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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

The Negro Speaks of Rivers


by Langston Hughes

Analysis: Calling Card

Music and Celebration of African-American Identity

Hughes was heavily influenced by the Blues, Jazz, and African spirituals that filled his life while he was growing up. As a young boy in Kansas, he was exposed to the rich tradition of black folk songs that had evolved from the song culture of slaves. While attending Columbia University from 1922 to 1923, Hughes was introduced to a different kind of Blues music as he heard greats like Ethyl Waters and Bessie Smith sing at various clubs in Harlem (source). As a result, his poems contain heavy musical and rhythmic elements, making you almost want to sing them out loud or tap your foot.

Hughes was also considered to be the poet laureate (the king of poetry) during the Harlem Renaissance (a period of incredible artistic innovation and collaboration in Harlem, New York during the early 20th century). Strongly influenced by great minds like W.E.B. DuBois, Hughes became a voice for the black community, compelling this community to take pride in their heritage, their culture, their disparate voices, and their achievements. His poems often serve as rallying calls for the black community, pin pointing racism while taking great pride in the black community.

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