Hirschfeld's Harlem

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Hirschfeld's Harlem Al Hirschfeld Glenn Young Books, 129pp, 2004

No, it's not a new title. However, it's full of Harlem art that's of such vintage it doesn't matter, and you can find used copies online for about $20. Some of it was previously published in 1941 as Harlem as Seen by Hirschfeld, but there's later stuff added to this edition.

From the first run, we get Zora Neale Hurston and William Saroyan. The 21st Century commentary is by Gail Lumet Buckley and the artist himself, an many of his subjects each contribute a praiseful page. Some of these showbizzas' scratchings are appropriately inconsequential such as the pointless one from Quincy Jones; but most of them are insights into Hirschfeld's insights and indeed you learn things from Geoffrey Holder, Eartha Kitt, Albert Murray, and Lena Horne. And Bobby Short proves he knows something about graphic composition and nuance on the page, as he equally knows on the blacks and whites.

Ms Buckley's essay is a neat summary of Uptown from the days of James Reese Europe to the 1940s. While those who've read social histories of Harlem won't find any surprises, she gets my vote for calling Langston Hughes to account for, when swing was happening, being a bit stuck in the late 1920s Harlem Renaissance movement that he'd ridden to establish his reputation.

Al Hirschfeld lived on the edge of Harlem and understood both the public and private sides of it, through both white and Negro lenses, to the extent he was able. Because of this, his unique caricatures weren't racial stereotypes, as many of his subjects dig the results. …