"THAT'S THE WAY THE BLUES ARE, ABOUT TROUBLE, YET LOOKING FOR THE SUN": RARE PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION FIRST EDITION OF FAMOUS NEGRO MUSIC MAKERS, 1955, INSCRIBED BY LANGSTON HUGHES TO LONGTIME PUBLISHERS OF HIS WIDELY PRAISED BOOKS ON BLACK MUSIC AND HISTORY
HUGHES, Langston. Famous Negro Music Makers. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955. Octavo, original blue cloth, original dust jacket. $3500.
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," this rare copy warmly inscribed by him in the year of publication to the founder and owner of Franklin Watts publishers and his wife, author and editor Helen, who together published all five of Hughes' critically acclaimed books with titles beginning, "First Book," starting with First Book of Negroes in 1952. In this very memorable presentation/association copy, Hughes writes across an entire page, "Inscribed especially for Frank and Helen, my 'Firsts' publishers, sincerely, Langston, New York, September, 1955."
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. Bruccoli & Clark III:164. The recipients of this wonderfully inscribed copy are publisher Franklin Watts and his wife, author and editor Helen Hoke Watts. Hughes authored the five "Firsts"—as he calls them—that were published by Franklin Watts, founder and owner of Franklin Watts, Inc. He and Helen were closely involved with Hughes' work and his five publications with their company: First Book of Negroes (1952), First Book of Rhythms (1954), First Book of Jazz (1955), First Book of the West Indies (1956) and First Book of Africa (1960). On the page opposite the title page, each title of the three "Firsts" then published is neatly underlined in red. Dust jacket front flap with small notation above price.
Interior generally fresh with light dampstaining to upper edge of plates not affecting images, trace of soiling to fore-edges, mild edge-wear, toning to cloth; light edge-wear, mild rubbing to scarce dust jacket. An extremely good presentation copy with a wonderful association.