Harlem Renaissance

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The Jazz Scene

Jazz grew out of the era’s ragtime music, and its influence was not restricted to the musical arena.Author F. Scott Fitzgerald labeled the period from the end of the Great War to the Great Depression as the “Jazz Age” as much for the cultural change it brought about as the music that defined it.Harlem Renaissance music was defined by the lively clubs and characters who constantly improved and modified jazz's sound.


Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, become a national phenomenon in the 1950's. She was born in Baltimore. She started out singing in jazz clubs. At the age of eighteen, John Hammond saw her and gave her a record with a studio group led by Benny Goodman. She made hits such as: "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Miss Brown to You". By 1936, Holiday had began working with Lester Young. Young gave Holiday the nickname "Lady Day." She was one of the first black women to join a white orchestra. Holiday created a new way of manipulating tempo and phrasing. She died at the age of forty-four.

William Henry Webb, also known as Chick Webb, was an American jazz and swing drummer. He was born in Baltimore, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the spine. He used the money he saved up as a paperboy to buy his first drum kit. At the age of eleven, he was playing drums professionally. By the age of seventeen he had moved to Harlem and started his own band. The group he led became the house band for the Savory Ballroom. He became one of the most well-regarded band leaders and drummers of Swing. At the Savory Ballroom's "Battle of the Bands" Webb usually won and was called the King of Swing.

Louis Armstrong is one of the most well-known musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. Born to a poor family in New Orleans, Armstrong started out playing in small clubs. He also played at funerals and parades around New Orleans. In 1922, however, Armstrong was invited to play in the second cornet of a Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. But after only two years, he moved to New York City to play in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at the Rose-land Ballroom. He appeared on Broadway in 1929. He married a dancer from the Cotton Club in 1942. All through the 1950's and 1960's he appeared in many films and went on many tours.


Josephine baker was a dancer, singer actress and comedian. She was the first African American performer to break free of racial offense. She is known to audiences in both Europe and the United States, she is known as “Black Venus”, “Black Pearl” and Creole Goddess because of her audiences and beauty.
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Claude McKay

Festus Claudius McKay, better known as Claude McKay, was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a prominent literary movement of the 1920s. His work ranged from vernacular verse celebrating peasant life in Jamaica to fairly militant poems challenging white authority in America, and from generally straightforward tales of black life in both Jamaica and America to more philosophically ambitious fiction addressing instinctual/intellectual duality.

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If We Must Die by Claude McKay



Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Jones attended the School of Museum of Fine Art, Boston, during a time of strong discrimination against African Americans. She entered her works into exhibitions that did not recognize African American artist by having white friends deliver the paintings. In other cases, prizes awarded to her were taken away and given to her white competitors. Despite these challenges Jones prevailed as an artist.

The Harlem Society

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Wartime military service and work in war industries had given African Americans a new sense of freedom. They migrated to many cities across the country, but it was New York City that turned into the unofficial cap- ital of black America. In the 1920s, Harlem, a neighborhood on New York’s West Side, was the world’s largest black urban community.

Question 1

What historical, social, and cultural forces shaped the Harlem Renaissance?

Question 2

What does Johnson's poem say about the vitality of the city during the Harlem Renaissance?

Question 3

What details does Hurston use to present her views on succeeding despite social barriers?

Question 4

How does Hughes use the analogy of rivers to express his perception of African American heritage and history?

The rivers represent major aspects of African American history, such as, home (the Congo), slavery (the Nile), and the Civil War (the Mississippi).

Question 5

Why was Harlem the center of the renaissance of African American arts in the 1920s a James Weldon Johnson's 1933 description of the Harlem Renaissance?

Question 6

How did the Harlem Renaissance impact American society during the 1920s and beyond?

Question 7

In what ways did W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington influence politics during The Harlem Renaissance?

Question 8

How do the arts communicate historical data and perspective?

Question 9

What were the significant economic events that preceded the Great Migration, a movement of African Americans from the South to the North?

Question 10

What was there about the Harlem neighborhood that encouraged so many artists to produce great work at this time?

There was more freedom here and because the community was so close together, everyone could encourage each other to do more.

Question 11

What is the historical significance of "I, Too" by Langston Hughes?

This is the time when African Americans are trying to be more involved in society and gain their rights. This poem is how Hughes declares his equality.

Question 12

What prompted the theme of "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes and how is this theme applicable in any time period?

The Harlem Renaissance was a tough time for African Americans who were trying to gain there freedom. People complain about little things when other people have it harder. The African Americans learned that they needed to be grateful for what they have, just like people of our time should be.