How eerily these words ring true today, like the latest Twitter hashtag ready to set the internet ablaze. But no… these words, nearly 100 years old, ring true in the 21st century due to their prophetic power.
On this February 1st, the starting day of Black History Month and the 116th birthday of famed poet Langston Hughes, here is his intriguing, revolutionary work Let America Be America Again…
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed —
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where
Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek —
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean —
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home —
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay —
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME —
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose —
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain —
All, all the stretch of these great green states —
Long before Adele or Taylor Swift were household names, All eyes and ears in the pop music world were affixed to the one and only Janet Jackson. Through iconic albums like janet., The Velvet Rope and Rhythm Nation, she broke barriers regarding race, gender, artistic expression, and celebrity involvement in social justice.
However to get to the point of icon, Janet first had to make an impact, and enter the mainstage of pop culture. Thirty years ago today, Jackson forged this path with the release of Control.
Here’s how Brannon Smith of Ebony Magazine celebrated the album back in 2014…
If Beyoncéis “the album that is going to launch a thousand women’s studies papers,” then Janet Jackson’s Control is the album that launched a thousand feminist music careers. Nearly 30 years after its initial release, the groundbreaking album still stands as one of the boldest statements in the history of Black feminist music, and Janet’s storied career remains an often-referenced blueprint for a legion of female performers following in her fearless footsteps.
In August 1985, Janet Jackson left the glamour of her show business upbringing and set out for Minneapolis — the home of former Prince protégés Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. By this time, 19-year-old Janet had starred in three TV shows, been married to and split from an addiction-plagued James DeBarge, and fired an overbearing Joe Jackson as her manager. She was coming into her own as a woman — and she, Jam and Lewis were determined to chronicle that evolution on her third studio album, Control. Unlike the music of her safe, bubble-gummy debut, Janet Jackson, and its follow-up, Dream Street, Control was largely autobiographical — relaying honest, raw stories born out of real-life events.
Though Jackson had recorded two albums before Control (in addition to an already impressive acting career), the collaboration with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis stood out because it was Janet that co-wrote the songs, and spoke the truth about her life at the time.
30 years on, Control still resonates as the quintessential ‘Janet Jackson’ album. From the sensuous, sultry moans of Funny How Time Flies, irresistible club starters like The Pleasure Principle, the tight vocal harmonies and surprising character voices of Nasty, to the delightful interlude opening and jazz pop fusions of What Have You Done For Me Lately?, all the elements of how we understand Janet Jackson as an artist can be found on Control. And oh yeah… Don’t ever forget those FINGER SNAPS!!
Basically, with Control, it was clear that Jackson and her collaborators had found the recipe for success, and we as a music-loving public are all the better for it.
And in case this post has you wondering ‘What Has Janet Done For You Lately?’, then you need to check out her new album Unbreakable. If you haven’t bought it yet, go get a copy along with a new copy of Control, and play them back to back. You might be surprised at what you hear. And the Unbreakable World Tour?? Not to be missed!!
During this Black History month, what better way to celebrate with a truly impressive milestone. Thank you Janet Jackson for releasing your masterpiece to the world, 30 years ago today.
Nashville Tennessee has earned the nickname “Music City, U.S.A.” for good reason. And although for most Americans, the city is known primarily for being a hub of Country Music, Nashville houses a rich history for all kinds of music traditions.
Nashville’s Fisk University is well-known for being one of the nation’s most treasured Historically Black College/ Universities and for the internationally-acclaimed Fisk Jubilee Singers. One of America’s most storied choral ensembles, the group has provided a window into the history of Negro Spirituals for 144 years. But even that preservation wouldn’t have been possible without the work of famed musician, composer, conductor and musicologist John Wesley Work Jr.
Born the son of a slave and coming of age during the Reconstruction era, John Wesley Work Jr. was surrounded by great music. His father, the first John Wesley Work, was a singer and choir director. So when he came to Fisk University as a freshman in 1890, he knew that his acceptance into Fisk’s music program was a great accomplishment in itself. Founded in 1871, the Fisk Jubilee singers had quickly become legendary, as their tour to raise funds for the university had already taken them to notable performances for President Ulysses S. Grant at the White House, and even Queen Victoria in England.
But Work Jr. brought the Fisk Jubilee singers to the world in a way not previously imagined, and one that we are thankful for today. In 1909 Work, now a Faculty member at Fisk and conductor of the group, landed upon critical music history when he agreed to a recording project for the Fisk quartet. Here’s more on its significance, via Archeophone…
The quartet of Work, first tenor, James Myers, second tenor, Noah Ryder, first bass, and Alfred King, second bass, made ten sides for Victor at the end of 1909, records that signaled a sea change in the kind of entertainment Americans could purchase for the home. As Tim Brooks points out in his recording notes accompanying Mr. Seroff’s essay, most of the recorded fare of the previous 20 years with a “jubilee” theme or African-American influence was parodic and often demeaning. With the Fisks, now black art, history, and culture were literally getting a fair hearing. Songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “There Is a Balm in Gilead” were well-known, and the Fisks give masterful performances, while “Little David, Play on Yo’ Harp / Shout All Over God’s Heaven,” “Roll Jordan Roll” and “The Great Campmeeting” became instant favorites that the group were called on to perform regularly in concert.
This recording, made by the sons of emancipated slaves, provides a critical link to the traditions of American Negro Spirituals. Thanks to Work and the other singers, it and the recordings that followed stand as a witness to our musical past. They’ve even found new relevance via digital restoration and platforms like YouTube.
Work’s time on the Fisk faculty was somewhat short… only 1909-1916. In that time, he managed to not only commission a series of landmark recordings, but wrote an impressive document of the history being sung at the institution. Work’s Folk Song of the American Negrostands today as one of the most important ethnomusicological contributions of the 20th Century for its exhaustive research of the various African-American music traditions from that time and before. Without John Work Jr., much of this history could have been lost.
Last but certainly not least, John Wesley Work Jr. was a gifted composer in his own right. Besides writing songs in the Negro Spiritual style and substantial choral arrangements, Work also composed some treasured art songs. Soliloquy is a favorite of his for the tender poetry and ascendant vocal line, proving some of the best elements from Work’s musical fortitude. Here is my performance of Soliloquy from 2010.
The contributions of John Wesley Work Jr. are not only a pillar of African-American music history, but continue to enrich the lives of all American music today.
(The 1909 Fisk Jubilee Quartet, with John Wesley Work Jr. to the far right. Photo credit: Doug Seroff via NPR)