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Langston Hughes, John Sellers, James Cotton and Otis Spann discuss blues music

BROADCAST: Jul. 15, 1960 | DURATION: 00:29:26

Synopsis

Langston Hughes, John Sellers, James Cotton, and Otis Spann discuss their origins and blues music. The interview focuses heavily on Langston Hughes and how deeply he is influenced by the blues. Hughes also discusses his upcoming book "An African Treasury" at length. Hughes, Sellers, Spann, and Cotton perform a number of songs during the interview, they have been removed due to copyright.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel Naturally, this is the blues harmonica, James Cotton, piano, Otis Spann. The blues from the Louis Sullivan Room of Roosevelt University, Louis Sullivan known for his good acoustics of the buildings he designed, and we're seated next to Langston Hughes, who you might call as a quadruple threat man: poet, composer, playwright, novelist, shorts. Langston and Brother John Sellers is here, too, whom we'll hear in a moment. Langston, what is the blues? How would you describe it?

Langston Hughes Well, the blues are certainly the roots of jazz. The basic heartbeat behind America's most popular music. And out of the blues have come many, many great melodic compositions ranging all the way from the raw folk blues not written down to the W. C. Handy, the Clarence Williams compositions, J. P. Johnson, to the use that composers like George Gershwin have made of blues themes. "Rhapsody in Blue," "Porgy and Bess," the French ballet, you know, with [Nola Dame? Nos La Dame?] was really a blues ballet adopted by a French arranger/composer.

Studs Terkel The blues has served so many purposes, I'm thinking of you, how the blues itself has affected practically all your writings in one way or another, hasn't

Langston Hughes Well, it's affected my poetry, shall we put it that way, a good deal and possibly my prose to a certain extent because the blues, the lyrics of the blues, not speaking of the music now, the lyrics have a great warmth and humanity usually in them, and often very deep sadness, but always somewhere in a blues, there's a, a twist that makes people laugh. In other words, there's humor in the blues, too. And I certainly have to some extent carried that over into my prose, particularly in my simple books.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of a, as you said something here that is too rarely said, that there's a humor, there's an affirmation in the blues, too, as well as a sadness.

Langston Hughes Oh yes, you know, the verses I often quote, which I heard many, many years ago in Kansas City as a child illustrates that. The one about "I'm going down to the railroad, lay my head on the track. Going down to the railroad, lay my head on the track. But if I see the train a-coming, I'll jerk it back."

Studs Terkel The will to live is there no matter how adverse the circumstances. Well, Langston, as James Cotton and Otis Spann are here and playing oh, so soulfully, are perhaps some of your varied projects and works, and I'm thinking specifically something happened a couple of weeks ago while Otis and James are still here, at the Newport Jazz Festival, which we heard ended rather suddenly and shockingly.

Langston Hughes Sadly.

Studs Terkel Sadly. Yet, was it -- were you emceeing the very last session? Do you mind telling us about that?

Langston Hughes Well, of the night before the Sunday afternoon program, the third night of the festival this year, uh, there were riots in the streets which had really nothing to do with jazz. It simply had to do with the fact that the town was very much overcrowded, that there were perhaps 15,000 young people who -- some who couldn't get into the park and others who had no intention of going to hear the jazz program were outside in the streets, and the park was crowded, sold out, but quiet. The program was quite wonderful. There were people like Ray Charles and Horse Silver Quintet playing and a very wonderful crowd inside the park enjoying the music, but outside there were young people, and they were not teenagers on the whole, they were college age and older, who decided to have fun by throwing beer cans over the fans and hitting people in the head who were sitting there.

Studs Terkel They weren't really jazz fans.

Langston Hughes They weren't really jazz fans, they were -- folks out to have a good time at any cost, and they had loaded up their cars with cases of beer and then some of them decided to try to rush to gates, and that really began the riots and the police were inadequate, unfortunately, and those who tried to rush the gates did not succeed in getting in, but they did succeed in starting a battle with the police and other young people joined in by throwing beer cans, and not empty ones. Full beer cans.

Studs Terkel So the people who wanted to hear jazz are the ones who were the

Langston Hughes Who are the losers, and it developed into a riot of not the enormous proportions that the newspapers might have indicated, but it was only around, about four blocks.

Studs Terkel Well, there's something poetically tragic here about this very last session. You were emceeing a session Sunday afternoon, the very last at Newport.

Langston Hughes Yes, and quite by accident it happened to be the blues, and none of us knew of course that that would be the final session. And just before the program began, the City Council met to decide what to do about the festival or the rest of it for the season, and being quite irate at what had gone on the night before, about one o'clock, they announced that they had withdrawn the license for the festival forever, which not only canceled the remaining programs, but the next season and ever thereafter. However, my afternoon program was allowed to go on because they hadn't made up their minds by that time, and it just happened to be a program on the blues. So since, while it was a sad afternoon, it was appropriate that the blues end the festival and, uh, when I heard this news, I was already at the park. So I went into the press room and I didn't have any paper or anything with me, and got a Western Union telegraph blank and wrote a blues for Newport: "Goodbye, Newport Blues."

Studs Terkel And it, this is a blues written on the spot

Langston Hughes Written right on the spot, which I imagine is the way many blues began, out of some sad event, and Otis Spann had arrived with the Muddy Waters band, and I uh, asked if he would, be so kind as to play it and sing it, and he never seen it before, so quite spontaneously he gave this blues a melody, and out of this sad event within uh, a couple of hours, grew this blues with which we closed the whole afternoon, and on the stage at the time when we closed were all the members of the Muddy Waters band, including the harmonica player here, and uh, Sammy Price Trio, Butch Cage and Willie Lewis, uh

Studs Terkel From Louisiana.

