LANGSTON HUGHES was one of the greatest forces in American culture – yet is now one of the least known. Tempting to wonder whether that is because the leading light of the Harlem Renaissance was black.
Ice-T, the rapper, actor and unabashed owner of possibly the most famous American wart since Abraham Lincoln, is coming to the Barbican, the massive arts centre on the southern edge of Hackney, to present the European premiere of an ambitious poetry-and-music suite by Hughes (1902-1967).
Jazzer Ron McCurdy will lead his group in accompanying Ice-T’s voice for what they are calling the Langston Hughes Project.
Hughes took themes from the blues, Dixieland, gospel songs, boogie-woogie, bebop and progressive jazz, Latino tunes, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso, and African drumming music for the suite Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.
A visual backdrop will pay tribute to Hughes’s favourite Afro-Americans, including the unexcelled Louis Armstrong, to whom he dedicated Ask Your Mama.
The suite was never publicly performed during Hughes’ lifetime. Ice-T is trying to rectify that by recreating the poet-playwright’s journey through the beat poets and the birth of bebop, to the explosion of black performance art in the 1960s.
The Young Vic Theatre put on Simply Heavenly, a Hughes musical adaptation, in 2003 (and enjoyed by my editor, who owns some of his poetry collections – see pic), but his work has since been little seen in London.
Mr T deserves our support in promoting this neglected writer.
Hamish Scott 151015
* Barbican Hall, Silk Street, Barbican EC2Y 8DT, Saturday 21 November 2015, 3pm and 7pm, £15-£40. In the Barbican’s Fountain Room at 5pm, between the two concert performances, a panel will discuss Langston Hughes’s legacy and as part of the London Jazz Festival Barbican cinemas will screen films about jazz and the 1960s civil-rights movement.
* Pic credits: Barbican terrace and Hughes postcard book cover David Altheer; Ice-T Steve Vaccariello
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