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!”
Melvin B. Tolson, "Satchmo" from Harlem Gallery & Other Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Melvin B, Tolson.   Reprinted by permission of The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, on behalf of The University of Virginia Press.
Source: The Black Poets (Bantam Books, 1985)
More Poems by Melvin B. Tolson