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Putting the Blue, Black, and Red in the Red, White, and Blue
Foreign Literature Studies (2008)
  • Steven C. Tracy, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
This paper will discuss the emergence of the blues into American literature, focusing on Langston Hughes's work in the context of folklore studies, sheet music and commercial recordings, Jazz Age aesthetics, and Leftist politics. Hughes's use of dialect in his poetry, of course, was preceded by the important work of realist and local color writers such as James Whitcomb Riley, Mark Twain, Southwestern humorists, Daniel Webster Davis, James Edwin Campbell, and especially Paul Laurence Dunbar (whose musicality Hughes also echoed). The emergence of collections of blues in American folklore studies by such authors as Howard W. Odum, Guy B. Johnson, Gates Thomas, Dorothy Scarborough, Prescott Webb and others, as well as the emergence of blues on sheet music by Antonio Maggio, Hart Wand and W.C. Handy, assisted in creating an interest in intellectual and popular culture circles that helped make it possible for Hughes to have his poetic experiments with blues and jazz be acceptable, at least to some audiences. Hughes's distinctive contributions and importance will be examined in this context, as well as in the criticism and poetry of James Weldon Johnson and Alain Locke, the American Songbag of Carl Sandburg, the "Black Ulysses" novels of Howard W. Odum, Sterling Brown's experiments with dialect and blues and jazz materials, the journal Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms, and the leftist folk song movement of the 1920s and 1930s that helped usher African American folk music into the Popular Front scene, political appearances, supper clubs like the Café Society, the "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts, and mainstream American music.
  • Langston Hughes the blues American literature
Publication Date
April, 2008
Citation Information
Steven C. Tracy. "Putting the Blue, Black, and Red in the Red, White, and Blue" Foreign Literature Studies Vol. 30 Iss. 2 (2008)
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