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Discovering music: the blues
Discovering music: the blues

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6 Blues in urban Chicago

The poet Langston Hughes who was part of the so-called Harlem Renaissance movement also worked as a journalist. He wrote movingly of how the musicians in urban environments evoked their distant home communities through song. At the same time, he captured both the advent of electrification of music-making with the invention of amplification; and the racial tensions in the white owned night clubs where the black performers worked.

Activity 2

Read this extract from an article written by Langston Hughes for the newspaper, the Chicago Defender. Do you think this article is presenting a positive or negative view of musical life in Chicago?

Reading 1 Langston Hughes, ‘Music at year’s end’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


Hughes eloquently describes the night-club scene, making it sound modern and quite attractive. However, he also suggests that the singer Memphis Minnie evokes in her audience strong feelings of homesickness and longing for the rural landscapes of rural Mississippi and Louisiana. The vibrancy of the urban community is played off against the sadness and yearning for home.