BLACK HISTORY MONTH, DAY 1:
James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967)
Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue” which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue.”
Langston Hughes was a close friend of Nina Simone’s and penned the song “Backlash Blues” for her, which appeared on Nina’s “Sings The Blues” album.
Langston also penned this piece for the liner notes to Nina’s album “Broadway-Blues-Ballads”:
The One and Only Nina Simone, a tribute by Langston Hughes:
She is strange. So are the plays of Brendan Behan, Jean Genet, LeRoi Jones, and Bertold Brecht.
She is far out, and at the same time common. So are raw eggs in Worcestershire and the CONNECTION.
She is different. So was Billie Holiday, St. Francis, and John Donne. So is Mort Sahl. So is Willie Mays.
She is a club member, a colored girl, an Afro-American, a homey from Down Home. She has hit the Big Town, the big towns, the LP discs and the TV shows–and she is still from down home. She did it mostly all by herself. Her name is Nina Simone.
She has a flair, but no air. She has class, but does not wear it on her shoulders. Only chips. She is unique. You either like her or you don’t. If you don’t, you won’t. If you do–wheee-ouuu-eu! You do!
Some folks never did learn to like Billie Holiday. Some folks don’t like Eartha Kitt. To some Edith Piaf never meant peanuts. To others Mabel Mercer could come for free, and Jackie Mabley is not worth a dime. Bert Williams may be drug your mama and Valida Snow your papa. Tastes differ. For some tastes Ethel Waters was and Pearl Bailey is, Bing Crosby was and Frank Sinatra is, George Walker was and Sammy Davis is. But Elvis, No! Ornette Coleman, not Barbara Dane, not Jacob Lawrence, never! And don’t mention Lotte Lenya.
Everybody has a right to like whoever he likes and whatever he likes in life and in the arts. Some folks in religion like the Rev. Howard Thurman, some like Father Divine, others prefer Benjamin Mays and some Mother Horne. In literature many read Frank Yerby and some read James Baldwin.
In politics some like Goldwater and some like Nasser. In food some like chitterlings, some caviar.
In entertainment some like Nipsey Russell, some like Charles Aznavour, some like Dorothy Donegan, and some like Nina Simone.
Why should anyone like her because she plays piano well? So do lots of other people. But she plays piano FLUIDLY well, SIMPLY well, COMPLICATEDLY well, THEATRICALLY well, DRAMATICALLY well, INDIVIDUALLY well, and MADLY well. Not just WELL.
Why should one like Nina Simone because she sings a song differently? Plenty of singers sing songs differently. But many singers strain so hard to be different, pay arrangers so much money to make their songs sound different, but have no convictions themselves about what they are singing, and so seem hollow, artificial, fake, and wrong when they sing a song. Nina Simone is as different as beer is from champagne, crackers from crepes suzettes, Eastland from Adam Powell, Houston from Paris– each real in their way, but Oh! how different– and how fake it is if it is not Houston you want but the “city of light.”
The letters l-i-v-e that spell LIVE mean exactly the same as the letters N-i-n-a that spell NINA. As for that word SIMONE–be cool, Jack, be cool! And listen to this album.
For more information about LANGSTON HUGHES, see: