Tuesday, January 31, 2017

African Americans on Old Time Radio: Langston Hughes is the Shakespeare Of Harlem on Destination Freedom (1948)

This year to celebrate National African American History Month in February, I am going highlight a new series on my blog.  This year, I will feature African Americans during the Golden Age of Radio - or Old Time Radio - during the 1930s through the 1950s.  I wanted to start this blog last year, but alas...better late than never.  I hope to have a great assortment of programs that showcase the great contributions of African Americans in mainstream radio when Jim Crow laws, segregation and discrimination were regular obstacles facing artists of color.  For my first entry in this series, I will showcase a great series called Destination Freedom that broadcast from Chicago's WMAQ and featured biographical portraits of noted African-Americans in all fields.

Navy Pier (Chicago, Illinois)
Chicago from Navy Pier (May 2012) 

Destination Freedom is a series that ran over Chicago's WMAQ from June 27, 1948 through August 13, 1950.  According to John Dunning's Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, "its original purpose was to dramatize and reveal little-known lives from black Americana.  The show was the brain-child of Richard Durham, a black writer who also wrote scripts for the Works Progress Administration.  This anthology series showcased biographies of notable members of the African-American community all over the country.  The program had great production values and broadcast weekly on Sunday at 5pm.  Early episodes were also produced with the Chicago Defender, the African-American newspaper of Chicago.

On September 26, 1948, Destination Freedom aired "Shakespeare Of Harlem", the story of poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967).  The story starts out with young Langston heading off to Mexico to live with his father, who is a successful rancher.  But rather than following his father into business, he wanted to write and was well known as the boy with a notebook.  So despite the discrimination waiting for him back in the states, he decided to leave Mexico and head back to the United States.  He worked a variety of jobs, but it was a chance meeting while a busboy in Washington D.C. that he was discovered.  He slipped a poem to the attention of poet Vachel Lindsay and from that, his life as an obscure writer ended.  Excellent radio historical account in this wonderful recording.  Including in the episode are excerpts from Langston Hughes work including: "Freedom Train", "Suicide Note", "Wake", and "Democracy", all used with special permission by the author.  Fred Pinkard played Hughes and the script was written by Richard Durham and produced by Homer Hecht.

I hope you enjoy this new series this month.

Shakespeare of Harlem (Destination Freedom - September 26, 1948)

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