Such was the blues
of Langston Hughes xxxx
What was the blues
of Langston Hughes?
Like democracy, this page is always under reconstruction
Photo: Carl Van Vechten
“My chief literary influences have been Paul Laurence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman. My favorite public figures include Jimmy Durante, Marlene Dietrich, Mary McLeod Bethune, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marian Anderson and Henry Armstrong … I live in Harlem, New York City. I am unmarried. I like ‘Tristan,’ goat’s milk, short novels, lyric poems, heat, simple folk, boats and bullfights; I dislike ‘Aida,’ parsnips, long novels, narrative poems, cold, pretentious folk, buses and bridges.”
– Langston Hughes
(Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary)
The Langston Hughes African American Film Festival (LHAAFF) now has an online entry system available through Without a Box: at http://www.withoutabox.com/
Hereâ€™s some information about our call for Work for the 2013 LHAAFF, which begins on Saturday, April 13 and wraps up on Sunday, April 21.
Spring 2013 Langston Hughes Visiting Professor
David G. Holmes, Professor
English and Director of African American Studies at Pepperdine University
David G. Holmes is Professor of English and Director of African American Studies at Pepperdine University. The author of Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature, some of his articles have appeared in College English, Rhetoric Review and the award-winning anthology Calling Cards. His current interests include African American expressive culture, political rhetoric, political theology, religious rhetoric and rhetorics of racism. His major project focuses on remapping the rhetorical narratives of the Birmingham mass meetings of 1963. A frequent presenter at the CCC and RSA, he has held offices in the Conference on College Composition and Communication and has served on the editorial board for the CCC journal. He recently received the Howard A. White Award for teaching excellence at Pepperdine.
Spring 2012 Langston Hughes Visiting Professor
Dr. Tammy Kernodle, Musicologist
Associate Professor of Musicology at Miami University School of Fine Arts
Dr. Tammy L. Kernodle, Associate Professor of Musicology (Miami University School of Fine Arts), graduated cum laude with a BM in choral music education and piano from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia.Ms. Kernodle received a MA and PhD in Music History from Ohio State University. Her scholarship has focused mainly on various genres of African American music, American music and jazz. She has served as the Scholar in Residence for the Women in Jazz Initiative at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and has lectured extensively on the operas of William Grant Still, the life and religious compositions of jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams. Her work has appeared in Musical Quarterly, American Music Research Journal, and a Jane Bernstein’s anthology addressing the contributions of women to music entitled Women’s Voices Across Musical Worlds. She is the author of the biography Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams, (Northeastern University Press) which chronicles the life and music of Williams, whose career in jazz spans six decades.
James Baldwin on reading Hughes’ poetry
(Yale University Library)
Langston Hughes in 1925
Langston Hughes in 1939
Photographs by Carl Van Vechten
Langston Hughes in 1940
Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Through compromise and fear.
February 1, 1902~May 22, 1967
A pack of smokes, a desk, a lamp, a typewriter, a telephone, and a nimble-fingered Langston Hughes
James P. Johnson | 1894-1955 Master stride pianist and Harlem composer of “Carolina Shout” and “The Charleston,”"You’ve Got to Be Modernistic,” “Snowy Morning Blues,” symphonic scores, and further classics.
in tribute to James P. Johnson & Langston Hughes
New York, you know, has its New Yorks,
Manhattan her Queens, the Bronx
keepers of flames with all their names intact.
Now that’s a fact. Upside it, though,
you’ll put your heart and everything
you know or thought you knew of snow.
When Snowy Morning Blues plays James P. Johnson’s
game of catch-me-if-you-can, you can. He could, too.
New York ain’t no last word, you know.
Nothing’s what it used to be. And you, the you who sees
out past the end of the world, this snow, this wee wind-
fall he fells us with under eaves the way we all fall
under suspicion in detective movies.
Blam! Blame it on the blues, blame it on a blizzard.
Diamonded, grounded in its ice cream crisscross,
snow makes you take to the country again, harmonica in hand,
craving the guitar of a pianistic You-Gotta-Be-Modernistic
genius — you can’t get into this. Let snow tell its own story.
Let the blues roll on. Let snow fall right on time this time
blue, blank, blackening the city-within-a-city christened
in Dutch: Harlem, Haarlem,
— Al Young
Â© 2001, 2006 and 2007 by Al Young
from The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000;
reprinted in Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry
Langston Hughes in Lawrence, Kansas: Photographs & Biographical Resources
by Denise Low and T.F. Pecore Weso
Langston Hughes, the great American poet who inspired the Harlem Renaissance, spent most of his childhood in Lawrence, Kansas. Authors Denise Low and T.F. Pecore Weso assemble photos & new research about Lawrence sites associated with Langston Hughes. Hughes lived with his grandmother in Lawrence much of the time from his birth in 1902 until his grandmotherâ€™s death in 1915. Because of the efforts of Lawrence preservationists, many of the structures are still standing.
