Classically trained Black musician Leyla McCalla’s album Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes (2014) intertwines innovative folk- and blues-inspired settings of Hughes’s blues poetry, interpretations of traditional Haitian folk songs, and original compositions. This article argues that the album constitutes both a vital homage to Hughes’s impact on Black diasporic culture and a feminist boundary-breaking reshaping of the expectations of the hegemonic, white-washing contemporary music industry. It reads together the album’s ambitious liner notes, accompanying visual elements, and sonic choices of selected tracks to show how McCalla, by innovatively syncretizing typically disparate genres, inherits and extends the radical political and cultural tradition of the blues women whom Hughes’s poetry often depicted. Thus, it draws on frameworks from Hughes criticism and from performance studies scholars such as Daphne Brooks to suggest that Black female artists like McCalla warrant the attention of diasporic cultural critics equally to and alongside aesthetic ancestors like Hughes who inspire them. These women are epistemologically intervening in the construction of literary and cultural history through projects like Vari-Colored Songs, an impressive artifact that wrenchingly brings together traditions to address diasporic problems such as eco-precarity and to celebrate Black women’s resilient persistence through such endemic conditions.

You do not currently have access to this content.