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The Rich History of “Strawberry Letter 23″

Strawberry Letter 23” is a song written by Shuggie Otis, although known most prominently by the version done by The Brothers Johnson. Otis wrote the song for a girlfriend who used strawberry-scented paper when she wrote letters to him.  The song’s title appears at initial glance to be a misnomer, the actual lyrics reading in part: “…a present from you, Strawberry Letter 22.” The song describes the feelings evoked by “Strawberry Letter 22,” the title indicating the hopes of another letter, that the song is a reply to strawberry letter 22.   George Johnson of The Brothers Johnson was dating one of Otis’ cousins when he came across Freedom Flight, Otis’ 1972 album that featured the song. The group later recorded it for their 1977 album Right On Time, under the legendary producer Quincy Jones, and the album went platinum. “Strawberry Letter 23”, as recorded by The Brothers Johnson in a funkier, more dance-oriented vein than the original Otis version, hit the Hot 100 and peaked at number five and reached number one on the Soul Singles chart in 1977.[1]. The famous guitar solo in this song was originally recorded by Shuggie Otis. Studio guitar player Lee Ritenour later recreated Shuggie Otis’ original solo for The Brothers Johnson 1977 album.

An instrumental version was done by Phil Upchurch around the same time as the Brothers Johnson version, which is a more upbeat funky version. The short-lived R&B duo Kiara included a cover version of the song on its 1988 album To Change And/Or Make a Difference, which peaked at #23 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart. The song was also covered by Tevin Campbell on his debut release, T.E.V.I.N. in 1992 and hit #40 on the Billboard R&B charts, it’s a new jack swing version of the song, a sound very popular at that time. Digital underground also did a hiphop version in the early 90s. It was used in Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown. It was featured in the second episode of the third season of Nip/Tuck. It was also included in the Collector’s Edition of the Jackie Brown soundtrack. In 2002, it was also featured in a commercial for Special K Red Berries breakfast cereal and one for Diet Coke. More recently a 2010 version was done by Quincy Jones feat Akon, who does the vocals. A music video was made to accompany the song where Quincy and Akon are discussing letters, Akon received from a girl then Quincy starts playing the song on piano and the video then cuts between Akon singing and himself holding a girl, presumably the letter writer.

Hello, my love

I heard a kiss from you

Red magic satin playing near, too

All through the morning rain I gaze

The sun doesn’t shine

Rainbows and waterfalls runnin’ through my mind

In the garden, I see

West purple shower bells and tea

Orange birds and river cousins

Dressed in green

Pretty music I hear

So happy and loud

Blue flowers echo

From a cherry cloud

Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue

Playgrounds will laugh

If you try to ask, “is it cool”

“Is it cool”

If you arrive and don’t see me

I’m gonna be with my baby

I’m free flying in her arms

Over the sea

Stained window yellow candy screen

See speakers of kite

With velvet roses diggin’ freedom flight

A present from you

Strawberry letter 22

The music plays I sit in for a few

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