The Harlem Renaissance was a significant period in history due to its cultural and social impact. It was a period of revolution in the music, literature, and art that contributed to the rebirth of the African American culture and revealed its talent. African Americans caused the revolution that has changed the perception of their culture, contributing to the development of music and art and breaking stereotypical thinking that was prevalent before the Harlem Renaissance.
The beginning of the Harlem Renaissance had its reasons and was followed by the migration of African Americans. They decided to move from the north to the urban south as the north did not become the Promise Land. African Americans were not welcome there, factories were seeking cheap labor, resulting in inappropriate working conditions, and most of them became indebted. These factors made them reconsider the place of residence, and they decided to move, causing a Great Migration between 1916 and 1970.
The music industry was one of the most popular during that time, and a variety of factors contributed to the development of jazz. As the Harlem Renaissance brought attention to the African American culture, jazz became an influential aspect in developing an appreciation for the artists of that time. The Cotton Club had the primary influence as it became home for many musicians. Even though the owners originally opened the club for white patrons, they were later convinced to admit African Americans. The musicians such as Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller had been performing there (“The Power of Jazz”). Each of the musicians greatly influenced the development of jazz culture and became famous due to their performance.
During that time, many musicians impacted the way jazz was perceived, creating new styles of music, and developing interesting approaches. For instance, the new way of playing the piano, the Harlem Stride, was developed in large cities of the East Coast of the United States by James P. Johnson, who created a swinging four beats pulse (“Harlem Stride Piano”). This style of playing has remained until these days, which proves the influence that the Harlem Renaissance had. The decisive aspect was also the fact that the piano was associated with the instrument of wealthier people. Therefore, rich people became interested in such music, finding it more acceptable. The other important aspect that shifted stereotypes about black people was the collaboration of black and white musicians, which not only contributed to the development of the music industry but also helped the world to come to the acceptance of the black culture. These factors caused a significant shift in the vision of African American culture.
Harlem was the most recognizable place in New York that drew much attention. Describing Harlem, Hutchinson stated that it served as a popular nighttime destination. Harlem used to be a white suburban city until the 1920s when the Afro American intelligence appeared, bringing and promoting their culture. As the New York elite started visiting jazz clubs, the perception of jazz artists changed. Hutchinson reveals that this place “had an extraordinarily diverse and decentred black social world in which no one group could monopolize cultural authority.” That is why it was a perfect place for artistic experiments that also contributed to the development of new movements. For instance, the Swing or Big Band period emerged due to constant improvisation and experimentation, which led to the significant expansion of jazz music. Therefore, Harlem became the place of the reflection of the Harlem Renaissance time as it allowed musicians to discover their abilities, which resulted in their worldwide recognition.
Jazz became the music of social equality for all as it expressed the perspective of the working class, showing the art of the oppressed people who remained spiritual. Artists such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown conveyed such ideas in blues (Hutchinson). The iconic figure of jazz, Louis Armstrong, who became the “jazz father,” had motives that expressed hope (“Louis Armstrong”). For instance, one of his most famous songs, “What a Wonderful World,” presents the idea of believing in the world and people (“Louis Armstrong”). Through this song, he shows the brighter side, assuring that people should cherish the world.
The blues form also became popular, as it reflected the struggles people faced and their lifestyle at that time. The name of “blues” came from the West Africans tradition of painting the cloth in indigo blue during affliction, and it was linked to slavery. The expression through music describes struggles and the joy as artists lived “in a country that was both hostile and promising, binding and free” (“The Power of Jazz”). Therefore, this music reflected the duality of that time, and the ability to discover something more significant and to stay strong, finding joy through music.
The Harlem Renaissance contributed to the development of many new genres and ways of performing, giving growth to the jazz and blues, and presented many talented musicians. Moreover, it helped to overcome social diversity and reach union through art as artists from different social groups merged to create art together. Therefore, that period remains a significant phenomenon as it caused a cultural and social shift.
“Harlem Stride Piano.” Jazz88, 2019. Web.
Hutchinson, George. “Harlem Renaissance: American Literature and Art.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019, Web.
“Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World (1967).” YouTube, Web.
“The Power of Jazz.” Annenberg Learner, 2019. Web.