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Rhapsodies In Black

June 2024
1min read


Quincy Jones reads “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” by the poet Längsten Hughes. The pianist Fats Waller strides his way through “Smashing Thirds.” Ma Rainey belts out a moaning “Chain Gang Blues.” These and the 82 other tracks in the four-CD boxed set Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words From the Harlem Renaissance (Rhino Records, $64.98) capture the beauty and excitement of the unprecedented gathering of talented writers and musicians between 1918 and 1935 in that Manhattan neighborhood. An audio companion to the art exhibit and the book of the same name, Rhapsodies in Black features 65 original musical recordings of both old favorites and lesser-known lights, plus 20 new readings of Harlem’s finest Renaissance writers by some of today’s prominent African-American artists, including some surprises: Hip-hop names—Ice-T, Coolio, and Chuck D—give modern voices to earlier poets. A 100-page booklet filled with photos, artwork, essays, and liner notes provides a colorful and handy reference to a time when, as Shawn Amos, the compilation’s producer, states, Harlem was “the epicenter of cool.”

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