by Langston Hughes
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 theater 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 handsome scam artist who suggests selling bottles of tap water "from the River Jordan" and lucky numbers from Scripture to the faithful. Even with a Cadillac and piles of money from Laura, Buddy won't stay faithful, igniting a brutal crime of passion and betrayal that threatens the sanctity of the temple.
Harlem Moon Classics is proud to reintroduce readers of all generations to this sparkling gem from the Langston Hughes canon.
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.
Paperback: 176 pages