VCU's Singleton Center played host to an amazing Langston Hughes tribute thanks to the thought-provoking work Dr. Ron McCurdy

Posted by: brad – Feb 23, 2017


Walking bass grooves, the crystalline flutter of piano, the tremble and chime of drums and the adamant wail of trumpet were bellowing from the Singleton Art Center Tuesday evening. Also, of course, accompanied by the voice of Dr. Ron McCurdy reciting the poetic lilt of Langston Hughes.

The Langston Hughes Project, which was performing Hughes’ musically laced epic poem, Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, came to VCU as a part of a “month of thought-provoking events to celebrate Black History Month.”

In a VCU News article, Yolanda Avent, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs said, “Black History Month is a time to celebrate, educate and inspire the community and to acknowledge the rich history of African-Americans’ contributions to society.”

The performance began with a recording of Langston Hughes introducing the poem and his inspiration behind it. “This play was written in segments beginning at Newport Jazz Festival, in fact, two summers ago,” Hughe's voice said echoing throughout the room. “And I suppose that is why I wrote most of it hearing jazz music behind it.”

Hughes’ wrote Ask Your Mama with musical cues descending the margins of each page, which McCurdy and the rest of his quartet beautifully perform, not under the poetry, but in contact with it, playing off each other like conversation. Save for the piano, bass, and drum solos spaced throughout the set for which frankly, words can’t do justice.

All the while McCurdy alternates between rhythmic poetic recitation and trumpet, and even with some impressive scat thrown in that you can’t help but to move in your seat to.

McCurdy has been performing Ask Your Mama with a rotating ensemble for over a decade, taking it on the road so that young people may gain an appreciation for perhaps the most prolific African American poet of the 20th century. It's also a great chance to blow the dust off of the fantastic poem which was never performed during Hughes’ lifetime and never got the publicity it deserved.

With a slideshow of pictures and videos correlating with the subject matter of the poem, the performance illustrates life and culture for African Americans in the 1960s, and the coalescence of mediums of art and thought unique to the Harlem Renaissance, making it just as much a provocative educational performance as it is a visual and audible one.

Words and photo by Gregory Rosenberg