Langston Hughes, the busboy-poet, Washington, DC, early 1920s
Â« Read the 1967 NY Times obituary account of how busboy on-duty Langston Hughes got “discovered” after he slipped three poems under poet Vachel Lindsay’s luncheon plate at the Wardman Park Hotel, where young Hughes worked. Â»
Visit the website of DC’s Busboys and Poets, a restaurant, bookstore, fair trade market and gathering place, where people can discuss issues of social justice and peace. Each Busboys and Poets location should enhance the community — allowing us to bring together a diverse clientele reflective of the surrounding neighborhoods. Busboys and Poets creates an environment where shared conversations over food and drink allow the progressive, artistic and literary communities to dialogue, educate and interact. Busboys and Poets is a community gathering place.
First established in 2005, Busboys and Poets was created by owner Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist and restaurateur. After opening, the flagship location at 14th and V Streets, NW (Washington DC), the neighboring residents and the progressive community, embraced Busboys, especially activists opposed to the Iraq War. Busboys and Poets is now located in three distinctive neighborhoods in the Washington Metropolitan area and is a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers.
by Langston Hughes
Clean the spittoons, boy.
Clean the spittoons.
The steam in hotel kitchens,
And the smoke in hotel lobbies,
And the slime in hotel spittoons:
Part of my life.
Two dollars a day.
Hey, boy! A nickel,
A dollar, Two dollars
Buys shoes for the baby.
House rent to pay.
Gin on Saturday,
Church on Sunday.
Babies and gin and church and women and
Sunday all mixed up with dimes and dollars
and clean spittoons and house rent to pay.
A bright bowl of brass is beautiful to the Lord,
Bright polished brass like the cymbals
Of King David’s dancers,
Like the wine cups of Solomon.
A clean spittoon on the altar of the Lord.
A clean bright spittoon all newly polished –
Come ‘ere, boy!
Â© Estate of Langston Hughes
This spittoon-shaped poem first appeared in New Masses, December 1926; reprinted in Fine Clothes to the Jew, 1927.
Al Young comments:
Reading in my late teens I Wonder As I Wander — Langston Hughes’ autobiographical follow-up to The Big Sea – I was enthralled and inspired by the tales he weaves of his travels throughout the U.S., Mexico, Cuba, Europe, the USSR, Soviet Asia, and China. One of Hughes’ lingering memoirs describes a voyage that he and 20 other African Americans took to Russia during the Great Depression to make a movie called Black and White. While his 1956 account of this episode does not match up with documents lately uncovered in the U.S. and in Russia, Hughes’ socio-romantic flashback lives on in imagination. This sunny picture invites us to peer into the faces of some amazingly contemporary-looking passengers, who made that fabled crossing: Langston Hughes with his friends aboard the Europa-Bremen, June 17, 1932. Seated front center from left to right are Louise Thompson Patterson and Dorothy West. On board ship was also Ralph Bunche, who was visiting Paris with Alain Locke.
Photograph courtesy of Yale University Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Hughes poses with neighborhood kids in the cramped, flowering confines of what they called “Our Block’s Childrens Garden” — and long before seed-leasing and genetic modification became commonplace.
Day One of the Joseph McCarthy committee’s interrogation of Langston Hughes
( March 24, 1953)
Langston Hughes testifies before the House Un-American Activities Committee, 26 March 1953. Hughes was forced to appear before the House of Un-American Activities. He refused to name the names of other radicals and denied he had ever been a member of the American Communist Party, but he did agree to let particular poems drift from his active repertoire.
- POLITICS AND POETRY Hughes viewed through the prism of Red Scare America
Excerpt from The Life of Langston Hughes, Volume II (1941-1967)
Â© 1988, 1989, 2002 by Arnold Rampersad
SHIRLEY EMBRACING SAM, 1952
Gelatin Silver Print by Roy DeCarava
Nothing in black and white to decipher, no diction
to master, just the tenderest picture â€“ pur fiction.
While Captain Marvelâ€™s alter ego shouted â€śShazam!â€ť
Shirley was throwing her arms around Sam.
Not only this: her fresh-done air deserves a kiss,
too, just because a hug, well, how can you miss
your target when you know you know your man?
Sam, he looks like he might have some other plan
up that soft, slow sleeve he is suddenly knuckling.
To keep their domestic economy from buckling,
Korea waged war on Korea. General Ike held forth,
while America glazed over her own South-North
struggle. â€śAre you now or have you ever been?â€ť
Senator Joseph McCarthy, ugly as homemade sin,
asked over and over and over again. â€śYou can tell
just by looking at him,â€ť Shirley told Sam. â€śHell,â€ť
Sam said, â€śI can tell he prejudiced by the way he talk.