Langston Hughes From Louisiana, and uh, Jimmy Rushing, who was sitting in the audience, came up and joined us in the last jam session, and all of these people took part in this finale singing "A Gloomy Day at Newport."

Studs Terkel If, as since Otis Spann is here at the piano, and James Cotton with a mouth harp, with a harmonica perhaps recreating this event this moment, singing what you wrote, hot from the flush of that moment, you know, here in the Newport Blues, "A Sad Day

Musicians at [Musicians

Studs Terkel Just as we hear Otis' voice and piano and James Cotton's mouth harp played out, I'm looking at an item in the "Providence Journal" of that day, that next morning, and it ends in this way: "And it's a few moments later, after an original blues tune at the end of the Newport Jazz, the performers walked silently off the stage. Audience began shuffling out, many of them wet-eyed. Two men began dismantling the canvas walls, a technician dismantled the microphones on the stage. Someone closed the piano, Langston Hughes with a trembling voice said, 'Goodbye, Newport.'" And it's remarkable, Langston, how this real sadness is imbued in the very song itself that you composed that moment.

Langston Hughes Well, the blues have that quality, and many, many blues have been made up spontaneously. So I think this is sort of in the true tradition of the blues, that out of this event on the spot there came this song, and it was a very sad moment. But my feeling is that the city fathers of Newport will reconsider during the summer.

Studs Terkel I hope so. [pause in recording] One of your recent works, so many works, is "From Tambourines to Glory," the story of these two gospel women and their adventures. This, tell us about this, there's a project in mind aside from the

Langston Hughes Yeah, it grew from a series of gospel songs that I wrote about 10 years ago, and they were not recorded, although Mahalia Jackson liked some of them very much and said she hoped to do them. So I thought, "Well, I'll write a play and put the songs in the play." And I did. The play ran around Broadway for three or four years and got favorable comments, but no one took it. So I said, "Well, I'll write a novel." So from the play I wrote the novel, "Tambourines to Glory," and the novel had scarcely been out a week before producers began to call up and say it'd make a wonderful play, and I said, "Well, I have the play," and they said it should be a play with music, and I said, "Well, I have the music," and so almost immediately after the novel appeared, the Theatre Guild optioned the play about a year ago, and of course it takes a long time to get things into the theater. But eventually they got around to auditioning, to casting, and in about two weeks, the rehearsals are scheduled to start for the dramatic version "Tambourines to Glory."

Studs Terkel And I know this is a very delightful book, it's a book of a great deal of, how shall we call it, the raciness of life in it, [as think of?] a juice of life. And before we talk about the cast and about Brother John, who is in it, too, uh, gospel music. I mean, you like the blues, and of course you like gospel music. Would you mind telling us of the connection? And, you know, some

Langston Hughes Well,

Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] line, you know.

Langston Hughes Gospel music is a modern religious music of the Negro people, and it grew out of, melodically out of the spirituals and the blues, too, and its foremost composer, uh, Dorsey, Thomas A. Dorsey, who

Studs Terkel Who lives in Chicago.

Langston Hughes Lives in Chicago, by the way, and who wrote some very beautiful gospel songs. "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," he himself -- his first musical interest was the blues. And many years ago, he was the pianist for the great old blues singer Ma Rainey, and so naturally

Studs Terkel As Georgia Tom.

Langston Hughes Yes, naturally, when he came over into the gospel field, he carried certain qualities of that music, the blues music with him, and uh, when you hear Mahalia Jackson, many people have compared her style of singing to that of the great blues singer Bessie Smith. Although of course, Mahalia sings religious songs, not blues. But in those songs and in the way of singing them, there is much of the quality of the singers of the blues.

Studs Terkel Well, I'm thinking of "Tambourines to Glory" then that will have gospel music as its base.

Langston Hughes Yes.

Studs Terkel I think I know -- Hazel Scott is cast in

Langston Hughes Hazel Scott has the leading role of the woman who wants to found the church along with a friend of hers, a good woman, and Hazel plays the woman who's sort of interested only in making money out of religion. So we have the old struggle between good and evil in terms of the church.

Studs Terkel The spiritual.

Langston Hughes Yes.

Studs Terkel Now, Brother John is [seated here?] from Chicago, and he's gonna -- what role will Johnny Sellers play in this?

Langston Hughes Well, we had sort of hoped to have him for the deacon, but we are not sure at the moment, but it's certain that he's going to be in it, and he's a great tambourine player, as you know, and the title of the play is "Tambourines to Glory," and among other duties that he is to have is to coach all of the people in the play on how to play a gospel tambourine.

Studs Terkel Well, I think that John can do that without any inhibitions. I was thinking, you mentioned, well, Brother John, have you any idea what song you will sing in that?

Brother John Sellers Uh, no, because, um, I've seen several songs in the script, but since I don't know just what part I'm playing, I wouldn't know what

Studs Terkel You know what occurred to me? I think of Brother John's Baptist shouts and gospel songs for Monitor that is so good, and since a while ago, Langston mentioned Professor Dorsey and "Precious Lord."

Langston Hughes Yeah.

Studs Terkel I mean, I know Johnny knows that and there's Otis there, you know, and since we live really two lives, there is -- it's true that gospel songs are one world and blues are another, yet a man can find a way, as Johnny does and Otis, you think it's possible perhaps of -- what do you think, Langston? "Precious Lord"? Johnny, you might

Langston Hughes If we could perform that as a tribute to Dorsey, because I admire him greatly, and he happens to be Chicago's, in my opinion, perhaps one of Chicago's most distinguished composers, you know?

Studs Terkel Well, Brother John, Otis, James, have you decided on a key? What do you think?

