"THAT'S THE WAY THE BLUES ARE, ABOUT TROUBLE, YET LOOKING FOR THE SUN": PRESENTATION FIRST EDITION OF FAMOUS NEGRO MUSIC MAKERS, 1955, INSCRIBED BY LANGSTON HUGHES
HUGHES, Langston. Famous Negro Music Makers. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955. Octavo, original blue cloth, original dust jacket.
First edition of Hughes' important volume of 18 essays on Black music and musicians, enriched by "Hughes' liveliness and depth of feeling as a poet," a presentation copy warmly inscribed by him in the year of publication, "Especially for my long-time friends, the Johnsons—Sincerely, Langston, New York September 16, 1855."
Famous Negro Music Makers is Hughes' first book for young Black readers to focus the history and complexity of African American music and musicians. In many ways, "it was only natural that Hughes would eventually translate his love for music onto the written page for children." It was issued in 1955, the same year "Marian Anderson debuted as the first African American singer in the history of the Metropolitan Opera House." Throughout his career and especially in his works for Black young adults, such as this, Hughes generated "a forever youthful and exuberant art from his own genius" (Tracy, Dream Keeper, 90, 78).
Hughes "had always appreciated the power of Black music to subvert cultural hierarchies" (John Tessitore), yet this work also signaled a path where, in his continuing "artistic experimentation, he increasingly looked to Blacks, especially Black musicians, for direction and inspiration" (Smith et al., African American Writers, 173). On publication, the book's 18 essays were praised for conveying "Hughes' liveliness and depth of feeling as a poet… starting with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, seven of whom were born in slavery, Hughes tells how all suffered post-Civil War hardships while they furthered a significant branch of Negro music." Featured, as well, are sections on Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Lena Horne and "a wealth of other names," along with 16 pages of illustrations (Kirkus). Its publication came not long after Hughes was interrogated by Joseph McCarthy and forced to defend his writings against charges of communist propaganda. Years later he spoke of the book's omission of Paul Robeson, noting that, against the background of McCarthyism, "it was impossible at that time to get anything into children's books about… Robeson" (Rampersad, Life Vol. II, 230-31). First edition, first printing: with no statement of edition or printings on the copyright page. Gift bookplate of the recipients, Anna and Thomas O. Johnson, to "Community Church of New York Library." Dr. Thomas Johnson, a close friend of Hughes, was a philanthropist and dentist whose practice was on 138th Street in Harlem. Tiny bit of faint underlining and marginalia; embrowning from laid-in 1956 newspaper clipping (140-41).
Interior quite fresh, mere trace of edge-wear to cloth, light edge-wear, tiny bit of early tape reinforcement to verso of colorful near-fine dust jacket.