Langston Hughes reads “The Weary Blues”

June 3rd, 2014

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“The Weary Blues” — a poem about the importance of music and the blues in everyday life — is a signature work of Langston Hughes, the Harlem Renaissance writer whose poetry helped change the way art created by African Americans was viewed, and influenced the writers of the beat generation. Written in 1925, the melancholy .poem is .set in a Harlem bar where a piano player plays the blues, and is one of the first poems to mix poetry and music.

Besides being a great writer, Hughes was an eloquent communicator, and it is a wonderful experience to hear him read his own poetry..  This 1958 film shows him reading “The Weary Blues” to the accompaniment of a Canadian .group led by pianist Doug Parker.

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The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway. . . .

He did a lazy sway. . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man’s soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—

“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,

Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’

And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more—

“I got the Weary Blues

And I can’t be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can’t be satisfied—

I ain’t happy no mo’

And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

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Read our interview with Ralph Ellison biographer Arnold Rampersad (who was also Hughes’ biographer)

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Read our interview with Carla Kaplan, editor of Zora Neale Hurston:  A Life in Letters

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