Who Were Langston Hughes And Duke Ellington

Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington are two of the most influential African-American figures of the 20th century, who dominated the artistic landscape of the Harlem Renaissance and Blue Note Records eras. They both made indelible marks on American culture, paving the way for generations to come.

Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri and moved to New York in 1912. He was a prolific poet, playwright and novelist, known for exploring social and political issues through his writing. His most famous works include the poem ‘I, Too’ and the play ‘Mule Bone’. He became an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a period of profound cultural, political and literary expression by African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hughes was also an influential songwriter, collaborating on musicals such as ‘Mulatto’ and ‘Shuffle Along’ and writing some of the era’s most popular songs, such as ‘Bojangles of Harlem’ and ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. He was among the first to use jazz and blues music to express the African-American experience, and his writing was noted for its vivid imagery and its use of everyday dialect.

In addition to his work as a writer, Hughes was an active participant in the civil rights movement, fighting for equality and justice for African-Americans. He wrote the book ‘The Sweet Flypaper of Life’ which was published in 1955, the same year the first civil rights legislation was passed in the United States.

Duke Ellington was born in Washington D.C. in 1899, and became one of the most prolific and influential jazz composers and bandleaders of the 20th century. He was known for combining ragtime, swing, blues and pop sounds into his compositions and arrangements, creating a unique and recognizable sound that transcended genre boundaries.

Ellington’s career spanned nearly fifty years, and he worked with some of the biggest names in jazz, such as Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus and Johnny Hodges. He was one of the first jazz musicians to tour widely, and performed with his band at some of the most famous venues in the world, such as the Cotton Club in Harlem and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Ellington also composed many popular songs, such as ‘Mood Indigo’, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’, and ‘Satin Doll’. He is also credited with popularizing the term ‘jazz’, as well as being an influential figure in the development of musical theatre. His compositions have been performed by many renowned artists, from Ella Fitzgerald to Thelonious Monk.

Despite their distinct creative styles and different paths in life, Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington both made crucial contributions to the African-American experience in the 20th century. Their works have been inspirational to generations of artists, and their legacies endure in the music, literature and civil rights movements of today.

Influence on Social Change

The vision and leadership of Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington helped shape the direction of social change in the United States. Their works were an effective tool in promoting civil rights and social justice, which resonated with African Americans and other marginalized communities. By speaking out against racism and other forms of injustice, they provided a platform for change.

Hughes’ writing, in particular, was radical in its messages and attracted the attention of both Black and white audiences. He was a prominent figure in the labor rights movement and a fierce critic of capitalism and its oppressive effects on Black Americans. His writing was often used to spur people to take action for social change.

In the same way, Ellington embraced the struggle for civil rights and used his music to uplift African Americans. His compositions and performances served as a rallying cry for those fighting against oppression and racism. He aimed to bring people together and blur the lines between social classes, cultures and races.

Through their work, Hughes and Ellington were able to transcend the boundaries of race and class, creating a legacy of social change that still has an impact today.

Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington in Popular Culture

The influence of Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington continue to be felt in popular culture today. Hughes’ poems, plays, and songs have been adapted for the stage and the film. His works have been featured in the musicals ‘Black Nativity’ and ‘Georgia, Georgia’, as well as the movies ‘Harlem Nights’, ‘Sparkle’ and ‘Malcolm X.’

Ellington’s legacy continues to live on in the works of many contemporary jazz musicians, as well as in many television and film soundtracks. His most famous compositions have been covered by countless artists, from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel. He has been honored with posthumous Grammy awards and dozens of exhibitions and tributes.

The music of both Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington are a crucial part of the African-American experience and our collective cultural heritage. Their art speaks to the struggles and triumphs of our past, and continues to be a valuable source of inspiration. Their works have stood the test of time, and remain a beacon of hope and possibility.

Shared Language

Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington both worked to bridge the gap between African- American and mainstream culture. Through their art and writing, they created a shared language – a language of equality and understanding. Their works showcased the beauty, strength, and resilience of the African-American experience.

Hughes used his prose and poetry to bridge the gap between literature and music, fusing the two into a genre that explored both the political and the personal. He was a master at using simple words and everyday language to create powerful imagery that connected people across cultures. His work spoke to both the Black and white communities, focusing on the beauty and determination of people of color.

Ellington, too, sought to bring people together through music and elevate the African-American experience. He used his compositions to bring people of different races and social classes together, focusing on jubilation and celebration instead of division and strife. His music was alive, constantly changing and evolving, and reflecting the social changes of the day.

Through their shared language, Hughes and Ellington created a meaningful dialogue that has long-lasting effects and continues to resonate in popular culture today.


The legacy of Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington lives on today. Their works continue to inspire and empower new generations of artists and writers. Hughes’ and Ellington’s commitment to social justice and their passion for music and literature have made them household names in American culture.

The stories of Hughes and Ellington, their accomplishments and struggles, serve as a reminder that all people are capable of greatness. They prove that, despite racism and oppression, it is possible to make a difference in our society and pave the way for a brighter future.

The art of Hughes and Ellington encouraged people to stand up for their rights, to celebrate their culture, and to imagine a better world. Their works are a vital piece of our cultural heritage and a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience of the African-American spirit.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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