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

Airs on WQXR at 10 pm on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

American author Langston Hughes in 1954 with a phonograph record in hand. American author Langston Hughes in 1954 with a phonograph record in hand. (Fred Stein Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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.

WQXR celebrates Black History Month with I, Too, Sing America: Music In The Life Of Langston Hughes, a one-hour radio special that shines a light on Hughes's lesser-known musical compositions.

At 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, join Terrance McKnight, WQXR host and former Morehouse professor of music, for I, Too, Sing America, which dives 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 radio documentary includes recordings of select pieces of Hughes’ musical works, some of which were never performed again in their entirety after their original production. It also features archival interview tape of William Grant Still discussing Troubled Island.


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Comments [8]

David Montague from Oaxaca, Mexico

I was amazed as I learned about the life of Langston Hughes and admired the obstacles he overcame! I hope there will be a link to this available indefinitely so I can share it with several friends! Thank you, QXR.... I feel better about contributing!

Feb. 13 2016 11:17 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

As an aside, Leonard Bernstein set two of Langston Hughes's poems to music together in his "Songfest" (1977).

Feb. 13 2016 06:40 AM

@ Gus from Brooklyn, yes, it's odd that since this is a pre-recorded broadcast that there's no playlist. DD~~

Feb. 10 2015 07:30 PM
Deborah from NYC

I have been enjoying your informative series this month highlighting important American artists. I am embarrassed to admit though I have long admired Langston Hughes' poetry, I was unaware of his intense involvement in the music world and lyric-writing; thank you for this eye-opening program. The Florence Price program was fabulous, and I am looking forward to the incredible Hazel Scott. I am so glad these remarkably talented women are being showcased. Thank you for a well-written, enlightening series. I hope you will include as a future subject one of my favorite modern poets, the recently departed Amiri Baraka.

Feb. 19 2014 12:00 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

podtrac site seems to be down at this time, so no audio off audio box.

Feb. 17 2014 07:30 AM
Gus Silverman from Brooklyn

What is the piece used around 7:00?

Feb. 17 2014 12:01 AM
Michelle C. from Brooklyn, NY

I am listening for the 2nd time to the "I, Too, Sing America: Music in the Life of Langston Hughes"..and just want to say what a beautifully done piece in every way. I learned a lot about him and enjoyed hearing his music, poetry and life story. Thank you Terrence and crew !

Feb. 16 2014 11:48 PM
Lenny Tischler from Santa Fe, NM

Great job, Terrence. Fully enjoyed your story about this part of American history.

Feb. 06 2014 04:58 PM

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