• Florence Price
  • Monologue for the Working Class (1941)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)

ed. John Michael Cooper

  • voice/pf
  • 3 min 20 s
  • Langston Hughes
  • English

Programme Note

The composition presented here is based on an otherwise unknown poem by Langston Hughes. The autograph shows that Price composed her setting in October, 1941, and at some point she placed it in a binder with a typed title label — suggesting that the song held more meaning for her than the majority of her works, which she did not have bound. But she never published the Monologue, and indeed Hughes never published the poem in this form — probably because about two months after its composition the Empire of Japan bombed the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and after the U.S. entry into the World War II (11 December 1941) Hughes rewrote his text as a morale-booster for the wartime American public. But what inspired Price’s music was a different national emergency — that of the persistent economic privations and family-rending hardships of the Great Depression — as well as Hughes’s decrying of the apathy of the rich (“the boss man”) toward the plight of the “poor and unemployed” and the poet’s ringing exhortations to the working class to take courage in the knowledge that they, united, could lift their load (m. 8), destroy their troubles (m. 16), and “make my country a fine land for me and you” (mm. 37-38). With understated artfulness, Price sets off the poem’s rebuke of the apathy of the rich toward the predicament of the working class’s in a kind of blues-inflected unaccompanied soliloquy in the singer’s lowest register but turns to the upper register, forte, at “but when I unite with my neighbor we’ll make this whole world new” — and she seems to musically foretell the working class’s triumph in trumpet-like fanfare in the final bars. These and other musical features make Price’s Monologue for the Working Class arguably her most pronounced musical declaration of her political sympathies, as well as a remarkable addition to the considerable list of her works that synthesize the idioms of concert music and Black vernacular styles.

— John Michael Cooper

by Langston Hughes

There’s a new wind a-blowin’
Down on Tobacco Road.
There’s a new Hope a-growin’
For them folks by name o’ Joad.

There’s a new truth we’ll be knowin’
that will lift our heavy load.
When we find out what the working class can do.

There’s a new day a-comin’
For the poor and unemployed,
New tunes we’ll be hummin’
From our hearts so overjoyed.

As we march we’ll be a-drummin’
How our trouble’s been destroyed
when we find out what the working class can do.

All day long I’ve labored
All my whole life through
Ask the boss man for a favor
He says he “no can do.”

But when I unite with my neighbor
we’ll make this old world new
’Cause we know what the working class can do.

So let’s get together folks
That labor with our hands.
And let’s get together, folks,
with brains that understand.

And let’s get together, folks,
all across this land,
And show ‘em what the working class can do.


Justin Hopkins, bass-baritone; Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, piano