28 November 2012

"painted on canvas": a playlist of affirming songs

The other day I mentioned how I've been listening to a lot of "affirmation music" ... songs that inspire and remind you to love who you are and be happy in your own skin and self, despite what the world might say about it. I had a few folks ask what songs made the list of favorite affirmation songs, so I put together this 15 song "playlist" of some of my top go-to tracks. Enjoy, and feel free to share your own favorite affirming or inspirational songs in the comments!

"Affirmed": 15 Songs of Affirmation & Inspiration

1. “Beautiful” by India.Arie
This song, as the title suggests, is simply beautiful. It speaks of moving on in life—from the past, from pain, even sometimes from people—in order to find that place that is “beautiful,” a place where one can breathe and be free.
Affirming lyric: “[Over] the mountain I see the bright sun shining / And I want to live inside the glow”

2. “Black Gold” by Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding is a modern Jazz artist who bubbles with joy as she performs. This song is particularly poignant, speaking affirmation into the lives of those (particularly young Black boys) who need to know that they have worth and value.
Affirming lyric: “Now maybe no one else has ever told you so / But you’re gold, baby, you’re black gold with a diamond soul”

3. “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Madeleine Peyroux
This song, sung by the smoky-voiced Peyroux, dances lightly over the fact that people might talk about and look at you with judgment, but there’s refuge in the safety of yourself, your mind, and your own imagination.
Affirming lyric: “Everybody’s talkin’ at me / I can’t hear a word they’re saying / Only the echoes of my mind”

4. “Far Far” by Yael Naim
This song was gifted to me by a dear family friend who has always been so supportive of my brother and I. He said it made him think of the creatively minded … and indeed it does speak so beautifully to that urge to dive into the “beautiful mess inside” of the creative mind and make sense of it in our own unique ways.
Affirming lyrics: “Take a deep breath and dive / There’s a beautiful mess inside”

5. “Gospel Medley” by Lizz Wright
I love everything about this song. Lizz Wright has been a favorite artist for a while, and this song combines so much of the traditions I come from. From “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” to “Hold on Just a Little While Longer,” this song recalls so many of the old spirituals that have seen people like my elders and ancestors through so much.
Affirming lyric: “Oh, I’ve got a feeling everything’s gonna be alright”

6. “I Can Only Be Me” by David Bruce Whitley
This song, written by Stevie Wonder, is another that kind of haunts me with its affirming message. I love the message of transformation and self-acceptance that works from the inside out … this is about accepting who I am, but it’s also about pressing upon others the importance of accepting who they are.
Affirming lyric: “Butterflies begin from having been another / As a child is born from being in a mother’s womb”

7. “Instead” by Madeleine Peyroux
This song takes a bad mood and turns it on its head. It reminds us that we can always look at our situations from two points of view: one that caves in to the downside, or one that views life through a “things will, or can only, get better” perspective.
Affirming lyric: “Instead of wasting time feel good ‘bout what you’re dreaming of”

8. “I Will Live on Islands” by Josh Rouse
This song, from what I can make of it, tells the story of a wrongly convicted man longing to escape to the freedom of an island … But you never know where you’ll find affirmation, right? To be honest, this song isn’t so much as “affirming” song as it is an upbeat song that always lifts my mood!
Affirming lyrics: “I will live on islands and I will see the sun”

9. “Little Things” by India.Arie
I love India.Arie. Besides the fact that she was one of the first Alto artists to convince me that, okay, an Alto isn’t a bad voice range to live in, her songs speak real-world truths. This song celebrates all the “little things” in life that we sometimes overlook yet so often mean so much.
Affirming lyric: “Give me some Stevie, give me some Donny / Give me my daddy, give me my mommy / Pour me some sweet tea, spoonful of honey / I don’t need no Hollywood”

10. “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Admittedly, as happy as this song sounds it also almost always makes me bawl my eyes out thanks to a heart-wrenching episode of E.R., but that doesn’t keep it from being one of my go-to songs when I’ve had a bad day. There’s something about that old Wizard of Oz dream of a place beyond the rainbow that will always help me see the silver lining behind the storm clouds.
Affirming lyric: “And the dreams that you dare to / Dreams really do come true”

11. “Painted on Canvas” by Gregory Porter
Gregory Porter is a sigh. Just the sound of his hum—I mean, not even words, a hum—is enough to make me stop whatever I’m doing and just … soak. This song is lovely in its extension of the familiar canvas metaphor for our lives. We’re painted on by life, but perhaps we also have a hand in “picking up shades” and choosing the “colors” that will help shape who we are.
Affirming lyric: “We are like children, we’re painted on canvases / Picking up shades as we go … Step back and admire my view / Can I use the colors I choose …”

12. “Smile” by Robert Downey Jr.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are probably “better” versions of this song out there. There’s just something about Robert Downey, Jr.’s rendition, though, that rings true. Maybe it’s the knowledge of how deep of a pit he’s dug out of … maybe it’s the chopped-up gravel tones he slides throughout this version. But if it’s good enough for Charlie Chaplin, by gum, it’s happiness to me.
Affirming lyric: “When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by / If you smile through your fears and sorrow …”

