The Music of Langston Hughes

Daybreak in Alabama – SATB a cappella


SKU: 50497642 Categories: , , ,

Product Description

Daybreak in Alabama


With a special connection to the poetry of Langston Hughes, Kirke Mechem has written a new, a cappella spiritual. Opening with a musical statement by a soprano soloist, the soloist is featured throughout. In a typical, Mechem musical style, this tour de force is lush and new and emotional. Duration: ca. 3:00.

Let’s dive into Daybreak in Alabama & It’s Author

Langston Hughes was a prominent African American poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural and artistic movement that took place during the 1920s in Harlem, New York. Hughes’s poem “Daybreak in Alabama” is a poignant reflection on the hope for racial harmony and social justice, influenced by both his personal experiences and the broader social context of his time.

Here’s an analysis of the poem, with insights into Hughes’s life and the historical context:

Stanza 1: “The little dark house is gone, The little I-shaped house, The little house in Sligo Is gone, And the people Who lived in the little white houses Are gone.”

In this stanza, Hughes reflects on the disappearance of a small, presumably African American, community in Sligo. The imagery of “The little dark house” and “The little white houses” implies racial segregation and the displacement of Black people from their homes. Hughes often wrote about the struggles of African Americans, drawing from his own experiences as a Black man in a racially divided society.

Stanza 2: “The people are gone And the children with golden faces Who ran on the rocky shores By the bay Are gone. The only faces Here now Are Irish faces Of the fishermen.”

In this stanza, Hughes contrasts the vanished African American community with the presence of Irish fishermen. The mention of “Irish faces” underscores the changing demographics of the area. Hughes often explored the theme of cultural identity and the shifting dynamics within American society, including the interactions between different racial and ethnic groups.

Stanza 3: “It is an alien place. Only the wind whines For the people Who were colored.”

Here, Hughes emphasizes the alienation of the place after the departure of the African American community. The “wind” is personified as it “whines,” suggesting a sense of loss and mourning for those who once lived there. This evokes a feeling of displacement and isolation that many African Americans felt during this period.

Stanza 4: “There is a crying in the wind But not the people Who are crying.”

This stanza further develops the theme of isolation and the absence of the people who were once part of the community. The “crying in the wind” may symbolize the collective voice and pain of the departed African American residents. Hughes often used nature and natural elements as metaphors for the emotional experiences of African Americans.

Stanza 5: “Daybreak in Alabama, The sunlight is mute On the river and the ocean Of the longleaf pines. But the sun comes out Like a thunderbolt And rips the dark From the bay And the river And the ocean.”

In the final stanza, Hughes shifts his focus to the arrival of daybreak. The imagery of the “sunlight” being “mute” suggests a sense of calm and stillness in the early morning. However, when the sun emerges, it does so with intensity, “like a thunderbolt,” dispelling the darkness. This could symbolize hope and the potential for change, even in the face of adversity.

Insight into Langston Hughes’s Life: Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, and grew up during a time of significant racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. His experiences as a Black man greatly influenced his poetry, which often explored themes of racial identity, social injustice, and the African American experience.

Hughes’s poems, including “Daybreak in Alabama,” often conveyed a sense of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. He believed in the power of art to address issues of racial inequality and bring about social change. Throughout his life, Hughes was actively involved in civil rights and social justice movements, using his writing as a means to advocate for racial equality and unity among all Americans.

“Daybreak in Alabama” reflects Hughes’s desire for a world where people of all races could coexist harmoniously. It acknowledges the struggles and displacement of African Americans while also hinting at the potential for a brighter future, much like the dawn that breaks and dispels the darkness. Hughes’s poetry remains a powerful testament to the enduring quest for justice and equality in America.

Kirke Mechem: The Prolific Composer and His Musical Journey

In the world of classical music, there are composers, and then there is Kirke Mechem – a name synonymous with innovation, dedication, and a prolific body of work. With a catalogue boasting over 250 titles, Mechem’s musical journey is nothing short of extraordinary. Born in Wichita, Kansas, on August 16, 1925, this musical prodigy has carved a niche for himself that spans continents and generations.

Education and Early Years

Mechem’s musical odyssey began at Stanford University, where he enrolled after serving two and a half years in the army during World War II. Under the tutelage of notable mentors like Harold Schmidt, Leonard Ratner, and Sandor Salgo, he honed his skills in harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration. His passion for music took root during these formative years, and he eventually changed his major to music in his junior year.

