David Oyelowo Loves Celebrating 'Brownness'

Actor David Oyelowo played Joe "Lightning" Little in the movie Red Tails. The film is based on the story of America's first black fighter pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen. As part of Tell Me More's series, "In Your Ear," Oyelowo offers up his personal playlist.

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VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:

Now it's time for our occasional feature we call In Your Ear. That's where we ask some of our guests what they're listening to these days. Today we're going to hear some music that inspires actor David Oyelowo, who played Joe Lightning Little in the movie "Red Tails." The movie is inspired by America's first African-American fighter pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen. And here are some of the songs he listens to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG,"KILLING ME SOFTY WITH HIS SONG")

LAUREN HILL: (Singing) Strumming my pain with his fingers. Singing my life with his words.

DAVID OYELOWO: Hello, I'm David Oyelowo. I play Joe Lightning Little in the film "Red Tails." And one of my favorite songs that's perpetually in my life is Lauryn Hill's version of "Killing Me Softly," the one she did with The Fugees.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG,"KILLING ME SOFTY WITH HIS SONG")

HILL: (Singing) Telling my whole life with his words. Killing me softly...

OYELOWO: The live recording of it. I just love, love that song. I can't listen to it enough. It's one of my favorite songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG,"KILLING ME SOFTY WITH HIS SONG")

HILL: (Singing) ...with his song...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROWN SKIN")

INDIA ARIE: (Singing) Beautiful mahogany, you make me feel like a queen. You make me feel like...

OYELOWO: Another song that I really love is India Arie's "Brown Skin." Maybe for obvious reasons, but it's such a celebration of brown skin, a celebration of black women.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROWN SKIN")

ARIE: (Singing) Brown skin, you know I love your brown skin...

OYELOWO: When I listen to "Brown Skin," I guess, you know, because especially with black women, at times and historically, that in and of itself has not necessarily been something that's been celebrated. So to have a song that celebrates the brownness of a black woman's skin, it reminds me of my aunts, it reminds me of my mom, and I don't know, it's just full of atmosphere, very, very sultry song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROWN SKIN")

ARIE: (Singing) I can't tell where yours begins, I can't tell where mine ends.

OYELOWO: And the third song that's a real favorite of mine he is a song called "Breathe" by the Prodigy. It's a high octane song that I use for working out, actually. And it pumps me up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREATHE")

OYELOWO: I live in Los Angeles now but I used to live just by Brighton Beach in England, and I would go running every morning and I would always start off with that song. So even though I live in L.A. now, when I'm on the treadmill or doing weights or punching the bag, that one always gets me in the mood and it reminds me of the sea salty air of Brighton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREATHE")

HURTADO: That was actor David Oyelowo from the movie "Red Tails," telling us what's playing in his ear. To hear our longer conversation with him, please go to our website, go to NPR.org, click on Programs tab, and then on TELL ME MORE.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HURTADO: And that's our program for today. I'm Viviana Hurtado and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away visiting Syracuse University and member station WRVO in Oswego, New York. She'll be back on Friday. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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