Hughes’ Blues: The Langston Hughes Songbook

We know Langston Hughes as a celebrated African-American author of poems, essays, stories, memoirs and more. But Hughes also wrote songs-hundreds of them. Music was at the heart of his work, with jazz and blues informing the cadences, structures, and subject matter of many of his poems. In an early essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," he touted jazz and blues as a valid and vital expression of African-American identity in art; he was one of the few literary figures in the Harlem Renaissance to do so. "The Langston Hughes Songbook" features a diverse group of artists performing songs with lyrics written by Hughes. We'll hear a live version of Nina Simone's 1960s anthem "Backlash Blues," the legendary stride pianist James P. Johnson playing the one period recording from a long-lost "blues opera" that he and Hughes wrote, Johnny Mercer and June Christy offering their takes on Hughes' musical collaborations with famed composer Kurt Weill, Abbey Lincoln's recording of Hughes and jazz pianist Randy Weston's "African Lady," Hughes' own spoken-word encounters with bassist Charles Mingus, and saxophonist-singer Gary Bartz's grooving feel-good adaptation of Hughes' first-ever published poem.

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