Langston Hughes believed in creating black art. In his famous essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" he argued it's impossible to separate the artist from his or her art, so literature, in this case, created by African-Americans is "negro art." The Harlem Renaissance, which occurred in the 1910s and lasted to the mid-1930s, was an era in which African Americans created art—music, literature, artwork—that represented the black experience. Hughes's masterful "The Weary Blues" explores two of the most dominant forms of expression in this era: poetry and blues.
Many of Hughes's poems that occur in the Harlem Renaissance explore the themes of weariness and sadness. While African Americans fled the South to places like Harlem, they were often met with racism and difficulty in finding places to live and places to work. "The Weary Blues" explores all of these ideas, but also provides a setting—a blues club—that is representative of this movement.
It's important to note that blues was considered music for the lower classes of black Americans, while the Jazz being performed for white audiences by musicians like Louis Armstrong was the more respected genre.
So you can imagine this blues singer and the speaker sitting in this club on Lennox Avenue—the heart of Harlem—struggling in their daily lives. This musician played a "sad raggy tune" that "came from a black man's soul."
Additionally, the Great Migration in which millions of blacks fled the South for places like New York meant African Americans oftentimes left their loved ones behind. This blues singer touches on this idea:
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Ultimately, "The Weary Blues" represents many of the themes of the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the weariness and sadness African Americans still faced every day in the North, but also their ability to overcome challenges by using music and art as expressional outlets, such as blues music and poetry.
"The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes draws on many themes of the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic movement intended to convey the black American urban experience. This poem takes place in Harlem, at the location of Lenox Avenue, and the man described in the poem is playing the blues, a black musical form. His playing is a form of giving voice to this experience. The Blues are referred to as a "sad raggy tune," as the music conveys the hardship of living with the effects of racism. But, like the Harlem Renaissance itself, which sought to project pride into African American self-expression, there is joy and pride in the man's playing. The poet, using an oxymoron (or the contradiction of opposites), calls the music "Sweet Blues." The musician, whose rhythms guide the meter of the poem, is both an expression of black sadness and black pride.
Langston Hughes remembered the Harlem Renaissance as a time "when the Negro was in vogue." This period in which African American artists, literary and musical, claimed the attention of the world was a pivotal point in African-American history that retains symbolic significance.
Hughes's poem "The Weary Blues," a poem that fuses jazz, blues and poetry, defines one of the distinguishing characteristics of the 'New Negro' of the Harlem Renaissance as an urban figure, rather than a rural one. When they came to the Northern cities in hopes of a new, better life, many blacks moved to Harlem which was called the Mecca of the New Negro, the Promised Land, the City of Refuge. However the reality did not live up to the dream as blacks soon faced overcrowded conditions and employment difficulties. Still, with the largest population of blacks anywhere in the world, Harlem as part of New York City became the center of African American political and cultural life.
Nevertheless, the non-theatrical, non-intellectual Harlem became an unwilling victim of its own vogue. "The Weary Blues" portrays this part of Harlem, those who are no part of the fashion of the time. They are those who yet suffer from uncertainty as a result of the lack of money and basic comforts :
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
"Ain't got nobody but ma self,
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf."
The final simile forms an appropriate closure to the poem--
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead--
as there seems no hope for the melancholy man who sings the blues of a lifetime that have followed him even to the North.