Brother John Sellers Yeah, I can just start. You can just pick me

Musicians up, [Musicians

Studs Terkel Oh, Brother John, that was very moving. And Otis and James. Langston, you're seated there, I know you were, you were listening, and

Langston Hughes Yes, indeed, this will be the first time, you know, that gospel music has been used in the Broadway theater. It'll be its introduction to the world of show business, really, and in my opinion, the Negro churches that use this music are, in a sense the last refuge of true Negro folk singing, you know? Uh, nobody tampers with those singers. They sing as they feel, as they wish, they're not told what to do by record executives or musical directors. And so much of our folk music is being sort of uh, polluted or diluted certainly by the jukebox, by the radio, by television.

Studs Terkel A and R men of the recording

Langston Hughes Yes, and you go all over the country now, and many of the youngsters are trying to sing like Nat King Cole or somebody they hear on the radio, you see, and that is not true of the churches yet. And so folk music still there is in a pure form.

Studs Terkel Something you said here about the church being the last refuge of the true gospel music. Isn't this true, too because the audience, the call and response, is there, too.

Langston Hughes Oh, yes. And everyone

Studs Terkel Just as Otis was calling out a moment ago.

Langston Hughes Everyone takes part in it, you see, and nothing is planned. It's all spontaneous and real and wonderful.

Studs Terkel You know, I was thinking, as we're talking now, we gotta come to other subjects of Langston, we'll hear Otis and and James, I'm thinking while Johnny's still here, since we talked about response of an audience, the element of demonstration, too. I know Johnny does this so well, demonstrating, a sing on. John, would you mind? I know John does this, I never get tired. You ever hear John sing "Sing On?"

Langston Hughes Uh, no, I don't believe I have, but before he does it, may, may I simply say this, that as you know, next week I have a book coming out called "An African Treasury"

Studs Terkel I know.

Langston Hughes Which has a number of articles, essays, by Black Africans. Everything in the book is by indigenous Africans, poetry, stories and so on. And among the articles are two quite excellent ones on African songs, one on African work songs and another on African poetry and music by a great African musicologist who's been in this country recently Rockefeller Foundation, and he says in there a great deal about this call and response, which is carried over from Africa into the Negro churches here.

Studs Terkel I mean, I want to ask about this book, the "African Treasury," as we go along, as I know this is certainly it's so timely and

Langston Hughes I simply wanted to point out the carry-overs from Africa in our Negro

Studs Terkel I want to come back to that, to the Africa in the cinema, African music. Perhaps, while John is still here, the matter of sing, "Sing On," Johnny, would you mind telling us what you mean by demonstrating?

Brother John Sellers Well, what I mean by demonstrating in the churches, you know, like years ago I used to see Mahalia when she was with the Johnson singers, and these singers, oh, this has been 25, maybe 30 years ago, they would

Studs Terkel Don't let Mahalia hear you say that.

Brother John Sellers They would demonstrate in their songs like they would sing songs like they were looking for the storm that would shoot out the mountain. Or maybe they would -- that the Bible would be placed in one particular place in the church and they would sing until they said they found the storm and they would show it, and that's -- they'd walk all around and using their hands and making emotions. That's what I mean by demonstrating. You heard me out at the church one time when we had the thing for Big Bill, do "Sing On" and how I showed

Studs Terkel By the way, I should like to while we're here mention this concert. When is this Baptist [church?] gospel song?

Brother John Sellers Oh, this is Sunday afternoon.

Studs Terkel Sunday afternoon.

spk_1 Yeah, at 9044 South Cottage Grove.

Studs Terkel South Cottage

Brother John Sellers St. John's Temple.

Studs Terkel And I should point out, too, that Otis Spann works for Muddy Waters, one of our finest blue singers. At Smitty's Corners? I believe on 35th and Indiana and James Cotton works there, too. We'll ask later on about the mouth harp and about the piano. But Johnny, is it possible? I know the microphone is stationary here, and you need room for sing out. But is it possible?

Brother John Sellers Well that's, you know, if I'm in the church I need

Studs Terkel Yeah, but here you can -- you can, can you sort of do it

Brother John Sellers Well, yeah.

Studs Terkel All right.

Brother John Sellers And you can catch it, Otis, just a thing.

Musicians [Musicians play "Sing On" with Brother John

Studs Terkel Amen is certainly the word, as Langston just, Brother John sang that there you, showing them how it's done really is what it amounts to. Showing them how to do it, how to reach where you want to get, and where you want to get is pretty definitely a higher place.

Brother John Sellers Yes, indeed.

Studs Terkel Langston and Brother John, thanks. We'll come back and I'm gonna come to Otis and James. [pause in recording] Langston, I think about the poetry, you're here too in Chicago in connection with the filming, just finished, of "Raisin in the Sun," being made into a film.

Langston Hughes Yes, I am, they're using a poem of mine as a spoken prologue to the picture. They printed it in the theater program, but it was not in the play. However, it's going to actually be spoken in the play by -- in the movie by Sidney Poitier.

Studs Terkel This is the very beginning.

Langston Hughes Yes.

Studs Terkel Would you mind, uh, reading that to this [microphone?]

Langston Hughes The poem is called "Dream Deferred" and one line in the poem gave the title to the play, the line "Raisin in the Sun." "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?"

Studs Terkel And there out of this simple yet every eloquent poem, the whole theme of "Raisin in the Sun" itself. Walter Lee Youngers yen, problem, and that of his mother, of course, and Lorraine Hansberry then, in reading your poem, got the idea for the title of [not written?] the play.

Langston Hughes Yes, I think perhaps she's already written the play, but Miss Hansberry was kind enough to say that my poetry has had quite an influence on her work and that she read it as a child, you know?