After earning a master’s degree at Harvard in 1953, studying under luminaries like Walter Piston and Randall Thompson, Mechem’s talent was undeniable. His vocal composition earned him the prestigious Boott Prize, setting the stage for his remarkable career.

Vienna Sojourn

Vienna, the cradle of classical music, beckoned Mechem in 1956-57 and later in 1961-63. It was here that he delved into the intricacies of chamber music, crafting compositions that would go on to captivate audiences worldwide. His Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano marked the beginning of this chapter, followed by a Divertimento for Flute and String Trio and his first String Quartet.

Mechem’s time in Vienna was transformative, providing him with a unique perspective on classical music that would infuse freshness into his compositions for years to come.

The Symphony Maestro

In 1965, Mechem’s Symphony No. 1 was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Josef Krips, marking the start of his symphonic legacy. Krips was so impressed that he commissioned Mechem to write a Second Symphony, which had its premiere in 1967. Mechem’s prowess as a symphonic composer was undeniable, and these performances solidified his place in the pantheon of great composers.

Championing Choral Music

While Mechem’s symphonies soared, it was his choral compositions that truly set him apart. His early works for chorus, composed during his undergraduate and graduate years, were nothing short of masterpieces. Pieces like “Make A Joyful Noise” (recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and “Give Thanks Unto The Lord” were published and celebrated. The latter even won the tri-annual SAI American Music Award in 1959.

Throughout his illustrious career, Mechem continued to write commissioned choral suites, cantatas, and other vocal works. In 2007, the American Choral Directors Association honored him with a retrospective concert, celebrating his 50 years of choral publications.

Opera: The Crown Jewel

Mechem’s foray into opera marked a significant turning point in his career. Inspired by Molière’s classic satire, “Tartuffe,” he embarked on a journey to create his own opera. He wrote the libretto himself, a practice he would continue for all his operas. The result was “Tartuffe,” premiered in 1980 by the San Francisco Opera.

This opera enjoyed international success, captivating audiences in Canada, China, Russia, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Japan, and the United States. Mechem’s opera based on the life of abolitionist John Brown, however, had a more protracted evolution, premiering in 2008. Between these two monumental works, Mechem composed numerous other pieces, including “The Rivals” and “Pride and Prejudice,” both of which received acclaim in the opera world.

Awards and Honors

Mechem’s contributions to music have not gone unnoticed. He has received recognition from prestigious organizations, including the United Nations, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Choral Directors Association, and the Music Educators National Conference. His lifetime achievement was honored by the National Opera Association.

In 2012, the University of Kansas awarded him its first honorary degree of Doctor of Arts, cementing his legacy as a trailblazing composer.

Global Recognition

Mechem’s global reach extends beyond his compositions. In 1990, he embarked on the first of three trips to Russia, then still the Soviet Union. His music left an indelible mark on Russian audiences, as he became the guest of honor at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow. The USSR Radio-Television Orchestra dedicated an entire concert to his symphonic works in 1991, marking a historic moment in classical music.

In the annals of classical music history, few composers can boast a career as illustrious and diverse as Kirke Mechem’s. With a vast catalogue spanning symphonies, choral works, and operas, his music has transcended borders and captivated audiences worldwide. His dedication to the art of composition, along with a slew of accolades, have secured his place as a true luminary in the world of classical music. Kirke Mechem’s timeless compositions continue to resonate with audiences, a testament to the enduring power of his music.


  • Choral

Product Details

  •  #HL 50497642
  •  9781480308718
  •  884088662745
  •  6.75″
  •  10.5″
  •  8 Pages

Additional information

Catalog #






SKU: 50497642 Categories: , , ,


Be the first to review “Daybreak in Alabama – SATB a cappella”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Music of Langston Hughes

Inspired by his messages of justice, freedom, and the hope that a brighter future lies ahead, notable composers and arrangers have beautifully coupled Langston Hughes' passionate words with equally captivating music.

About This Website

This Music of Langston Hughes website has been developed by the Fred Bock Publishing Group.

How To Reach Us

Fred Bock Publishing Group
PO Box 10069
Glendale, CA. 91209
(818) 551-0800
(818) 551-0801 Fax