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On the morning of the explosion, Bruce Langhorne recalls, he had been pondering the question of what percentage of powdered magnesium could safely be included in a home-made mixture of rocket propellant.

"I made the rocket using a steel jacket, packed with magnesium and plaster of Paris. My plan was to launch it out of my bedroom window in New York's Spanish Harlem to see how far it would get across the park next door. I hadn't realized how fast magnesium burns. The rocket exploded before it took off." Langhorne laughs, "I see now that I had one or two gaps in my knowledge of chemistry."

Langhorne, a 12 year old violin prodigy studying classical music at Julliard, blew off a good part of his right hand, leaving stumps for his thumb, index and middle fingers. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, he looked up at his distraught mother and said, "At least I don't have to play that stupid violin any more."


 It couldn't have been easy to be Bruce's mother, who worked as the head of the Harlem library system. A single mother, she raised Bruce alone in New York while his dad headed up the English Department at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes.

"My mom used to play Schumann a great deal on her piano - until I took it apart, to see how it worked."

Thirteen years later, in 1963, over 300,000 people marched on Washington to demand equal rights for all. This was the scene of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. As King made his way through the crowd to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Bruce and Odetta played "Oh Freedom," stirring the passions of the crowd. You could say they "opened" for Dr. Martin Luther King.

Bruce's mangled right hand didn't stop him from rising to the top of the folk music scene, playing with Dylan, Baez, Santana, Belafonte and Masekela, among others. Bruce became a master on all guitars, violins, mandolins, pianos and percussion. He was Dylan's first choice for concerts and important guitar parts on his albums, including "Bringing It All Back Home." Bruce played all these instruments, working the strings with mostly nubs instead of his missing fingertips. Dylan dubbed him "Mr. Tambourine Man" referencing the over-sized tambourine Bruce played in many of their recording sessions.

"If you had Bruce playing with you," Dylan wrote in his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles, "that's all you would need to do just about anything."


At the height of his popularity, Bruce gave up the guitar, because "it was boring me." He composed the sound track for a number of films including the classic The Hired Hand and several films for Jonathon Demme, including Melvin and Howard and Fighting Mad.

 "Just occasionally you come across these geniuses," Demme said, "Bruce Langhorne was one. These people all tend to work in the same way: they respond instinctually to the visual image. It was an unbelievable experience to work with him. Bruce Langhorne has done some of the most beautiful scoring that I have ever been involved with, or ever known."

With acknowledgements to the Robert Chalmers interview, "The Freewheelin' Bruce Langhorne," The Independent on Sunday, April 1, 2007, and Jonathon Demme's "A Great Musician Needs Your Help,", December 8, 2006.