song as a tribute to the movement.

"I got the idea of using a blackbird as a symbol for a Black person. It wasn't necessarily a black 'bird,' but it works that way, as much as then you called girls 'birds' ... it wasn't exactly an ornithology ditty; it was purely symbolic," McCartney said in the interview. "Blackbird" speaks of a bird which learns to fly despite its broken wings. McCartney told GQ the metaphor was intentional. He wanted to write a song that inspired hope for those involved in the Civil Rights Movement, should they hear it.

He drew inspiration from Civil Rights activists

According to Rolling Stone, McCartney was actually inspired to pen the song by a particular group... the Little Rock Nine – nine Black students who volunteered to integrate the previously segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. The teenagers were met with hostility at the school's entrance, sparking the Little Rock Crisis. Rather than dealing with the issue of desegregation, Arkansas' governor decided to close schools for the year. 

McCartney, reports Rolling Stone, met surviving members of the Little Rock Nine in 2016. In tribute to them, he sang "Blackbird" live, tweeting afterward, "Incredible to meet two of the Little Rock Nine— pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for Blackbird."

Today, performers usually sing "Blackbird" to portray something inspirational, or even during memorials, like in the 2016 Academy Awards when Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters covered the song for the In Memoriam segment. "Blackbird" is not an avian flight of fancy, but deeply resonant song about people yearning to be set free.