It isn’t very often in history that we read African American views on African American music. Langston Hughes, who wrote a column for an African American newspaper called The Chicago Defender, published several articles reclaiming African American folk music after jazz, the blues, and really much of American folk music was influenced by that tradition and style. In his poetic storytelling, and sometimes angry tone, Hughes gets at an issue of American music-that it has consistently turned African American folk music tradition into popular music, entertainment, etc. and reaped the monetary benefits while casting authenticity aside.
His article titled “Slavery and Leadbelly are Gone, But the Old Songs Go Singing on,” complains that African Americans have forgotten their slave heritage. “In 1963 we will be one hundred years free. Have you forgotten that you were once a slave? Is it a memory you do not want to remember?” On one hand, singers like Leadbelly could be popular because there was a certain time distance from slavery so that musicians weren’t judged “Uncle Toms.” On the other hand, there is some tension as to how the folk music out of the slave tradition should be remembered, because clearly Leadbelly’s songs that embody oppression and images of slavery remember it much differently than revivals of the blues and spirituals during the 50s and 60s.In another issue, “The Influence of Negro Music On American Entertainment,” Hughes celebrates the pervasiveness of African American folk music in American music. “The Negro has influenced all of American popular song and dance, and that influence has been on the whole, joyous and sound…America’s music is soaked in our rhythms.” It is no coincidence that Langston Hughes was writing during the civil rights movement, when African Americans often re-claimed and re-defined their identity in an effort to create unity and political momentum. Many of the folk musicians singing about civil rights, however, were white musicians making money off a style that used the folk idiom to appeal to the popular masses. Langston Hughes is quick to criticize this, calling into question the definition of folk music, how it is used, how it is remembered, and who has the right and responsibility to perform it.
 Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2001, 746.
 Reebee Garofalo, “Popular Music and the Civil Rights Movement,” Rockin the Boat: mass music and mass movements, ed. Reebee Garofalo, Boston: South End Press, 1992.
 Langston Hughes, “Slavery and Leadbelly are Gone, but the Old Songs Go Singing On,” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Sep 04, 1954, http://search.proquest.com/docview/492889401?accountid=351.
 Langston Hughes, “The Influence of Negro Music on American Entertainment,” Chicago Defender (National Edition),(1921-1967), Apr 25, 1953, http://search.proquest.com/docview/492962325?accountid=351.
YES. Awesome find, S. Langston Hughes is always worth reading closely (as you have), and I particularly like your use of bolded text to emphasize his insights. (One further thing to do would be to provide a full citation of his articles in your endnotes, even though you’ve helpfully linked to the articles. That way anyone reading this from beyond a campus might still be able to find the articles themselves.) Hughes’s biting wit – “the old songs go singing on,” without the authentic bearers of the slave music tradition actually around to sing them – raises one of the key issues for us in this class. Who has the right to sing this music? Who has the responsibility to sing it?
There’s a felicitous intersection between your post and BC’s, on the role music played during the protests in Selma, Alabama 50 years ago. Almost as if heeding Hughes’s call, the protesters sang spirituals and folk songs – evoking the oppression that fueled their own protest movement while also reclaiming that music from mass culture, whose reach and exploitative tendencies Hughes decried. It’s almost as if the Selma protesters answered Hughes’s question, “No, we have not forgotten.” And they answered in song.