Newport Jazz Festival (1960 & 1967)
As a board member of the Newport Jazz Festival since 1958, Langston Hughes is involved with inviting Nina Simone to perform on the first night (June 30, 1960). While it is unclear exactly when Hughes heard Simone's debut record (which was released in February of 1959), the two meet for the first time at this festival. In fact, Simone can be seen in the audience [see next page] watching while Hughes emcees the July 3 session on “The Blues.” As such, Simone both watched and formally met Hughes in the context of him being an established expert on blues music.
Hughes may have learned that Nina Simone was not her real name from a private conversation the two had at the Newport Jazz Festival.
When white audience members rioted after they were unable to get tickets, the Newport Jazz Festival’s final three sets (one that night / two the following day on the 4th) were unexpectedly canceled on the afternoon of July 3, 1960. This was the first time the blues had been played on this scale before white audiences in America, and the demand exceeded all expectations for the 13,000 seat outdoor venue.
At the end of Langston Hughes’s instructive blues session, Muddy Waters (click below) sang a song Hughes had just written (most likely mere hours before the official announcement). As an official board member of the festival, Hughes would have been involved in the discussions privately before the decision was made public. Otis Spann played piano and John Lee Hooker strummed acoustic guitar as well.
At the time the song was performed, it was sincerely believed this might be the bitter end of the festival forever. The very last words on the recording are Langston Hughes himself solemnly saying, with a heavy heart, “Goodbye Newport.”
After Hughes's death on May 22, 1967, Simone dedicates her July 1, 1967 performance at Newport to Langston Hughes. Her full performance, including her debut of "Backlash Blues" can be heard below.