He knows who to strike out, he knows who to walk.â€ť
On some jukebox down the street Roy Hamilton sang
â€śYouâ€™ll Never Walk Alone.â€ť The new song rang
up through the window and rested on Samâ€™s mind.
Just back happy from his Saturday morning grind
(a job is a job is a job), heâ€™s gotten home early,
even to his own delight. And there stood Shirley,
fragrant, glad to see him again, to have him to herself
for the rest of the weekend. There on a dusted shelf
in the next room, the kitchen, next to the dream-book,
sheâ€™s got two tickets for them. Tonight sheâ€™ll cook
his favorite supper: meatloaf, rice and butterbeans.
Tonight theyâ€™ll duck out on these domestic scenes
their pal Roy DeCarava likes to hang out and shoot.
Theyâ€™ll put on the dog, get up off some loot,
sip them some Four Roses, some cold Champ Ale.
The dress in the closet she bought at that sale,
Shirley will put the thing on and let her hair down.
Clean, these two have been known to clown.
Theyâ€™ll go out and party, catch them some Dinah â€“
the hell with Korea, the U.S., McCarthy, Red China!
Did Shirley go curl her hair just for Sam? Partly.
Will they miss church tomorrow? No, not hardly.
Â© 2001 and 2006 by Al Young
from Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons: Poems 2001-2006 reprinted in Something About the Blues: An Unusual Collection of Poetry Commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, this poem was composed to celebrate the beautiful, yea-saying spirit of “Shirley Embracing Sam,” one of the many Roy DeCarava photographs that illustrate Langston Hughes’ text for The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a book for younger readers published after the poet’s death.
Poets Marianne Moore and Langston Hughes, New York 1952
Partial draft typescript of “Harlem” with the poet’s handwritten corrections
Courtesy Kennedy Center
In 1958, in sessions produced by Leonard Feather, Langston Hughes recorded some of his poetry with one band led by Charles Mingus, and another led by trumpeter Henry Red Allen.
Click here to sample Langston Hughes reading ‘Consider Me’ with the Mingus ensemble
Langston Hughes on his Harlem doorstep, 1958
Courtesy Columbia University
Â© Carl Van Vechten
Langston Hughes — the suave Ellingtonian, circa 1959
DINNER GUEST: ME
I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined,
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To Probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A. —
Wondering how things got this way
In current democratic night,
Over fraises du bois,
“I’m so ashamed of being white.”
The lobster is delicious, The wine divine,
And center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.
Â© Estate of Langston Hughes
Draft typescript facsimile: The Ballad of Booker T.
in a band of poets
for langston hughes
but someday, somebody’ll
stand up & talk about me
& write about me
black & beautiful
& sing about me â€¦
— from â€śnote on commercial theatreâ€ť
in a band of poets uâ€™d have been the lead;
yr gorgeous tone & phrasing, yr range & deceptive speed
would dazzle longhead jazzers in some harlem cabaret;
even haughty hipsters would stop to check yr play
& everyone who heard would feel yr need.
Â in a pride of lions uâ€™d have been the first to feed;
the alpha lion, yr dominance would let you seed
the pride with yr issues. uâ€™d certainly have yr way
in a band of poets.
blending mood & rhythm, u did skillfully succeed
to scale the racial mountain. joy turned to ecstasy indeed
when yr poems, racial in theme & treatment, made way
for the blues & bebop to set the cadence; to sashay
like a buck & wing; a fresh new laureate to read
in a band of poets.
Â©Â Joseph McNair |Â Asili Press Inc.
on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:55pm
Langston Hughes’ liner notes for the 78 rpm album, Josh White Sings Easy (1943)
Langston Hughes by Gordon Parks
Â© Ari Mintz for the New York Times
Music Review | ‘Ask Your Mama!’
Playing Langston Hughesâ€™s Jazzy Verse
By STEVE SMITH
Published: March 17, 2009 The New York Times Among the challenges confronting any composer intent on setting to music â€śAsk Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz,â€ť a set of poems completed by Langston Hughes in 1961, probably the most daunting is that Hughes already called the tunes. His dazzling poems, by turns earnest, raffish and folksy, bulge with references to famous musicians and familiar sounds. Alongside verse set entirely in capital letters, Hughes provided detailed musical cues, some referring to specific songs or instruments, others pointing to general modes and tones. Hughes, who began the work while attending the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, reportedly planned to create a musical version with the jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus, among others, but died before seeing it through …
Â© 2009 The New York Times
A youthful Washington MĂşsica Vivaperforms the poetry of Langston Hughes to original music composed by Charles Mingus (with new music by Charley Gerard). Holly Bass, reader; Pepe GonzĂˇlez, bass; John Kamman, guitar; Chris Royal, trumpet; Carl Banner, piano; Charley Gerard, alto saxophone; and Harold Summey, drums ~ 2008.
