This illustration is featured in a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson titled, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Published in 1927, it emulates traditional African-American religious oratory. The seven sermons were inspired by memories of sermons by black preachers heard by Mr. Johnson while growing up. Johnson described the trombone as “the instrument possessing above all others the power to express the wide and varied range of emotions encompassed by the human voice — and with greater amplitude.”
This book includes seven illustrations by Aaron Douglas, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance as a painter, illustrator and arts educator. The illustration on display in Esperanza Spalding Selects: D+Evolution introduces The Prodigal Son sermon with modern imagery of money, gambling, dancing and music. Cooper Hewitt’s Drawings and Prints collection has a few more traditional depictions of this classic biblical tale. An original oil painting by Aaron Douglas is currently on view in The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.