Google Doodle celebrates poet Langston Hughes today on his 113th Birthday (February 1) with a riff on his poem, “I Dream a World.” The animation was created by Katy Wu. (More on Katy Wu here and her advice for budding digital artists)
I dreamed with Langston turning the pages of his final book BLACK MAGIC (co-authored with Milton Meltzer), a pictorial anthology of African Americans singers, dramatists, actors, musicians, dancers — the trailblazers who were paving the road for the generations by living their dreams. Was this the hope of Langston Hughes? Was the dream deffered the warning?
I DREAM A WORLD
by Langston Hughes
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!
This is the month where programmers and cultural professionals go gaga. It’s always a February feast kicking off with Langston Hughes’ birthday (February 1). If you want to savor the history of the African American experience in the arts, you must, must, must get a copy of Black Magic: A Pictorial History of Black Entertainers in America written by Langston Hughes and history writer/professor Milton Meltzer. The time line for Black Magic begins in Africa and ends at the time of Langston Hughes’ death in 1967. He never saw the final published book. Meltzer died in 2009 at age 94.
As for what’s going on in February I can barely scratch the surface. “Negro History Week” founder and DC resident Carter G. Woodson may have be astounded.
——- The U.S. Capitol Historical Society celebration of African American History Month Tribute to the First African American elected to the United States Senate – Hiram Rhodes Revels.
WHEN: Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 12 Noon to 1:00 PM
WHERE: Cannon House Office Building – Room 12, Independence Avenue and First Street, SE
(Metro Stops: Capitol South or Union Station)
WHO: Keynote speaker Laura Turner O’Hara, Historical Publications Specialist for the U.S. Office of History and Preservation. Ms. O’Hara is also Co-Author of ‘Black Americans in Congress 1870 -2007.’
RSVP: RSVP, email email@example.com or call (202) 543-8919, x. 38, (Automated line: leave message and contact number). This event is free and open to the Public. Seating is limited.
—— AFRICA: THE ROOTS OF SALSA
Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars – Quimbara – Zaire Africa 1974
WHEN: Thursday, February 17, 8:00 PM
WHERE: The Dome @ Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA
Drumming traditions brought over to the new world by the enslaved peoples from Africa were forbidden in the U.S. The authorities feared the Africans would communicate over distances by way of the drum. However Cuba did not place severe restrictions on the newly arrived Africans. In Cuba the traditions continued. The presentation highlights the marriage of African percussive rhythms with traditional Cuban music-very European in nature in the 20s and 30s. The decade-by-decade journey pays tribute to the Afro Latinos that created a new musical style. Arsenio Rodriguez, Beny Moré, Chano Pozo, Antonio Machin, Mario Bauzá, Machito, and Perez Prado are some of the artists that will be covered. Full circle and back to Africa– artists like Laba Sosseh, Ricardo Lemvo and Africando will be highlighted. Eileen’s presentation is punctuated with vintage film and music clips.
—— JESSICA B. HARRIS, “HIGH ON THE HOG”
FOOD & FOLKLORE at EATONVILLE RESTAURANT
WHEN: Wednesday, February 16, 6:30 PM
WHERE: Eatonville Restaurant, 2121 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010
TICKETS: $45 (plus tax and gratuity) To make reservations, go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/155216 or call 202-332-9672.
Jessica B. Harris is the author of eleven cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. Harris is one of a handful of African Americans who have achieved prominence in the culinary world. In May 2010, she was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America.
In High on the Hog Harris takes the reader from Africa across the Atlantic to America, tracking the trials that the people and the food have undergone along the way. From chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul, Harris celebrates the delicious and restorative foods of the African American experience and details how each came to form such an important part of African American culture, history, and identity.
The menu, prepared by Eatonville’s Chef Garret Fleming, includes West African Shrimp and Spinach Soup; Sweet and Spicy Curried Goat with Chapati Bread and Smashed Plantains; and Banana Fritters.
BILL T. JONES/ARNIE ZANE
Bill T. Jones can’t be put in the “black box,” or any box for that matter. The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company is coming to The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to perform Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray. According to the program description, “the work, danced to live music, investigates the myriad meanings of Lincoln, rejecting accepted truth in favor of challenging and celebrating the lasting contributions of this great man. By envisioning the America that might have been had Lincoln completed the Reconstruction, Mr. Jones exposes the great distance between what is and what could have been.” With the Lincoln theme, this can be tucked into “President’s Day” as well as Lincoln’s birthday. Bill T. Jones was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient for 2010.
WHEN: February 24 and 25 (there is a post-performance discussion on February 24 with members of the company)
WHERE: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater
TICKETS and SCHEDULE: Go to this link.
Sunday February 1 will be Langston Hughes’s birthday. He would’ve been 107 years old. My how time flies. In The Big Sea, Langston articulated the real deal about Washington’s black bourgeoisie of the 1920s. The chapter is titled “Washington Society.” These upper class colored people consisted largely of government workers, professors and teachers, doctors, lawyers, and resident politicians. They were on the whole as unbearable and snobbish a group of people as I have ever come in contact with anywhere. They lived in comfortable homes, had fine cars, played bridge, drank Scotch, gave exclusive “formal” parties, and dressed well, but seemed to me altogether lacking in real culture, kindness, or good common sense.
When I read that in the 1980s, I was blown away. Why? Because it was true, but I had never seen it expressed print with such brazen honesty. Full-time, non-academic, working artists were freaks in D.C. at one time which is why many of them didn’t stay or couldn’t. “Get a good gov’ment job,” was the goal in life, a house, a fine car, join a respectable church, and you’re done. Nothing wrong with that, but as the song goes “Is that all there is?”
I have to say, D.C. has changed. I think Langston would like some of the changes–slam poetry nights, more theaters, and especially Busboys and Poets where poet/performance artist Holly Bass will be saluting the poet, dramatist, writer Sunday (Feb. 1) in a performance of “The Weary Blues,” the 1958 jazz/poetry collaboration between Langston Hughes and jazz composer bassist Charles Mingus. There’s a ticket $15 fee ($12 for students and seniors) so go to the website (www.busboysandpoets.com)
Langston can’t talk too much smack about D.C. He was discovered as a poet in this city while working as a busboy at what is now the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel. He slipped his “Weary Blues” poem to Russian poet Vachel Lindsay. Langston also met his BFF Zora Neale Hurston in D.C. His reason for coming to D.C. may have been to take care of his mamma, but I bet he didn’t leave the way he came in. In fact, Langston, found the blues in D.C. and you left the city a poet.
We used to read Langston Hughes poems out loud in the kitchen of my dormitory. My favorites were the Madam poems. I left campus one Saturday to go to Cleveland and visit Rowena Jelliffe for an oral history project. She and her husband Russell co-founded the Karamu House Theatre. She showed me the spot where Langston and Zora had their famous “Mule Bone” falling out. [“Mule Bone” was a play the two writers collaborated on and a dispute broke out over who would get the credit and own the rights.] Apparently, Langston’s mother got up in Zora’s face. Mrs. Jelliffe recalled Langston saying to his mother, “Rowena and I behaved like ladies.”
When I was in junior high school, I’d thumb through my sister’s copy of Black Magic, a coffee table book anthology of Black performers in music, dance, theater, film and television edited by Langston Hughes. I memorized the faces on each and every page. Black Patty, Florence Mills, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Bert Williams, Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Freddie Washington, Hazel Scott, Ira Aldridge.
So much of my exposure to African American poetry and African Americans in the arts I owe to Langston Hughes. Welcome back to D.C. Langston and Happy Birthday.