Studs Terkel Well, since we're thinking of "Raisin in the Sun," Lorraine Hansberry, we think of one of the figures in the play, the African student, you know, how affirmative he seems in a strange environment for him. And yet he seems to understand it and, which is, I think, a perfect lead-in to the anthology of yours. This, this "African Treasure -- An African Treasury" that is published, the publishers are

Langston Hughes Crown.

Studs Terkel Crown. And what are -- stories, poems, articles, essays. Would you mind telling us about this anthology.

spk_1 Well, it's the result of an interest of mine in African writing for some six or seven years. And, the boiling down of this collection to a dozen or so essays and stories and a dozen or so poems and some miscellaneous items. We even have, ah, letters to the lovelorn from African newspapers.

Studs Terkel And that's there, too.

Langston Hughes Yes, and quite a deal of humor. Um, this came about by my being chosen to be a judge of an African short story contest about seven years ago now for the magazine "Drum," and among these

Studs Terkel "Drum" the magazine in

Langston Hughes In Johannesburg, South Africa.

Studs Terkel Johannesburg, it's also published in Ghana, too, isn't it?

Langston Hughes Yes, and it's published exclusively for colored readers. The words "colored" and "Black" and "Negro," you know don't mean the same with brothers as they do here. They don't use the word "Negro" really in Africa at all, and so perhaps the word "Black" covers the whole native population and we call the anthology a collection of work by Black Africans. At any rate, it took several years to gather the material, hundreds of manuscripts, several hundred dollars in air mail postage. It's 25 cents to mail a letter to Africa, you know. Many manuscripts that have had to be returned. But eventually I got together what I feel to be a representative selection from such widely scattered countries as Kenya in northeast Africa, too, South Africa itself. Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Madagascar, and it is really the, I think, the most comprehensive collection of work by Africans of color, native indigenous Africans ever to be published in the world, probably.

Studs Terkel Is there a recurring theme among the?

Langston Hughes Well, if you, if you might say there is a main theme, it's a sort of pride in Africanness, a pride in their own country, a pride in blackness, really, and a, an assurance in the hope for their own future. And of course, through almost everything runs the current African feeling for freedom to govern themselves, to run their own affairs even if they do make mistakes, and we've had very splendid books on Africa. John Gunther's book "Inside Africa," the Alan Paton books, the Nadine Gordimer novels, all very fine, but

Studs Terkel [Including?] Basil Davidson,

Langston Hughes Yeah. Oh, very fine books, but all by whites, you see, and to get the real African native feeling, it seems to me important that we also read what the Black Africans are writing, and that is what this book is. It will be out next week. By the way

Studs Terkel Stories, articles, essays of sorts. There's one there's intriguing, the African and Africa and the cinema.

Langston Hughes Oh yes, there's an excellent article there by J. Koyinde Vaughan of Nigeria, who's really a lawyer, but in his spare time he writes about movies, and there's an excellent piece about the stereotypes that plague the commercial movies done in Africa or done about Africa, you know. And most of them, of course, are from the colonial viewpoint and have almost nothing in them of modern Africa, of the fact that there are Africans who are chemists, who run machines, who control ports, who take customs. All the movies show are the witch doctors and boom, boom, boom, boom, tom, tom, tom.

Studs Terkel Isn't there, isn't there a, I'm curious what with films like "Raisin in the Sun," of course this is the American Negro, but I'm wondering if there, eventually, because of what is happening in the world, be changes in the whole filmmakers' approach.

Langston Hughes Oh, of course they will. Sidney Poitier was just talking on location today about that, and he was saying that some of the African governments are already setting up their own film units. Largely for documentaries at the moment. But eventually they will be able to make films of entertainment value, film African stories and so on, you know?

Studs Terkel I noticed in the, in the table of contents here, partial table of contents, some names that are quite familiar. Peter Kumalo.

Langston Hughes Yeah

Studs Terkel From

Langston Hughes He's a very good writer. And Peter Abrahams.

Studs Terkel Peter Abrahams.

Langston Hughes Who of course is a refugee from apartheid. He lives in Jamaica now.

Studs Terkel And, uh, these are some of the better-known writers, and then there are

Langston Hughes And of course, we have some of the political writers. We have

Studs Terkel Nkrumah and Tom Mboya.

Langston Hughes And Mboya. And we have a very amusing and interesting piece by an African who studied in this country. His impressions of America.

