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Harlem Renaissance Music

Harlem Renaissance describes the advancement of African-American arts and culture in the United States, right away after the World War I. According to reports, the advanced advancement in the arts and culture started in Harlem, New york city, hence the name “Harlem Renaissance.” Harlem Renaissance is thought to have happened in between years 1919 and 1930, with 1924 to 1929 as the years when it reached its peak (Charters S. and Kundstadt L.; “Harlem Renaissance”).

The initiators and participants of the Harlem Renaissance movement include the descendants of various societies who had experienced and first-handedly knowledgeable slavery.

Most of which were Africans or individuals of African descent. Others were migrants from certain racial communities and were seeking for their location in a reasonably “balanced” society in the United States. What was typical among the participants of Harlem Renaissance was their desire for the change especially in regards to racism and African stereotyping.

The union of these individuals based upon this one worth had actually been the seed of Harlem Renaissance which then ended up being a major impact on not just on individuals with African roots throughout the world however also on the culture of America (Hutchinson, G.

; “Harlem Renaissance”). In challenging the specter of bigotry, bias and African stereotyping, the participants of Harlem Renaissance conjured up the power of cultural tools such as literature, art and music to represent a “various” African-American who is both intellectual and efficient, and in effect start their integration in society without any racial barrier.

Part of this revolution was to uplift the spirit of the race by unifying their culture.

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The media of Harlem Renaissance would hold no meaning for “high-African culture” or “low-African” producing a new age of creative forms of arts and literature, hence the increase of modernism; and in specific, music, which provided birth to blues and jazz (“Harlem Renaissance”). Harlem Music Blues and Jazz are 2 kinds of music that have actually developed in the Harlem Renaissance period. Blues, as its name indicates represents music that stimulates unhappiness, particularly that caused by troubles in life and love.

Blues is said to have evolved from the usual African hollers and by itself, could provide the listener with an insight of the history of African Americans from being communized to the emergence of individuation. Individualized or solo songs had never been usual in the African culture and the uniqueness of the characteristics of blues represents the then changing status of African-Americans: their freedom (McElrath, J. ). In blues, the individual is emphasized making this type of music a form that can be called “personalized. ”

Still, even though blues can be said to be far from the typical African music, some elements of the cultural type are still present in this new form. This is what characterizes blues as African and what gives this musical form a sort of “nationality”. The “call-and-response” characteristic of the African hollers for example are still present in blues, although has been somehow reinvented to fit in the characteristics of blues. In blues, responses are made not by another participant or some other external force but by the performer herself (McElrath, J. ).

To reinstate, the characteristics of blues are a representation of the new African who is more self-assured and individualized. Blues singers are usually accompanied by guitars or harmonicas (“Harlem Renaissance”). Blues started as “folk blues” sung at leisure, medicine shows and touring carnivals. It became “classic blues” as it was given professional quality by African vaudeville singers who corresponded with the folk singers. With the African-American migration to the North in early 20th century, is the blues music (Hutchinson,G. ). Blues music first came to New Orleans.

With the inter-state migration of different musicians, the Blues music was scattered and was able to come to Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Chicago, Detroit and then New York where different Blues musicians started to unite and popularize the style as they perform in different clubs, theaters and dance halls (McElrath, J. ). Again, as blues became a representation of the African’s new-found freedom not only from slavery and prejudices but also from the dogmatic imposition by institutions such as churches, the popularization of the music did not become difficult.

It was easily appreciated especially by those with African descent who were craving for entertainment, thus, the start of theaters and other entertainment halls (McElrath, J. ). It was in 1920 when the music became popular with Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here For You. ” Blues music was at first marketed only to the African community but as music companies decided to exploit the opportunity to enter the new market, other artists like Bessie Smite, Ma Rainie, Alberta Hunter and Ethel Waters sprang up and became popular blues performers (McElrath, J. ).

As blues music continued to evolve, it gave rise to a new type of music which is now popularly known as jazz music. Jazz Jazz is considered as the characterizing music of the Harlem Renaissance. This type of music may appear to be simple for untrained ears but actually involves unknown technicalities that continue to become part of the present American culture (Schuller, S. ). Jazz works based on the theory that any chord progression could be played using infinite amount of melodies.

It involves talent and improvisation by both the singer and the instrumentalist, with the singer doing repeated chord progressions and the instrumentalist doing variations of vocal styles and tonal effects. The result is the collaboration of two improvisations in a single music (Schuller, S. ). As said earlier, blues contributed to the development of jazz. It can be noticed that blues themes and forms are incorporated into jazz music. This gives jazz music an African character.