13. “Song for Mia” by Lizz Wright
This is a song that often gives me pause. There’s so much tragedy blended into the waterside depths of this one. At one point Wright sings that she “can’t take no more” of “what you did to me,” which makes me think this is more than just a stroll or dip in the water … this is baptism, a cleansing off of all the wrongs and emerging, born fresh, into the new.
Affirming lyric: “And what you think of me, I can’t say / I’ll take these bad things and I’ll throw them all away”

14. “Video” by India.Arie
Have I mentioned that I love India.Arie? This song is all about loving who you are, despite all the warped and glamorized images of “beauty” out there. Yes I have burnt coffee skin and thick, rebellious hair and a thicker frame and atrocious vision and one leg shorter than the other … but as long as the only one I’ll see in the mirror is me, I might as well love what I see.
Affirming lyric: “I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me / My feet, my thighs, my lips, my eyes, I’m loving what I see”

15. “Wanting Memories” by Sweet Honey in the Rock
This song is not so much an affirmation as a reminder … It’s a reminder of all the places and people I’ve come from, a reminder of the lessons I’ve been reared up and raised in, and a reminder that even though loved ones may have passed on, they never leave me. It’s a reminder that memories are enough to keep me warm when the rest of the world gives me the cold shoulder.
Affirming lyric: “I think on the things that made me feel so wonderful when I was young / I think on the things that made me laugh, made me dance, made me sing / I think on the things that made me grow into a being full of pride …”

What are your favorite affirming or inspiring songs? Which songs lift you up when you’re down?


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You can click the song titles above to listen to each song ... Or check out the YouTube Playlist below:
  • "Affirmed": 15 Songs of Affirmation and Inspiration


  1. Wow, this took me away for a few minutes. Thanks for sharing music for a respite and especially for the playlist at the bottom.

  2. This is most cool, Khara. I've got Lizz Wright's Oya as my ringtone. Have you seen her version of Nature Boy on YouTube? Amazing! I became a fan when I caught her version of Neil Young's Old Man. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. I first heard Wright when she opened for a Norah Jones concert our family went to many years ago (early 2000's, when Norah Jones was first hitting the scene). I've been in love ever since. (And yes, her rendition of Nature Boy is as "enchanted" as the boy of whom she sings!)

  3. I'm listening to the playlist right now. I am familiar to a few artists and songs, but for the most part, these are all new titles to me. Thanks for sharing. This post is making me think of my own affirmation/inspirational playlist.

    1. Thanks, Amy! I hope you'll share some of your songs as well!

  4. Many of these songs are new to me. Thanks for sharing this list!

  5. Wow thanks for the list/links. I'll check those out. I have the India.Arie songs. I just discovered Gregory Porter this past weekend. Yes - LOVE that voice. I will most certainly buy some of his stuff. I wonder if he writes his lyrics too. That would be double cool.

    1. Kenya, yes, he is well worth the buy! I haven't looked into whether or not he writes his own songs ... that would definitely be nice to know.

  6. What a terrific idea, Khara! It is so cool to have such gorgeous music at my fingertips for those moments when I need a little "time out." And btw, I really love the our lost jungle redesign - the new background is definitely easy on the eyes...

    All best always,

    1. Thank you, Pat! I'm glad you enjoy the music, and the new look!

  7. Like Amy, a lot of these songs are new to me. I'd forgotten about India.Arie and will have to check those out. I have, and also love, Brother Iz's "Over the Rainbow." Some of my favorite inspiring songs: "Sunny Days" by Jars of Clay and "By Your Side" by Tenth Avenue North

    1. Thanks for sharing your songs, Julia. I love Jars of Clay! I'll have to check out Tenth Avenue North soon--that's a group I haven't heard of before!

  8. Thank you again Khara. I have listened to David B. Whitley's rendition of I Can only Be Me no less than 20 times since the other day. The verse that gives me the "Wows" is "Flowers cannot bloom until it is their season. As we would not be here it if was not our destiny."

    1. I so agree, Kenya, and love the suggestion this song gives that there is a reason behind the sometimes-slow-moving processes of our lives.

  9. I love this post! I do tend to listen to music according to mood (running songs, writing songs, mellow songs for quiet rainy Sundays) and I love how you selected an entire affirming songs playlist! Although I don't know how you can listen to "Over the Rainbow" without crying! That would be one I'd put on my "depressed day" song lists!

    I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award! You can pick it up here with no strings attached:


    1. Thank you so much, Muddy. I'm flattered for the award, and have enjoyed checking out the others you nominated. (I left a note on your site, but will add again that "Fix You" is a beautiful addition to this list of songs.)

      I'll admit, I karaoke to "Over the Rainbow," so it makes me very happy--but when I listen to Izzy's version, I'll tear up faster than onion-eyes!

    2. I love that crazy uke. And I really like this new look for the blog. Bright. Makes me want to go and retool mine.

    3. Thanks, Barbara! If I remember correctly you were one of the first to point out the eye-tricks the white-on-black played, which was so helpful (I'd always known there was something about scrolling down the page that was weird, but had assumed it was just *my* eyes playing tricks)!

  10. I want to listen to all these. Some I've not heard. I too like India.Arie...her voice, message, and attitude. Very neat post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sabra! I adore India.Arie for many of the same reasons you mentioned above.


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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