Studs Terkel That should be very funny. Yeah,

Langston Hughes

Studs Terkel Naturally, this is the blues harmonica, James Cotton, piano, Otis Spann. The blues from the Louis Sullivan Room of Roosevelt University, Louis Sullivan known for his good acoustics of the buildings he designed, and we're seated next to Langston Hughes, who you might call as a quadruple threat man: poet, composer, playwright, novelist, shorts. Langston and Brother John Sellers is here, too, whom we'll hear in a moment. Langston, what is the blues? How would you describe it? Well, the blues are certainly the roots of jazz. The basic heartbeat behind America's most popular music. And out of the blues have come many, many great melodic compositions ranging all the way from the raw folk blues not written down to the W. C. Handy, the Clarence Williams compositions, J. P. Johnson, to the use that composers like George Gershwin have made of blues themes. "Rhapsody in Blue," "Porgy and Bess," the French ballet, you know, with [Nola Dame? Nos La Dame?] was really a blues ballet adopted by a French arranger/composer. The blues has served so many purposes, I'm thinking of you, how the blues itself has affected practically all your writings in one way or another, hasn't it? Well, it's affected my poetry, shall we put it that way, a good deal and possibly my prose to a certain extent because the blues, the lyrics of the blues, not speaking of the music now, the lyrics have a great warmth and humanity usually in them, and often very deep sadness, but always somewhere in a blues, there's a, a twist that makes people laugh. In other words, there's humor in the blues, too. And I certainly have to some extent carried that over into my prose, particularly in my simple books. I'm thinking of a, as you said something here that is too rarely said, that there's a humor, there's an affirmation in the blues, too, as well as a sadness. Oh yes, you know, the verses I often quote, which I heard many, many years ago in Kansas City as a child illustrates that. The one about "I'm going down to the railroad, lay my head on the track. Going down to the railroad, lay my head on the track. But if I see the train a-coming, I'll jerk it back." The will to live is there no matter how adverse the circumstances. Well, Langston, as James Cotton and Otis Spann are here and playing oh, so soulfully, are perhaps some of your varied projects and works, and I'm thinking specifically something happened a couple of weeks ago while Otis and James are still here, at the Newport Jazz Festival, which we heard ended rather suddenly and shockingly. Sadly. Sadly. Yet, was it -- were you emceeing the very last session? Do you mind telling us about that? Well, of the night before the Sunday afternoon program, the third night of the festival this year, uh, there were riots in the streets which had really nothing to do with jazz. It simply had to do with the fact that the town was very much overcrowded, that there were perhaps 15,000 young people who -- some who couldn't get into the park and others who had no intention of going to hear the jazz program were outside in the streets, and the park was crowded, sold out, but quiet. The program was quite wonderful. There were people like Ray Charles and Horse Silver Quintet playing and a very wonderful crowd inside the park enjoying the music, but outside there were young people, and they were not teenagers on the whole, they were college age and older, who decided to have fun by throwing beer cans over the fans and hitting people in the head who were sitting there. They weren't really jazz fans. They weren't really jazz fans, they were -- folks out to have a good time at any cost, and they had loaded up their cars with cases of beer and then some of them decided to try to rush to gates, and that really began the riots and the police were inadequate, unfortunately, and those who tried to rush the gates did not succeed in getting in, but they did succeed in starting a battle with the police and other young people joined in by throwing beer cans, and not empty ones. Full beer cans. So the people who wanted to hear jazz are the ones who were the losers. Who are the losers, and it developed into a riot of not the enormous proportions that the newspapers might have indicated, but it was only around, about four blocks. Well, there's something poetically tragic here about this very last session. You were emceeing a session Sunday afternoon, the very last at Newport. Yes, and quite by accident it happened to be the blues, and none of us knew of course that that would be the final session. And just before the program began, the City Council met to decide what to do about the festival or the rest of it for the season, and being quite irate at what had gone on the night before, about one o'clock, they announced that they had withdrawn the license for the festival forever, which not only canceled the remaining programs, but the next season and ever thereafter. However, my afternoon program was allowed to go on because they hadn't made up their minds by that time, and it just happened to be a program on the blues. So since, while it was a sad afternoon, it was appropriate that the blues end the festival and, uh, when I heard this news, I was already at the park. So I went into the press room and I didn't have any paper or anything with me, and got a Western Union telegraph blank and wrote a blues for Newport: "Goodbye, Newport Blues." And it, this is a blues written on the spot -- Written right on the spot, which I imagine is the way many blues began, out of some sad event, and Otis Spann had arrived with the Muddy Waters band, and I uh, asked if he would, be so kind as to play it and sing it, and he never seen it before, so quite spontaneously he gave this blues a melody, and out of this sad event within uh, a couple of hours, grew this blues with which we closed the whole afternoon, and on the stage at the time when we closed were all the members of the Muddy Waters band, including the harmonica player here, and uh, Sammy Price Trio, Butch Cage and Willie Lewis, uh -- From Louisiana. From Louisiana, and uh, Jimmy Rushing, who was sitting in the audience, came up and joined us in the last jam session, and all of these people took part in this finale singing "A Gloomy Day at Newport." If, as since Otis Spann is here at the piano, and James Cotton with a mouth harp, with a harmonica perhaps recreating this event this moment, singing what you wrote, hot from the flush of that moment, you know, here in the Newport Blues, "A Sad Day at [Musicians Just as we hear Otis' voice and piano and James Cotton's mouth harp played out, I'm looking at an item in the "Providence Journal" of that day, that next morning, and it ends in this way: "And it's a few moments later, after an original blues tune at the end of the Newport Jazz, the performers walked silently off the stage. Audience began shuffling out, many of them wet-eyed. Two men began dismantling the canvas walls, a technician dismantled the microphones on the stage. Someone closed the piano, Langston Hughes with a trembling voice said, 'Goodbye, Newport.'" And it's remarkable, Langston, how this real sadness is imbued in the very song itself that you composed that moment. Well, the blues have that quality, and many, many blues have been made up spontaneously. So I think this is sort of in the true tradition of the blues, that out of this event on the spot there came this song, and it was a very sad moment. But my feeling is that the city fathers of Newport will reconsider during the summer. I hope so. [pause in recording] One of your recent works, so many works, is "From Tambourines to Glory," the story of