What characterizes jazz as a truly unique type of music, even from blues, is the flexibility in which it can be played. There are no rules in rhythm that must be followed allowing the each individual performer to become flexible and free in creating his or her own rhythm. The most common instruments used by jazz performers are piano, drums, strings and bass. The use of saxophones in jazz is usually connected to an evolutionary product of jazz called the Chicago style (Schuller, S. ). The Chicago style of jazz came about as a result of the migration of jazz artists to Chicago.

This type of jazz is known for its soloist performances, relatively more complex and more difficult rhythms. Like the Blues music, the inter-state migration of artists contributed to the spreading of jazz music and its coming to New York made it a huge part of Harlem Renaissance (Morgan, T. and Barlow, W. ). A lot of jazz experimentation happened in New York. These experimentations contributed significantly to the current richness of jazz. The famous piano style, “jazz stride” was the first piano style to be incorporated into jazz and was very popular in New York.

The jazz artist, Fatts Waller is famous for this style. He was also the artist who started the jazz technique, Boogie-Woogie which can be characterized as a combination of different rythms and techniques with a peculiar and repeating bass pattern. Boogie-Woogie later became what is now called Rhythm and Blues (Morgan, T. and Barlow, W. ). James Reese Europe initiated another style of jazz during the era which involved huge orchestras while jazz bands were first put together by Fletcher Henderson.

Included in Henderson’s jazz band were Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman and Louis Armstrong. Blues artists often work with jazz bands and individual jazz artists (Morgan, T. and Barlow, W. ; Schuller, S. ). Harlem Renaissance Musicians Louis Armstrong was famous for his technical and yet spontaneous abilities to play jazz. He is considered as among the greatest and influential of all Harlem Renaissance musicians. Unsurprisingly, Armstrong came from New Orleans which is one of the major places that contributed to the development of Harlem Renaissance music.

He learned to play cornet while at a reform school when he was twelve and showed his interest in music by staying in blues and jazz clubs. His major influence was Joe “King” Oliver who became his father figure and mentor. Armstrong soon played for Oliver’s band in Chicago then left for New York to play for Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra. He also did lots of recordings with other Jazz and Blues artists like Clarence Williams, Red Onion Jazz, Carrol Dickenson and his wife, Lilian (“Harlem Renaissance”). Duke Ellington is another musical figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

He was a composer and pianist and is considered to have brought jazz into concert halls as well as in churches. His style of music can be described as a combination of blues, jazz and swing constructed in solo instrumental performances. He was in New York City during the presented Harlem Renaissance period in 1923. At this time he was able to organize a 10-piece band (“Harlem Renaissance”). Dizzy Gillespie, was a trumpeter who was able to develop “Be-bop,” with other famous artists like Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke.

“Be-bop” was considered as the rebellious and eccentric style of jazz. Gillespie also incorporated Latin and Cuban elements such as calypso, rhumba and tango with jazz. In addition to his contributions to music, Gillespie was also a supporter of equal rights movement (“Harlem Renaissance”). Other artists during the Harlem Renaissance include Josephine Baker; Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker, among others. Harlem Renaissance was a point in history when African-Americans united to prove the error in stereotyping in terms of intellect and productivity.

The developments in music, particularly in Blues and Jazz are certain products of this movement and have given justice to the movement’s objective proving that African-Americans can not only be superior but also developers and re-inventors of what was then just cultural and now all cultural, sensational and global.

Works Cited

Charters S. and Kundstadt L. , “Jazz: A History of the New York Scene”, New York: Da Capo, 1981. “Harlem Renaissance,” University of Texas. 2006. 09 Dec 2006 <http://asms. k12. ar. us/classes/humanities/amstud/97-98/jazz/YOURPA2. HTM> “Harlem Renaissance. ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2006.

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 Dec 2006 <http://en. wikipedia. org/w/index. php? title=Harlem_Renaissance&oldid=92692036>. Hutchinson,G. , “The Harlem Renaisance in Black and White,” New York: Belknap Press, 1997 McElrath, J. , “The History of Blues Music. ” About: African-American History. 2006. About, Inc. 9 Dec. 2006 < http://afroamhistory. about. com/od/bluesmusic/a/bluesmusic. htm>. Morgan, T. and Barlow, W. , “From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music, From 1895-1930. Washington DC: Elliot and Clark, 1992. Schuller, S. “Early Jazz : Its Roots and Musical Development,” New York: Oxford, 1986.

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Harlem Renaissance Music. (2017, Mar 16). Retrieved from

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