For the weekend: Langston Hughes’ playlist

by Matt Ruff on February 19, 2016

LangstonwiPod

Langston Hughes (left) and a 1954 iPod being serviced by AppleCare technicians (right)

At Wednesday night’s reading at Third Place Books, an audience member asked me about the music I listen to while I’m writing, which reminded me of something I’d come across during my research for Lovecraft Country. In the July 3, 1954 edition of The Chicago Defender, Langston Hughes devoted his weekly column to a discussion of his own musical tastes, including a list of “some of my all-time favorites” (YouTube links added where available):

AFTER HOURS — Erskine Hawkins
SO LONG — The Charioteers
DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND — Duke Ellington
RAG MOP — Lionel Hampton
OPEN THE DOOR RICHARD — Dusty Fletcher
WEST END BLUES — Ethel Waters
SEE SEE RIDER — Bea Booze
BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA — Bob Crosby
GOOD MORNING BLUES — Count Basie
SEPTEMBER SONG — Walter Huston
BLACK NIGHT — Charles Brown
YELLOW DOG BLUES — Bessie Smith
MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS — Professor Longhair
LOVE CAN HURT YOU — Juanita Hall
DEPUIS LE JOUR — Dorothy Maynor
CANTE FLAMENCO — La Niña de los Peines
SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY — Pearl Bailey & Jackie Mabley
CARELESS LOVE — Josh White
BEGIN THE BEGUINE — Tiny Grimes
WINTER WONDERLAND — Henry Bonnemere
EMPTY SPACE — Lyn with Jimmy Jones
TEA FOR TWO — Willie Smith Quintet
ME AND MY CHAUFFEUR — Memphis Minnie
AHI VIENE LA CONGA — Nilo Menendez
STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT — Nat King Cole

Hughes goes on to discuss other musicians and pieces he likes, offering alternative suggestions for readers who can’t get their hands on the original tracks: “If you haven’t heard Lloyd Glenn’s ‘Chica Boo’ read Dorothy Parker’s poetry… And if you’ve never heard Bessie Smith’s ‘Backwater Blues’ then study the Book of Job.”

The Chicago Defender‘s archive has been digitized, and should be available at any good research library. (I got my back issues from the Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington.) Hughes’ column appears on page 11 of the paper.

Christopher D. Walborn March 2, 2016 at 7:02 am

I threw together a Spotify playlist with as many of these as possible.

https://open.spotify.com/user/1213053909/playlist/5NHB7fCx1mMQL38Bt66spj

Missing are Juanita Hall, La Niña de los Peines, Lloyd “Tiny” Grimes, Henry Bonnemere, and Jimmy Jones. Most of those artists have some representation on Spotify, but not the specific songs mentioned. Note with La Niña de los Peines, however, that “Cante Flamenco” means simply “flamenco singing”, and isn’t even a reference to the specific type of cante within flamenco, of which there are several.

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