Langston Hughes wrote The Weary Blues and with the assistance of Carl van Vechten, this collection of poetry, his first book, was published by Knopf in 1926. Most people recognize the poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred” if not for having read The Weary Blues, then for having seen Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun.
MONTAGE OF A DREAM DEFERRED
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?
IN THE LANGSTON ROOM
On January 23, 2008, to a full house in the Langston Room of DC’s Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and lounge popular among young professionals and the literati, poet Holly Bass channeled Langston Hughes and his Weary Blues (a re-creation of the famous Langston Hughes/Charles Mingus collaboration, by Charley Gerard) while a talented assembly of classical and jazz musicians organized by Washington Musica Viva’s Carl Banner backed her up. The Dresser and her “old man” popped in to partake and they walked away feeling hipper than when they entered.
Top left to right: Holly Bass on mic; John Kamman, guitar; Charley Gerard, alto saxophone.
Bottom left to right: Carl Banner, piano; Harold Summey, drums & Chris Royal, trumpet; Pepe González, bass.
The music was a mix of new jazz compositions (written by saxophonist Charley Gerard) and Charles Mingus with a little dash of Chopin (Carl Banner has agile fingers on those ivories!).
THIS DIVA DESERVES ROSES
The star of the show was Holly Bass. Her mezzo timbre meshed satisfyingly with Langston’s jazzed poetry. However, she was a whole package of timing, emphasis, eye contact with band and audience, and subtly sexy moves like the way she tapped her foot and adjusted her foxtail collar around her shoulders. Of course that little pouffy green dress made her even more scintillating. But you don’t have to believe the Dresser, you can see Holly move and hear her voice and the jazz yourself.
Watch the videos on YouTube and groove.
Carl says he is looking to do this show again and all the Dresser can say is be there or be insipidly square. Even the Dresser’s husband who rarely shows for a poetry event loved this soul-satisfying performance.
A diva deserves roses and who better to supply them then Holly Bass herself with this poem that has the same strain of sensibilities as Langston Hughes.
Georgia, August 1999
Driving back from Albany, I tell my father that I'd like a piece
of cotton to take back with me. We stop along the road. My
father has told me how he used to pick cotton every day after
school during harvest. Five-and-a-half cents per pound. The
most he ever picked in one day was 217 pounds. Forty years
later, he still remembers this number. Still remembers the
excitement of having seven hard-earned dollars in his hand.
I open my car door. I'll get it, Daddy says. Whatchu want?
Just a cotton boll? He looks across the field for signs of a
shotgun-toting, overzealous farmer guarding his crop. No one
in sight. He wades through high grass in dress slacks and
good shoes. I pray the ground is dry.
He pulls off three nice bolls. From where I am, it looks like he
is picking small, white roses for me. He returns to the car and
places them in my hands. I examine these strange flowers,
turning them by the stem. The papery leaves crumble as I
touch them. The hard hull, pointed enough to draw blood, dark
as my own skin.
by Holly Bass
first published by Beltway Poetry Quarterly
Copyright © 2002 Holly Bass