POPEJOY HALL — "The Langston Hughes Project" visited the University of New Mexico in honor of Black History Month and to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.
The project included one workshop led by Ron McCurdy called "The Poets, Dancers and Musicians of the Harlem Renaissance" and two multimedia concerts by the Ron McCurdy Quartet. The concerts also featured three local spoken word poets.
The first concert on Feb. 21 was free to the public. The audience was primarily high school students on field trips from across the state. Event organizer Finnie Coleman told the crowd on Friday the concert was the first University-wide Black History Month event.
The concert on Feb. 22 had an entrance fee of $25, and profits went to the African American Student Services Fund.
During the concert, McCurdy switched between reciting the Hughes poem "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz" and playing the trumpet. He was accompanied by his quartet while a presentation of photographs matching the poems scrolled behind them.
Hughes was a New York City poet who wrote about race and the experience of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote musical cues into his poems but died before composing music to match his poems was completed.
"My group was the first to actually realize this work as Langston had envisioned," McCurdy said. "We actually took the musical cues and composed music that complemented with the actual words."
The poetry of Hughes has resonated with young people for the last century.
"I remember as early as me being five or six years old, and at that time I had no idea that this would be part of my life's work," McCurdy said of his earliest memories of Hughes' poetry. "So, when I came into this particular work it only validated what I had been doing earlier in my childhood."
McCurdy originally created "The Langston Hughes Project" for an art gallery opening at the University of Minnesota.
"We put the program together with the intent that it would be a one and done kind of event," McCurdy said. "But I noticed that the response of the audience was so positive, so we decided to keep developing this even further — and that's almost twenty years ago."
Since then, "The Langston Hughes Project" has expanded and now regularly travels around the country for concerts.
As the centennial anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance continues to be celebrated through Black History Month, Hughes' poems still resonate with audiences across the country, according to McCurdy.
"Langston Hughes was a storyteller," McCurdy said. "He had the uncanny ability to tell a story in ways that, regardless of one's educational prowess, could relate and understand what Langston Hughes was talking about. His words today are quite powerful given how divisive we have become as a society. Langston Hughes happened to understand that we are more alike than we are different."
Loreena Cain is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @loreena_cain