Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Zora Neale Hurston Sings in an Archival Recording

It was in high school that I first heard of the author Zora Neale Hurston. For a couple weeks that semester, the AP English teacher had us read and discuss Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. At the start of each class, the teacher would walk in and gleefully direct us to "take out 'Their Eyes'!"

I learned more about the woman behind the novel while in college. At that time, I was becoming immensely interested in the lives and works of feminists of color, which meant getting into author and activist Alice Walker. Beginning in the 1970s, Walker labored to renew interest in Hurston and her work. Thanks to the efforts of Alice Walker and others, I was able to hold a copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God in my hands in high school and read about Hurston in my women's studies and Afro-American studies classes in college. 

Zora Neale Hurston, 1935.
Photo source: http://writersbeingreal.tumblr.com

In those classes, I learned that Hurston had led an incredible life: in addition to being a published author, she was also a trained anthropologist. In the 1930s, she traveled extensively across the American South and in the Caribbean to carefully document the folklore of the black communities she encountered. Some of the folklore were songs, such as "Mule on the Mount," which Hurston was recorded singing on June 18, 1939. On this archival recording, which I've posted below, you can hear Hurston explain the song. By the way she spoke, you can tell that she was her own person. She was also a wonderful interpreter of this rich folk song.

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