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A New Evening with Langston Hughes

Almost 20 years after Langston’s Lot, my first song cycle on the poetry of Langston Hughes, my dear friends and colleagues Gail Levinsky and Jackie Edwards Henry asked me to create a second set. This time, they requested Hughes poems that would reflect a female point of view. Fortunately, Langston provided some fine choices! As before, this cycle provides seven movements involving a broad selection of themes, as provided by Hughes himself. The hope for a better day, despite the reality of racism is apparent throughout the selected poems. As before, the musical styles are varied and diverse. allowing for a sensitive portrayal of Hughes’ ideas. The vocal lines are designed for a mezzo-soprano, although a soprano with a strong lower range should be comfortable.

Composition on this large work began in 2015; it took time to bring all of this together. An informal rehearsal of four of the movements took place in the summer of 2016, but it was not until Spring of 2019 that a first performance took place at Heidelberg. Part of the time lag was due to geography; since 1996, our careers had taken us different places. Jackie was still at Mississippi State, while Gail had moved on to Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Soprano soloist Marian Murphy Powell came from Philadelphia. We presented the new song cycle on a program with Langston’s Lot,on the second half. It was a long evening; we probably won’t do that again! But it was an item accomplished on my bucket list.

Langston II is a more substantial work, about 50 minutes in length. My thanks and gratitude to Marian, Gail, and Jackie for making this all come together.

Pictured, from left: Roderick George, tenor; Jackie Edwards Henry, piano, Doug McConnell, composer, Gail Levinsky, saxophone, Marian Murphy Powell, soprano; Austin Buckhalter, Pree Bryant, readers


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