Click here to peep what Michon Boston had to say on the occasion of Langston Hughes’ 107th birthday in January of 2009. Citing a passage from The Big Sea, the first of Hughes’ two engrossing memoirs, the poet-performer quotes the poet on his early 20th century assessment of Washington, DC’s “colored aristocracy,” a social class later redubbed the “black bourgeoisie.”
From an early age, Langston Hughes heard and spoke Spanish, a language he loved; acquired during extended visits to his father’s estate in Mexico. Later as a working expatriate in France, Hughes learned and studied French, the international language then crucial to aspiring writers. An avid translator, he rendered into English work by Spain’s Federico GarcĂa Lorca, Chile’s Gabriela Mistral, Cuba’s NicolĂˇs GuillĂ©n, and Haiti’s Jacques Roumain.
Afro-Cuban poet NicolĂˇs GuillĂ©n and Langston Hughes, Havana, circa 1950
Towne Street Theatre
4101 Budlong Avenue #4
Los Angeles, CA 90037
Phone 213.624.4796 / FAX 323.294.0507
Baltimore Afro-American Archives
L-R ~ An aloof Langston Hughes poses with Soviet proletarian writer Mikhail Soltzov, Ernest Hemingway, and Cuban poet NicolĂˇs GuillĂ©n in Madrid, 1938. As foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Afro-American, Hughes was covering the Spanish Civil War.
Escuche el Blues Abatido / Listen to the Weary Blues
Escuche el Blues AbatidoPoemas de Langston Hughes traducidos al castellano por Jorge Heredia
“The Weary Blues,” escrito por Langston Hughes en 1923, incorpora las caracterĂsticas musicales del Jazz, y de los Blues en la poesĂa. Hughes fue uno de los impulsores del conocido como Renacimiento de Harlem, un movimiento que se caracterizaba por la imitaciĂłn de los sonidos e improvisaciones del jazz en la poesĂa.
EL BLUES ABATIDO
Zumba una melodĂa somnolienta y sincopada
MeciĂ©ndose adelante y atrĂˇs en un canto suave,
EscuchĂ© un negro tocar. La otra noche en la avenida Lenox
Bajo la penumbra pĂˇlida de una vieja luz de gas
Se balanceaba lento… Se balanceaba lento…
Al compĂˇs de este Blues Abatido.
Sus manos de Ă©bano sobre las teclas de marfil
Haciendo gemir al pobre piano con melodĂas.
BalanceĂˇndose en su taburete desvencijado
Tocaba esa melodĂa tan triste como un tonto musical
ÂˇDulce Blues! Sale del alma de un hombre negro.
ÂˇOh Blues! Con una voz profunda canta ese tono melancĂłlico
EscuchĂ© un negro cantar, y ese viejo piano que gimeâ€”
“No tengo a nadie en este mundo,
No tengo nadie mĂˇs que yo.
Ya es es hora de dejar esta cara
Y guardar mis problemas.”
Pum, pum, pum golpeĂł el suelo con el pie.
TocĂł algunos acordes y despuĂ©s cantĂł un poco mĂˇs â€”
“Tengo el Blues Abatido Y no me puedo contentar.
Tengo el Blues Abatido
Y no me puedo contentarâ€”
Nunca mĂˇs serĂ© felĂz quisiera morĂr.”
Hasta bien entrada la noche canturreĂł esa melodĂa.
Las estrellas salieron y tambiĂ©n la luna.
El cantante dejĂł de tocar y me fui a la cama con el
Blues Abatido todavĂa en la cabeza.
DurmiĂł como una roca o un hombre que estaba muerto.
Spanish translation Â© Jorge Heredia
THE WEARY BLUES
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull of the pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy swayâ€¦
He did a lazy swayâ€¦
To the tune oâ€™ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Coming from a black manâ€™s soul.
In a deep song voice with that melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan â€“
â€śAinâ€™t got nobody in all this world,
Ainâ€™t go nobody but ma self.
Iâ€™s gwine to quit ma frowninâ€™
And put ma troubles on the shelf.â€ť
Thump, thump, thump went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more â€“
â€śI got the Weary Blues
And I canâ€™t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And canâ€™t be satisfied â€“
I ainâ€™t happy no moâ€™
And I wish that I had died.â€ť
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man thatâ€™s dead.
Â© Estate of Langston Hughes
In POETRY SPEAKS Expanded (edited by Elise Paschen and Rebekah Presson Mosby) Al Young introduces Langston Hughes
I’ve been a singer:
Â Â Â Â Â All the way from Africa to Georgia
Â Â Â Â Â I carried my sorrow songs.
Â Â Â Â Â I made ragtime.
-–Langston Hughes (“Negro”)
Drowning Saxophone | Â© Eric Drooker
Always under reconstruction
Subatomic preon particles ||| Billiard balls in motion