“Litany”, from John Musto’s masterful set of songs Shadow of the Blues is, in my humble but educated opinion, a perfect song. I actually find it difficult to describe how I feel about this song—it has a profound effect on me every time I hear it. John, who has been inspired by many amazing poets during his long and productive career, in this case took Langston Hughes’ words and elevated them to another dimension. Not because they needed elevating, mind you, but because John is that gifted. As in Fauré’s “Clair de Lune”, the piano sets the mood beautifully before the singer joins in. The two together make time stand still.
I have heard many performances of this song, live and recorded, and I have sung it myself in recital, so I know whereof I speak. The recording I have chosen is the orchestrated version, which highlights the rich harmonic colors, and features the clear and nuanced vocal interpretation of Jubilant Sykes. The song exists brilliantly in multiple versions. It is a song for the ages.
Gather up, in the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved, the desperate, the deprived
All the scum of our weary city
Gather up in the arms of your pity
Gather up in the arms of your love
Those who expect no love