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Tambourines to Glory

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Tambourines to Glory

A Novel
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Finally available in trade paperback, Langston Hughes's breezy parable of good and evil, friendship and betrayal, is an unforgettable portrait of 1950s Harlem and two women called to the pulpit for...
Finally available in trade paperback, Langston Hughes's breezy parable of good and evil, friendship and betrayal, is an unforgettable portrait of 1950s Harlem and two women called to the pulpit for...
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Description-
  • Finally available in trade paperback, Langston Hughes's breezy parable of good and evil, friendship and betrayal, is an unforgettable portrait of 1950s Harlem and two women called to the pulpit for very different reasons.

    For every bustling jazz joint that opened in Korean War--era Harlem, a new church seemed to spring up. Tambourines to Glory introduces you to an unlikely team behind a church whose rock was the curb at 126th and Lenox.

    Essie Belle Johnson and Laura Reed live in adjoining tenement flats, adrift on public relief. Essie wants to somehow earn enough money to reunite with her daughter and provide her with a nice home; Laura loves young men, mink coats, and fine Scotch. On a day of inspiration, the friends decide to use a thrift-store tambourine and a layaway Bible to start a church.

    Their sidewalk services are a hit: Laura's a natural street performer who loves the limelight, while Essie is a charismatic singer with a quiet spirituality. Before long they move to a thousand-seat theatre called the Tambourine Temple. The two women are joined in their ministering by Birdie Lee, the little-old-lady trap drummer who can work the congregation to a feverish pitch, and Deacon Crow-For-Day, an impassioned confessor.

    But then Laura falls for Buddy, a scam artist who suggests selling to the faithful lucky numbers from Scripture and bottles of tap water as "Holy Water from the Jordan." Even with a Cadillac and piles of money from Laura, Buddy won't stay faithful, igniting a crime of passion and betrayal.

    Harlem Moon Classics is proud to reintroduce readers of all generations to this sparkling gem from the canon of Langston Hughes.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter One PALM SUNDAY

    It was a chilly Palm Sunday and Essie Belle Johnson did not have a palm. Several of the other kitchenette dwellers in her lodgings had been to church that day and returned with leaves, sheaves and even large sprays of palm straw to stick up in their mirrors or in one corner of the frame of Mama's picture.

    "I used to always go to church on Palm Sunday when I were a child," Essie said, "as well as Easter, too."

    "I seldom went," said Laura, "and never regular. My mother was too beat out from Saturday night to get me up in time to go to church. My step-pa sold whiskey--you know, I growed up in bootleg days. My schooling came from bathtub likker, with some small change left over sometimes to go to movies, buy Eskimo pies."

    "My mama always woke me up on the Sabbath before she went to work," mused Essie. "Her white folks only gave her one Sunday off a month. She'd give me a nickel to put in Sunday school and a dime for church, then leave something in the pot for me to eat when I got back home. In the evening, Mama would go to services by herself and turn out the light and leave me in bed until I got teen-age. Then I went to church at night, too. I loved those songs, 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand.' Oh, but that's pretty! Let's go to church Easter, Laura."

    "Which one, Sanctified or Baptist?"

    "Where the singing is best," said Essie.

    "Sanctified," said Laura. "But you know I ain't got nothing to wear to church. On Easter Sunday I should decorate my headlights proper. Man told me last week, said, 'Woman, you got bubbies like the headlights on a Packard car sticking out like two forty-fours. Stop shooting me in the eyes that way with what you carries in front of you.'" Laura drew herself up proudly.

    "An out-of-shape woman can get by with some poor rags. But you got a good figure, Laura. If you didn't put so much money into the bottle, you could get yourself some clothes."

    "Girl, hush! Chilly as it is tonight, I had to get a little wine. Being Sunday, I had to pay more for it bootleg. There ought to be some heat in this old rat-hole."

    "You could have got yourself a hat with what you paid for that wine."

    "An Easter bonnet with a blue ribbon on it," sang Laura. "Pshaw, child, by this time next Sunday I might have a new hat. Who knows? Maybe my new man will buy me one."

    "If he does, it will be mighty near the first time. You one of these women always buying men something, instead of letting them do for you. You sure are crazy about men, Laura."

    "One nice thing about being on relief is, it leaves you plenty time to be sweet to your daddy, have him something ready to eat when he comes from work, have your own head combed. I don't see much sense in a woman working, long as the Home Relief mails out checks. Of course, sometimes I has more energy being idle than I know what to do with. Essie, if I could just set on my haunches and be content like you! You don't even want a drink--just set and get fat, and you're happy."

    "I ain't all that happy, Laura. I want my daughter with me. I get lonesome. If it wasn't for you dropping in all the time, I'd be more lonesome. Sure glad you're my neighbor, Laura, even if I can't keep you company with no bottle."

    "A few swallows of this and you'd forget about being lonesome. You ought to learn to drink a little, Essie."

    "I hate that old raw wine, Laura. It makes me sick at the stomach."

    "Your life is empty and your belly, too. You ought to do something. At least, get yourself a man, girl, somebody, anybody."

    "A man?" cried Essie. "No! Not to beat me all over the head. I'm cranky. I'm getting set in my ways. And I been long...
About the Author-
  • LANGSTON HUGHES (1902--1967), a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance, worked as a novelist, poet, and playwright, in addition to being a mentor and inspiration to other greats.

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    Crown Publishing Group
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A Novel
Langston Hughes
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Langston Hughes
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