I, Too, Sing America: Music in the Life of Langston Hughes

Airs Wednesday February 15th at 8PM on 93.9 FM, AM 820, and NJPR; Saturday February 18th at 6AM on 93.9 FM and NJPR; Saturday February 18th at 2PM on AM 820; Sunday February 19th at 8PM on 820 AM and NJPR

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Langston Hughes, an enduring icon of the Harlem Renaissance, is best-known for his written work, which wedded his fierce dedication to social justice with his belief in the transformative power of the word. But he was a music lover, too, and some of the works he was most proud of were collaborations with composers and musicians.

Hosted by Terrance McKnight, WQXR host and former Morehouse professor of music, I, Too, Sing America will dive into the songs, cantatas, musicals and librettos that flowed from Hughes’ pen. As he did with his poetry, Hughes used music to denounce war, combat segregation and restore human dignity in the face of Jim Crow. His musical adventures included writing lyrics for stage pieces such as Black Nativity and Tambourines to Glory, works that helped give birth to the genre of Gospel Play, as well as songs for radio plays and political campaigns, and the libretto for Kurt Weill’s Street Songs.

I, Too, Sing America will also tell the dramatic tale of Hughes’ collaboration with William Grant Still, hailed today as “the Dean of African American composers.” For 15 years, against the backdrop of pre-Civil Rights racism, the two fought to see their opera become a reality. Their historic success came in 1949, when Troubled Island – which told the story of Haitian revolution leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines – was staged by the New York City Opera, becoming the first opera by African Americans to ever be staged by a major company.

The documentary will include recordings of select pieces of Hughes’ musical works, some of which were never performed again in their entirety after their original production. It will also feature archival interview tape of William Grant Still discussing Troubled Island.

Hosted by:

Terrance McKnight

Comments [2]

April from Manhattan

Mr McNight, I wonder what you feel about Harlem becoming majority white? A tricky question, I know. As one who fought for integration, I'm ambivalent. But Harlem has been or was THE spiritual and artistic center of black America for so long, is there any way to preserve it? Or has it moved on to Morningside Queens, where it will again be gentrified out of existence? Spike Lee seemed to think so, on a TV show the other night, though he probably belongs to the 1% statistically, but definitely not spiritually. I'd like to know what you think.

Feb. 15 2012 08:40 PM
April from Manhattan

I went to the last class but one of segregated Chapel Hill High School. In our English book was a poem by Langston Hughes. I'd saved the book to take with me when the house was closed down after my father's death, but it was gone. All I recall is:

"Now i see the Congo
moving through the jungle
moving through the jungle with a golden track.
With a boombalay, boombalay, Boom!"

It was music, and I loved it! As I did black music on the radio, black gospel, spirituals, then rock: Fats Domino. I kept in touch with black women I knew. We loved each other until death, told each other so on the phone, and I loved the man who worked with, not for, my father on our house. This sounds pretentious, but my soul is black, though having white skin I'll never know what it's really like. Except a touch when in the movement. So great to hear about Langston Hughes! I had no idea of his diversity in music!

Feb. 15 2012 08:27 PM

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