“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves”
Langston Hughes, ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’
It was Langston Hughes’ birthday not too long ago (the 1st of February to be exact), and the American poet, activist, novelist, playwright, and all around inspirational character undoubtedly deserves to be remembered and celebrated. Hughes is perhaps best known for his leading contributions in the intellectual circles of 20’s and 30’s New York, and he’s often held up as one of the most prominent figures to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance movement. His work, specifically his Jazz-inspired poetry, was instrumental in creating an artistic space to express the struggles, laughter, joy, energy, pain, and passion of an African-American experience in the US. As a testament to Hughes’ continuing influence on generations across the world, and as a means of recognising the importance of the innovative, enthusiastic, and complicated period of ‘Harlem in vogue’, we’ve compiled a list of 6 songs that emerged during, or because of, the Harlem Renaissance. Take a listen below:
Gil Scott-Heron – Cane
Gil explains in the intro how this tune was inspired by the Jean Toomer novel of the same name.
Ice T – If We Must Die
Take a listen as certified badman Ice T reads Claude McKays‘ powerful poem.
Duke Ellington – The Cotton Club Stomp
Mamie Smith – Crazy Blues
Bessie Smith – St Louis Blues
Fats Waller – Harlem Fuss