these two gospel women and their adventures. This, tell us about this, there's a project in mind aside from the book Yeah, it grew from a series of gospel songs that I wrote about 10 years ago, and they were not recorded, although Mahalia Jackson liked some of them very much and said she hoped to do them. So I thought, "Well, I'll write a play and put the songs in the play." And I did. The play ran around Broadway for three or four years and got favorable comments, but no one took it. So I said, "Well, I'll write a novel." So from the play I wrote the novel, "Tambourines to Glory," and the novel had scarcely been out a week before producers began to call up and say it'd make a wonderful play, and I said, "Well, I have the play," and they said it should be a play with music, and I said, "Well, I have the music," and so almost immediately after the novel appeared, the Theatre Guild optioned the play about a year ago, and of course it takes a long time to get things into the theater. But eventually they got around to auditioning, to casting, and in about two weeks, the rehearsals are scheduled to start for the dramatic version "Tambourines to Glory." And I know this is a very delightful book, it's a book of a great deal of, how shall we call it, the raciness of life in it, [as think of?] a juice of life. And before we talk about the cast and about Brother John, who is in it, too, uh, gospel music. I mean, you like the blues, and of course you like gospel music. Would you mind telling us of the connection? And, you know, some people Well, [Unintelligible] line, you know. Gospel music is a modern religious music of the Negro people, and it grew out of, melodically out of the spirituals and the blues, too, and its foremost composer, uh, Dorsey, Thomas A. Dorsey, who -- Who lives in Chicago. Lives in Chicago, by the way, and who wrote some very beautiful gospel songs. "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," he himself -- his first musical interest was the blues. And many years ago, he was the pianist for the great old blues singer Ma Rainey, and so naturally -- As Georgia Tom. Yes, naturally, when he came over into the gospel field, he carried certain qualities of that music, the blues music with him, and uh, when you hear Mahalia Jackson, many people have compared her style of singing to that of the great blues singer Bessie Smith. Although of course, Mahalia sings religious songs, not blues. But in those songs and in the way of singing them, there is much of the quality of the singers of the blues. Well, I'm thinking of "Tambourines to Glory" then that will have gospel music as its base. Yes. I think I know -- Hazel Scott is cast in it. Hazel Scott has the leading role of the woman who wants to found the church along with a friend of hers, a good woman, and Hazel plays the woman who's sort of interested only in making money out of religion. So we have the old struggle between good and evil in terms of the church. The spiritual. Yes. Now, Brother John is [seated here?] from Chicago, and he's gonna -- what role will Johnny Sellers play in this? Well, we had sort of hoped to have him for the deacon, but we are not sure at the moment, but it's certain that he's going to be in it, and he's a great tambourine player, as you know, and the title of the play is "Tambourines to Glory," and among other duties that he is to have is to coach all of the people in the play on how to play a gospel tambourine. Well, I think that John can do that without any inhibitions. I was thinking, you mentioned, well, Brother John, have you any idea what song you will sing in that? Uh, no, because, um, I've seen several songs in the script, but since I don't know just what part I'm playing, I wouldn't know what song You know what occurred to me? I think of Brother John's Baptist shouts and gospel songs for Monitor that is so good, and since a while ago, Langston mentioned Professor Dorsey and "Precious Lord." Yeah. I mean, I know Johnny knows that and there's Otis there, you know, and since we live really two lives, there is -- it's true that gospel songs are one world and blues are another, yet a man can find a way, as Johnny does and Otis, you think it's possible perhaps of -- what do you think, Langston? "Precious Lord"? Johnny, you might -- If we could perform that as a tribute to Dorsey, because I admire him greatly, and he happens to be Chicago's, in my opinion, perhaps one of Chicago's most distinguished composers, you know? Well, Brother John, Otis, James, have you decided on a key? What do you think? Yeah, I can just start. You can just pick me up, [Musicians Oh, Brother John, that was very moving. And Otis and James. Langston, you're seated there, I know you were, you were listening, and -- Yes, indeed, this will be the first time, you know, that gospel music has been used in the Broadway theater. It'll be its introduction to the world of show business, really, and in my opinion, the Negro churches that use this music are, in a sense the last refuge of true Negro folk singing, you know? Uh, nobody tampers with those singers. They sing as they feel, as they wish, they're not told what to do by record executives or musical directors. And so much of our folk music is being sort of uh, polluted or diluted certainly by the jukebox, by the radio, by television. A and R men of the recording companies. Yes, and you go all over the country now, and many of the youngsters are trying to sing like Nat King Cole or somebody they hear on the radio, you see, and that is not true of the churches yet. And so folk music still there is in a pure form. Something you said here about the church being the last refuge of the true gospel music. Isn't this true, too because the audience, the call and response, is there, too. Oh, yes. And everyone takes Just as Otis was calling out a moment ago. Everyone takes part in it, you see, and nothing is planned. It's all spontaneous and real and wonderful. You know, I was thinking, as we're talking now, we gotta come to other subjects of Langston, we'll hear Otis and and James, I'm thinking while Johnny's still here, since we talked about response of an audience, the element of demonstration, too. I know Johnny does this so well, demonstrating, a sing on. John, would you mind? I know John does this, I never get tired. You ever hear John sing "Sing On?" Uh, no, I don't believe I have, but before he does it, may, may I simply say this, that as you know, next week I have a book coming out called "An African Treasury" -- I know. Which has a number of articles, essays, by Black Africans. Everything in the book is by indigenous Africans, poetry, stories and so on. And among the articles are two quite excellent ones on African songs, one on African work songs and another on African poetry and music by a great African musicologist who's been in this country recently Rockefeller Foundation, and he says in there a great deal about this call and response, which is carried over from Africa into the Negro churches here. I mean, I want to ask about this book, the "African Treasury," as we go along, as I know this is certainly it's so timely and -- I simply wanted to point out the carry-overs from Africa in our Negro music I want to come back to that, to the Africa in the cinema, African music. Perhaps, while John is still here, the matter of sing, "Sing On," Johnny, would you mind telling us what you mean by demonstrating? Well, what I mean by demonstrating in the churches, you know, like years ago I used to see Mahalia when she was with the Johnson singers, and these singers, oh, this has been 25, maybe 30 years ago, they would demonstrate Don't let Mahalia hear you say that. They would demonstrate in their