from “The Blues I’m Playing” by Langston Hughes, 1934

The girl at the piano heard the white woman saying, “Is this what I spent thousands of dollars to teach you?”

“No,” said Oceola simply. “This is mine. . . . Listen! . . . How sad and gay it is. Blue and happy—laughing and crying. . . . How white like you and black like me. . . . How much like a man. . . . And how much like a woman. . . . Warm as Pete’s mouth. . . . These are the blues. . . . I’m playing.”

Mrs. Ellsworth sat very still in her chair looking at the lilies trembling delicately in the priceless Persian vases, while Oceola made the bass notes throb like tomtoms deep in the earth.

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He wrote novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, and was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences.