Development of Music During The Harlem Renaissance

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2113 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020

Words: 2113|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Oct 2, 2020


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Rise of Jazz
  3. Jazz in Harlem
  4. Prominent Jazz Musicians
  5. Societal Effects and Legacy
  6. Conclusion


The transformation in culture witnessed by the United States during the Harlem Renaissance significantly impacted the daily lives of its citizens. Central to this cultural shift was the emergence of vibrant new music resonating from coast to coast. Jazz, the newfound musical genre of the 1920s, earned the epithet of the Jazz Age due to its widespread popularity. It introduced a novel musical experience, catching many by surprise. The Harlem Renaissance revolutionized perceptions of music through the introduction of diverse musical forms, the emergence of talented musicians, and the profound impact of songs themselves.

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The Rise of Jazz

In contemporary times, genres such as Rap and Pop dominate global attention; however, in the 1920s, jazz captivated audiences. Although jazz achieved popularity, its ascent was not devoid of challenges. At the outset of the 1920s, blues music rivaled jazz in popularity, but as the decade progressed, jazz supplanted it. This spirited, high-tempo music emerged from the migration of musicians of color from the South to the North in pursuit of employment opportunities. Many migrated northward to Chicago and subsequently to Harlem in Manhattan, New York, marking the phenomenon known as the Great Migration. This mass migration fostered the flourishing jazz scene of the 1920s. Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, people of color brought with them a distinct musical tradition unfamiliar to many. Jazz encompasses various subgenres, including Cool Jazz, Contemporary Jazz, Latin Jazz, and Smooth Jazz, all rooted in emotional expression. Without emotion, jazz loses its essence and becomes mundane. Jazz thrives on dynamism, constantly evolving and engaging, making it compelling for dance and song. Yet, the genre was not without its detractors. Some critics denounced jazz as promoting unruly and undesirable behavior, with one Columbia University professor describing it as "a joyless industrial civilization to arouse its fatigue-poisoned minds and its drudgery-jaded bodies," criticizing its perceived immorality and societal insignificance. The novelty of jazz, characterized by energetic dance forms like swing dancing, contrasted sharply with traditional American dance styles, particularly impacting the youth. For aficionados of jazz, Harlem became the epicenter, offering an authentic and vibrant jazz experience.

Jazz in Harlem

Harlem boasted an abundance of exceptional jazz artists during the Renaissance, drawing enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds to witness captivating performances. Among the standout shows was "Shuffle Along," which became a magnet for both people of color and Caucasians, showcasing the unifying power of jazz. This phenomenon exemplified the positive influence of jazz, offering a source of enjoyment and cultural exchange amidst the societal challenges of the era. Moreover, jazz provided a much-needed distraction from the rigors of Prohibition, allowing people to revel in the music's infectious rhythms and melodies without the need for alcohol. However, the association of jazz with illegal speakeasies tarnished its reputation, linking the genre with illicit activities. Additionally, jazz's departure from traditional musical norms provoked criticism from certain segments of society, particularly among the upper class, who viewed it as a deviation from established standards of propriety.

Prominent Jazz Musicians

The 1920s heralded the rise of vibrant and influential jazz musicians, each leaving an indelible mark on the genre and the cultural landscape of the time. Among these luminaries was Billie Holiday, born in 1915 and raised in Baltimore. Holiday's early exposure to jazz ignited a passion that propelled her into the spotlight. Recognized for her soulful voice and emotive performances, she secured her first record deal after catching the attention of John Hammond. Collaborating with renowned artists like Lester Young, Holiday soared to stardom, earning the nickname "Lady Day." Despite her untimely death in 1959 at the age of 44, Holiday's legacy endured, with her compositions such as "God Bless the Child" and "Lady Sings the Blues" leaving an indelible mark on jazz history.

Another luminary of the era was William Henry Webb, known as Chick Webb. Overcoming health challenges in his youth, Webb's passion for jazz fueled his meteoric rise to prominence. Establishing himself as one of the era's foremost bandleaders, he earned the moniker "King of Swing" during the Harlem Renaissance. His innovative contributions to the swing style left an indelible imprint on the genre, solidifying his place in jazz history.

Louis Armstrong, born into poverty in New Orleans in 1901, emerged as one of the most iconic figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Armstrong's journey from humble beginnings to international acclaim epitomized the transformative power of jazz. His virtuoso trumpet playing and charismatic stage presence captivated audiences worldwide, earning him the title of the most appreciated jazz artist of his time. Armstrong's enduring legacy endures through his prolific recordings, performances, and compositions, which continue to inspire generations of musicians.

Edward Kennedy Ellington, affectionately known as "Duke," was born into a musical family, laying the groundwork for his illustrious career. Renowned for his sophisticated compositions and innovative arrangements, Ellington reshaped the jazz landscape with his distinct style. Leading his band, "The Washingtonians," to prominence, he solidified his reputation as one of the era's greatest composers. Ellington's compositions, including "Mood Indigo" and "Take the A-Train," remain iconic symbols of the Harlem Renaissance's musical legacy, ensuring his enduring influence on jazz and American music as a whole.

Societal Effects and Legacy

Music played a pivotal role in shaping the evolving American culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz, in particular, emerged as a distinct form of expression, reflecting the dynamic shifts in societal norms and cultural attitudes. Jazz transcended mere musical composition; it embodied a lifestyle characterized by freedom and improvisation, which extended to various facets of life, including fashion, behavior, racial perceptions, and worldview. The Jazz Age marked a significant departure from traditional norms, ushering in a new era of liberation and self-expression.

The influence of jazz on fashion was unmistakable. As the music embraced a freer, more improvisational style, so too did the clothing of its enthusiasts. The emergence of flappers in the 1920s epitomized this shift, as women embraced more revealing and liberated attire conducive to the energetic dance styles associated with jazz. This departure from conservative fashion norms symbolized a break from the constraints of the past and mirrored the spirit of liberation embodied by jazz.

Moreover, jazz played a crucial role in challenging racial perceptions and fostering cultural appreciation. Originating primarily from African American communities, jazz became a unifying force that transcended racial boundaries. However, despite its widespread popularity, racial tensions persisted, with some white artists attempting to appropriate the genre's origins. The rise of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan during this period underscored the deep-seated racial prejudices prevalent in American society.

Yet, jazz's enduring legacy extends beyond its immediate societal impact. Its influence reverberates through contemporary music genres, such as folk, rap, pop, and rock 'n' roll, which draw inspiration from its improvisational spirit and rhythmic innovations. The transformative effect of jazz on modern music underscores its enduring significance and legacy in shaping the cultural landscape.

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In essence, jazz emerged as the quintessential genre of the Harlem Renaissance, embodying the spirit of innovation, freedom, and cultural expression. Through the groundbreaking contributions of artists like Billie Holiday, Chick Webb, and Louis Armstrong, jazz not only defined an era but also left an indelible mark on the trajectory of American music. Its influence transcended musical boundaries, shaping fashion, societal attitudes, and future musical genres. The impact of jazz on the Harlem Renaissance was profound, and its legacy continues to resonate, reminding us of the enduring power of music to inspire change and cultural transformation.


  1. Gioia, T. (2011). The history of jazz. Oxford University Press.
  2. O’Meally, R. G. (Ed.). (1986). The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. Columbia University Press.
  3. Haskins, J. (1991). Billie Holiday. Chelsea House Publishers.
  4. Bergreen, L. (1998). Louis Armstrong: An extravagant life. Broadway Books.
  5. Tucker, M. (1991). Duke Ellington: A spiritual biography. Crossroad.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Development Of Music During The Harlem Renaissance. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Development Of Music During The Harlem Renaissance.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
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