181 - June 2007 NOTES AND QUERIES 181 secular, soundless...

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secular, soundless poem, ‘telephones crouch, getting ready to ring.’ C HRISTOPHER F LETCHER Bodleian Library doi:10.1093/notesj/gjm068 ß The Author (2007). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org ELLISON’S RINEHART AND COUNT BASIE’S: INVISIBLE MAN AND ‘HARVARD BLUES’ ONE of the most enigmatic characters in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is B. P. Rinehart—if a personage who never actually appears in the course of the novel can be considered a character. Although Ellison’s unnamed narra- tor never meets Rinehart, in the novel’s twenty- third chapter he is repeatedly mistaken for this man who seems to be, simultaneously, a flashy numbers runner, hoodlum, and ladies man, but also a minister of ‘the ole time religion’ whose passionate preaching commands the devotion of his aged congregants. 1 The narrator is amazed and initially envious of Rinehart’s apparent ability to be everywhere and nowhere, shifting shape as the occasion demands. He puns on Rinehart’s name—he is a man of both rind and heart —and in one of Ellison’s later essays the author reveals that the man’s first two initials stand for Bliss Proteus, names that further underscore the character’s fluid and flexible nature. 2 Despite the importance of Rinehart to the narrative, surprisingly little has been written about him, and scholarship has largely overlooked what appears to be the inspiration for both Rinehart’s name and his most important characteristic: the fact that he is a fraud who is never seen. In a 1955 interview with the Paris Review , Ellison claimed that the name Rinehart origi- nated with a song sung by his old friend Jimmy Rushing. Ellison does not identify the song, but he quotes from it: Rinehart, Rinehart It’s so lonesome up here On Beacon Hill. 3 The name Rinehart haunted him, Ellison says, and its ‘suggestion of inner and outer’ seemed appropriate for a character who was ‘a master of disguise.’ 4 While this brief account is intriguing, it is also incomplete, and it gives no hint of the deeper and more interesting connections between the character of Rinehart and the song that I believe to be George Frazier’s ‘Harvard Blues’, written for Rushing and the Count Basie Orchestra. Although Ellison does not name the song that he quotes from and the lines he provides are not to be found among either the three verses of ‘Harvard Blues’ that Basie and Rushing recorded (first in 1941 and then in 1946) or the additional verses that Frazier penned, I believe that they probably reflect an alternate or ad-libbed verse that Rushing may have sung in live performances; it seems improbable that there could have been a second song in the Basie repertoire that, like ‘Harvard Blues’, is also set in Boston and involves a fellow named Rinehart. 5
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181 - June 2007 NOTES AND QUERIES 181 secular, soundless...

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