FIRST EDITION, PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION COPY, OF THE BOOK OF AMERICAN NEGRO SPIRITUALS, INSCRIBED BY JAMES WELDON JOHNSON TO ACCLAIMED WRITER RING LARDNER
JOHNSON, James Weldon. The Book of American Negro Spirituals. New York: Viking, 1925. Quarto, original brown cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $6000.
First edition, presentation copy, of the Harlem Renaissance classic, inscribed to a famous sports columnist and short story writer: "For Ring W. Lardner with sincere regards—James Weldon Johnson."
Poet, novelist, civil rights leader, lawyer and lyricist, James Weldon Johnson edited The Book of American Negro Spirituals. Johnson, who also signed this first edition, initially explored the legacy of African American music in 1900 when he co-wrote the classic "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with his brother John Rosamond Johnson, who provided this volume's musical arrangements. After the two brothers became successful songwriters James Weldon Johnson's life took a turn as he became active in civil rights, publishing the autobiographical novel, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), and becoming an executive officer of the NAACP. "As a senior member of the community of Black writers in New York, Johnson found himself a spokesperson or mediator between Black artists and their audience of readers." In his preface Johnson offers a powerful and "extensive argument for the African origins of the spirituals" (Small, 197-8). His interest in African American music and folk culture was shared by many of the Harlem Renaissance artists he mentored, among them Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Hurston. Johnson's Book of American Negro Spirituals "ensured lasting respect for the spirituals and conservation of their words and music" (New Grove 18:5). Containing Johnson's prefatory poem, "O Black and Unknown Bards." Musical arrangements by J. Rosamond Johnson with additional numbers by Lawrence Brown. Viking featured this edition as a leading volume in its premiere fall list. With scores and lyrics of 61 spirituals such as "Go Down Moses," "Nobody Knows De Trouble I See" and "Roll Jordan, Roll." Without dust jacket. Blockson 7944. Work, 436. This copy is inscribed to popular author Ring Lardner, known as both a sports columnist and a short story writer. While Lardner was modest about his abilities, authors including Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John O'Hara considered Lardner to be one of the most talented writers of his day. Lardner has also had an impressive cultural presence: he was the model for Abe in Tender Is the Night; he was mentioned in both The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey; and he was even referenced in Brighton Beach Memoirs. Lardner was well known for his love of music and theater and Johnson's book would have fallen squarely within his interests. In fact, he was well-known for throwing a party in Great Neck to honor Rosamond Johnson, the Harlem Renaissance composer and writer of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," who also did most of the arrangements for this book.
Occasional scattered foxing mainly to endpapers, light rubbing to extremities. A near-fine copy, with outstanding provenance.