songs like they would sing songs like they were looking for the storm that would shoot out the mountain. Or maybe they would -- that the Bible would be placed in one particular place in the church and they would sing until they said they found the storm and they would show it, and that's -- they'd walk all around and using their hands and making emotions. That's what I mean by demonstrating. You heard me out at the church one time when we had the thing for Big Bill, do "Sing On" and how I showed -- By the way, I should like to while we're here mention this concert. When is this Baptist [church?] gospel song? Oh, this is Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoon. Yeah, at 9044 South Cottage Grove. South Cottage Grove. St. John's Temple. And I should point out, too, that Otis Spann works for Muddy Waters, one of our finest blue singers. At Smitty's Corners? I believe on 35th and Indiana and James Cotton works there, too. We'll ask later on about the mouth harp and about the piano. But Johnny, is it possible? I know the microphone is stationary here, and you need room for sing out. But is it possible? Well that's, you know, if I'm in the church I need room. Yeah, but here you can -- you can, can you sort of do it here? Well, yeah. All right. And you can catch it, Otis, just a thing. [Musicians play "Sing On" with Brother John Sellers Amen is certainly the word, as Langston just, Brother John sang that there you, showing them how it's done really is what it amounts to. Showing them how to do it, how to reach where you want to get, and where you want to get is pretty definitely a higher place. Yes, indeed. Langston and Brother John, thanks. We'll come back and I'm gonna come to Otis and James. [pause in recording] Langston, I think about the poetry, you're here too in Chicago in connection with the filming, just finished, of "Raisin in the Sun," being made into a film. Yes, I am, they're using a poem of mine as a spoken prologue to the picture. They printed it in the theater program, but it was not in the play. However, it's going to actually be spoken in the play by -- in the movie by Sidney Poitier. This is the very beginning. Yes. Would you mind, uh, reading that to this [microphone?] The poem is called "Dream Deferred" and one line in the poem gave the title to the play, the line "Raisin in the Sun." "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?" And there out of this simple yet every eloquent poem, the whole theme of "Raisin in the Sun" itself. Walter Lee Youngers yen, problem, and that of his mother, of course, and Lorraine Hansberry then, in reading your poem, got the idea for the title of [not written?] the play. Yes, I think perhaps she's already written the play, but Miss Hansberry was kind enough to say that my poetry has had quite an influence on her work and that she read it as a child, you know? Well, since we're thinking of "Raisin in the Sun," Lorraine Hansberry, we think of one of the figures in the play, the African student, you know, how affirmative he seems in a strange environment for him. And yet he seems to understand it and, which is, I think, a perfect lead-in to the anthology of yours. This, this "African Treasure -- An African Treasury" that is published, the publishers are -- Crown. Crown. And what are -- stories, poems, articles, essays. Would you mind telling us about this anthology. Well, it's the result of an interest of mine in African writing for some six or seven years. And, the boiling down of this collection to a dozen or so essays and stories and a dozen or so poems and some miscellaneous items. We even have, ah, letters to the lovelorn from African newspapers. And that's there, too. Yes, and quite a deal of humor. Um, this came about by my being chosen to be a judge of an African short story contest about seven years ago now for the magazine "Drum," and among these stories "Drum" the magazine in -- In Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg, it's also published in Ghana, too, isn't it? Yes, and it's published exclusively for colored readers. The words "colored" and "Black" and "Negro," you know don't mean the same with brothers as they do here. They don't use the word "Negro" really in Africa at all, and so perhaps the word "Black" covers the whole native population and we call the anthology a collection of work by Black Africans. At any rate, it took several years to gather the material, hundreds of manuscripts, several hundred dollars in air mail postage. It's 25 cents to mail a letter to Africa, you know. Many manuscripts that have had to be returned. But eventually I got together what I feel to be a representative selection from such widely scattered countries as Kenya in northeast Africa, too, South Africa itself. Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Madagascar, and it is really the, I think, the most comprehensive collection of work by Africans of color, native indigenous Africans ever to be published in the world, probably. Is there a recurring theme among the? Well, if you, if you might say there is a main theme, it's a sort of pride in Africanness, a pride in their own country, a pride in blackness, really, and a, an assurance in the hope for their own future. And of course, through almost everything runs the current African feeling for freedom to govern themselves, to run their own affairs even if they do make mistakes, and we've had very splendid books on Africa. John Gunther's book "Inside Africa," the Alan Paton books, the Nadine Gordimer novels, all very fine, but -- [Including?] Basil Davidson, "The Yeah. Oh, very fine books, but all by whites, you see, and to get the real African native feeling, it seems to me important that we also read what the Black Africans are writing, and that is what this book is. It will be out next week. By the way -- Stories, articles, essays of sorts. There's one there's intriguing, the African and Africa and the cinema. Oh yes, there's an excellent article there by J. Koyinde Vaughan of Nigeria, who's really a lawyer, but in his spare time he writes about movies, and there's an excellent piece about the stereotypes that plague the commercial movies done in Africa or done about Africa, you know. And most of them, of course, are from the colonial viewpoint and have almost nothing in them of modern Africa, of the fact that there are Africans who are chemists, who run machines, who control ports, who take customs. All the movies show are the witch doctors and boom, boom, boom, boom, tom, tom, tom. Isn't there, isn't there a, I'm curious what with films like "Raisin in the Sun," of course this is the American Negro, but I'm wondering if there, eventually, because of what is happening in the world, be changes in the whole filmmakers' approach. Oh, of course they will. Sidney Poitier was just talking on location today about that, and he was saying that some of the African governments are already setting up their own film units. Largely for documentaries at the moment. But eventually they will be able to make films of entertainment value, film African stories and so on, you know? I noticed in the, in the table of contents here, partial table of contents, some names that are quite familiar. Peter Kumalo. Yeah From He's a very good writer. And Peter Abrahams. Peter Abrahams. Who of course is a refugee from apartheid. He lives in Jamaica now. And, uh, these are some of the better-known writers, and then there are those And of course, we have some of the political writers. We have Nkrumah Nkrumah and Tom Mboya. And Mboya. And we have a very amusing and interesting piece by an African who studied in this country. His impressions of America. That should be very funny. Yeah, Yeah. Babs,

