“They Sold You Away, and They Sold Me Away”: Singer/Songwriter Amber Lewis’ Hauntingly Beautiful Love Letter, “Clotel”

Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky
Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky
A hauntingly beautiful love letter exploring colorism, racism, and Black American identity past and present, Amber Lewis’ stirring song “Clotel” is as heartfelt and mesmerizing as it is utterly gut-wrenching.
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Stream: “Clotel” – Amber Lewis




Hauntingly beautiful and achingly tender, Amber Lewis’ “Clotel” is as mesmerizing as it is utterly heartbreaking: A stirring, emotional love letter diving into the raw depths of colorism, racism, and Black American identity past and present.

Lips & Teeth - Amber Lewis
Lips & Teeth – Amber Lewis
You were the most beautiful girl in the city
You were “fit-for-a-fancy-girl” pretty
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 away, and they sold me away
Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep well

A glistening, touching outpouring of gentle folk and intimate humanity, “Clotel” is the penultimate track off Amber Lewis’ debut album Lips & Teeth, released March 11, 2022 via Day Off Recordings. Since releasing her first single (“Honey Days”) in late 2020, Lewis has emerged over the past two years as a pensive, dream-weaving songwriter with a stunning voice. Her mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation on top of rich, compelling harmonies lends her music a tranquilizing quality: Lilting, light, and lush, her music is a mix of daydreamy 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, well-rounded introduction to Amber Lewis’ introspective, multi-faceted artistry. “There’s equal focus on my personal relationships and my moments of solitude, of which there are many,” she says of her debut LP. “This kind of touches on Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, with young adulthood supposedly having the theme of intimacy versus isolation.”

“Clotel” is an especially powerful song, written to and for Thomas Jefferson’s fictional daughter with one of his slaves, named Clotel (as depicted in William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel). Lewis’ affecting lyrics explore two lives through Clotel’s eyes, mixing sympathy and empathy (as Lewis explains, she is also half Black and half White) with observations of Clotel’s experience as an enslaved woman in the late 18th Century.

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

My eyes aren’t the color I want them to be
Not green but brown fallen leaves
You set your eyes up there and you
Raised your hands in the air ‘fore you hit the ground
And Wells Brown, he wrote it all down
They sold you away, and they sold me away
Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep well
Clotel, sleep well for me, sleep well
It’s only fragmentary memory; it’s only in a fever dream…
Go away in a dream, follow me as we sleep…
He wrote it…



Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky
Amber Lewis © David Kaminsky



Clotel Or The President’s Daughter, is the brainchild of William Wells Brown, an early African-American author,” Lewis tells Atwood Magazine. “She is the imaginary daughter of Thomas Jefferson by a slave – a character who is entirely plausible, given the relationship he had to those he enslaved. She was ‘fit for a fancy girl,’ as described in the book when she is auctioned off, alluding to colorism and the relative privileges she benefits from throughout the novel due to her fairer skin.”

“However, like all Black women in the United States at the time, this biracial woman lives her life enslaved. Ultimately, she dies by suicide, throwing herself from a building. As a c woman (half Black, half White), I felt connected to Clotel and her story. ‘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 pain and beauty manifest at once. It’s generational trauma and generational transmission, racism and colorism, prejudice and bigotry, experienced and explored in a musically serene, yet emotionally turbulent environment. Lewis handles these topics elegantly, smartly, and gracefully; by the time she gets to that last dreamily-sung upheaval (“It’s only fragmentary memory; it’s only in a fever dream, go away in a dream, follow me as we sleep…“), there’s not a dry eye in sight.

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Stream: “Clotel” – Amber Lewis



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