Satchmo

By Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
  
                     King Oliver of New Orleans
         has kicked the bucket, but he left behind
              old Satchmo with his red-hot horn
                to syncopate the heart and mind.
                  The honky-tonks in Storyville
       have turned to ashes, have turned to dust,
                 but old Satchmo is still around
         like Uncle Sam’s IN GOD WE TRUST.
 
               Where, oh, where is Bessie Smith,
       with her heart as big as the blues of truth?
           Where, oh, where is Mister Jelly Roll,
           with his Cadillac and diamond tooth?
              Where, oh, where is Papa Handy
  With his blue notes a-dragging from bar to bar?
       Where, oh where is bulletproof Leadbelly
          with his tall tales and 12-string guitar?
 
                                Old Hip Cats,
              when you sang and played the blues
                    the night Satchmo was born,
       did you know hypodermic needles in Rome
         couldn’t hoodoo him away from his horn?
          Wyatt Earp’s legend, John Henry’s, too,
              is a dare and a bet to old Satchmo
  when his groovy blues put headlines in the news
            from the Gold Coast to cold Moscow.
 
                                 Old Satchmo’s
    gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes
                             set my soul on fire.
                                   If I climbed
           the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh
  Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!
         Are you hip to this, Harlem? Are you hip?
              On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say
                       after he blows his horn:
   “I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe
          if old Satchmo had never been born!”

Arthur Tolson, "Satchmo" from Harlem Gallery & Other Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Arthur Tolson.  Reprinted by permission of The University Press of Virginia.

Source: The Black Poets (Bantam Books, 1985)

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Poet Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

 Melvin B. Tolson

Biography

Known for his complex, challenging poetry, Melvin B. Tolson earned little critical attention throughout most of his life, but he eventually won a place among America's leading black poets. He was, in the opinion of Allen Tate, author of the preface to Tolson's Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, the first black poet to assimilate "completely the full poetic language of his time and, by implication, the language of the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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