Langston Hughes History of Jazz An Illustrated Children’s Book, 1955

April 6, 2015

The_First_Book_Of_Jazz_00Prolific poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist Langston Hughes is considered one of the fathers of jazz poetry, a literary art form that emerged in the 1920s and eventually became the foundation for modern hip-hop.

In 1954, the 42-year-old Hughes decided to channel his love of jazz into a sort-of-children’s book that educated young readers about the culture he so loved.The First Book of Jazz was born, taking on the ambitious task of being the first-ever children’s book to review American music, and to this day arguably the best.


Hughes covered every notable aspect of jazz, from the evolution of its eras to its most celebrated icons to its geography and sub-genres, and made a special point of highlighting the essential role of African-American musicians in the genre’s coming of age.


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Hughes even covered the technicalities of jazz — rhythm, percussion, improvisation, syncopation,blue notes, harmony — with remarkable eloquence that, rather than overwhelming the young reader, exudes the genuine joy of playing.

Alongside the book, Hughes released a companion record, The Story of Jazz, featuring Hughes’ lively, vivid narration of jazz history in three tracks, each focusing on a distinct element of the genre. You can hear them here.

For more on rare and out-of-print children’s books by famous 20th-century “adult” authors, I really can’t recommend Ariel S. Winter’s beautifully written, rigorously researched We Too Were Children enough. (Via Brain Pickings)

This book is provided for purchase through AmazonSmile link to help support Iris House a center for Women living with HIV in Harlem and this site.

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