Langston Hughes Fafunwa, uh-huh.

Studs Terkel Fafunwa. Well, this, this book then will be out sometime in the middle

Langston Hughes It will be out to be exact July 25th.

Studs Terkel "An African Treasury," edited Langston Hughes, Crown. And certainly, like I think it's [an addition?] to anyone's library who wants to know, and who doesn't, what is happening in a very vital part of the world. We may return now to this world of ours here. We opened with the blues, then we opened with the blues, and then we heard Brother John and, uh, some gospel songs. And by the -- when will -- did we mention "Tambourines to Glory"'s time

Langston Hughes Yes, I think I said it, goes into rehearsal in a couple of weeks, and the plan is to open it in summer theater. Uh, Westport Labor Day week, and then to tour for eight weeks if things work out well.

Studs Terkel Well, I

Langston Hughes And then go to New York.

Studs Terkel I think with our Brother John Sellers in this cast, Hazel Scott better watch out. Now, if I may wander a minute, to, if I could just talk with Otis and with James for a minute. About the music. Otis, uh, I know that Johnny's from Greenville, Mississippi, and Langston was Cleveland, but Kansas City to Missouri originally, well, where you from, Otis?

Otis Spann I'm from Pelahatchie, Mississippi. Which is a small, small town.

Studs Terkel Now, what about the piano? You and music. When did this come into being?

Otis Spann Well, I'll tell you. Well, my father, he was a piano player, and when I got old enough to play, he took, carried me around with him, and which we had a house, you know, like this. Well, on a Saturday night the only time that people [in my neighborhood?] could get out. You understand? And we'd take our fish fries, which me and my father used to go muddy creeks and catch the fish and have our own fish fries.

Studs Terkel Have your own fish fry.

Otis Spann You get a fish sandwich for 10 cents.

Studs Terkel And so you had, you had music with that.

Otis Spann [That's right?]. We had music with this, back in the back, we'd done something else, gambling or, but that's just the way my home town worked, and we

Studs Terkel What about you learning the piano? How did you learn the

spk_1 That's the way I learned, because

Studs Terkel By yourself.

Otis Spann Doing it, no, doing the thing, there was a fellow by the name of Coot Davious, he called himself the "Emperor of the Ivory." Which he was.

Studs Terkel He was the Emperor of the Ivories.

Otis Spann The Emperor of the Ivories. So. He came from England and he taught me. I was only six years old. But after I got [of some size?] I got off of his style of playing, and I got on the style of Muddy Waters, which I been with Muddy Waters 17 years.

Studs Terkel Been with Muddy

Otis Spann Seventeen years.

Studs Terkel You worked with Willie Dixon, too, then.

Otis Spann I worked with Willie Dixon, too, sure.

Studs Terkel And so we have a least a beginning, we understanding of Otis Spann and his blues piano. I'm looking at James Cotton now here. What, where you from?

James Cotton I'm from Tunica, Mississippi.

Studs Terkel What about the harmonica? How -- why the harm-- how'd you take to the harmonica?

James Cotton Well, my brother, he used to play the harmonica, you know? I'd sit around the house, and look at him play the harmonica because me and him played the same harmonica, you know, and because that I couldn't get the sound out that he'd get, I used to go in the bedroom and cry, you know, because I wanted to make it sound like that. So we kept on that, then he kept on showing me a few things, 'til finally I learned how to play one song, "Sittin' on Top of the World," and, uh then he quit playing the harp. Then I started playing the harp. First time I ever played the harp and

Studs Terkel The harp sometimes is what the harmonica is called.

James Cotton Harmonica, that's right. And after I started playing there, harmonica pretty good, got a lucky break when I was about 12 I guess. I started playing with a guy by the name of Howlin' Wolf.

Studs Terkel Oh, the Howlin' Wolf.

James Cotton Howlin' Wolf. Played with him four years. He was the first one to give me a break to play the harmonica. Then after him, I didn't know the things that I should've known about it then. After him, I met Sonny Boy.

Studs Terkel Williamson.

James Cotton Williamson. And he showed me a lot about it. And I decided, well I have to form my own band. Then after that, I come with Muddy Waters, and Muddy Waters showed me everything that I think that you can learn about it.

Studs Terkel So I think since we opened, James Cotton, Otis --opened with the blues and Langston here is saying, "Let's close with the blues," I'm sure Brother John would agree, 'cause this again we come back to the seeds, don't we? So, gentlemen, a blues. A blues.

Musicians [Musicians

Langston Hughes The blues ain't nothing but a good man feeling bad.

Studs Terkel The blues ain't nothing but

Langston Hughes a The blues ain't nothing but that mean old heart [disease?].

Studs Terkel The blues ain't nothing but a woman on a good man's mind.

Langston Hughes The blues is sitting here wondering will a matchbox hold all my clothes.

Studs Terkel On that note, Langston Hughes, the blues with about as many definitions as there are singers, as there are people in the world, as there are moves. I thank you very much, gentlemen. Otis Spann at the piano and James Cotton at the harmonica, and Brother John Sellers with his gospel music and soon in "Tambourine to Glory," and of course, Langston Hughes, quadruple, quintuple threat to man, thank you very much.

Langston Hughes Thank you very much, Studs Terkel.