This collection is a four-star, four-CD set complete with a 100-page booklet that in itself could serve as a textbook of the Harlem Renaissance and the music that it spawned. Rhino has again created an innovative package. Rhapsodies In Black includes CDs tucked into graphically cool sleeves that feature the art and music of that Harlem Renaissance. These CD holders recreate the printed sheet music of the following songs: "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Railroad Blues," "Royal Garden Blues" and "Brother Low Down." They are visually stunning.
The recording compiled in this set are aurally stunning. Disc 1 is called Struttin' & Stridin' and it features poems by Langston Hughes (as read by Quincy Jones) as well as recording by Duke Ellington, Mamie Smith, Eubie Blake, Bessie Smith and Trixie Smith. Disc 2, called Testifyin' & Philosophyin' features tracks by Cleo Brown, Fed Longshore, Ma Rainey, Debbie Allen (reading "How It Feels To Be Colored" an essay by Zore Neagle Hurston), Alberta Hunter, Lonnie Johnson and Lou Rawls. Preachin' & Prayin' (disc 3) features Ted Lewis, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Leadbelly and Ice-T reading "If We Must Die," a poem by Claude McKay. Lustin' For Love & Life is disc 4. Disc 4 contains more essays by Hurston and Hughes as well as a poem read by Coolio and tracks by Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Benny Carter, Eartha Kitt and Sidney Bechet. If these names aren't all familiar, their music is (or it should be).
Musically this collections features some songs that everyone knows (regardless of age or skin color). These tracks include "St. Louis Blues," "Cotton Club Stomp" and "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," as well as "Minnie the Moocher," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Corrine Corrina." Each is a stand-out! I'll leave it to the adventuresome ones out there to figure out who sang or composed what.
Besides those famous tunes Rhapsodies in Black includes a whole lot of unearthed and wholly underappreciated gems. "Woke Up with Blues in My Fingers," "Wherever There's a Will, Baby." "Echoes Of Spring" and "Sounds Of Africa" are but a few.
This is a collection of fantastic music all with its basis in a musical revolution that came about in Harlem, but it could also have been in the Delta, in Chicago, in East St. Louis or Kansas City. Rhapsodies in Black is a compilation of music with a feeling...and no racial separation. Its just damn good music. Buy it, its a history lesson.