Inamorata Tidbit #4 - The Jazz Age, Part 3

by Joseph Gangemi

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Inamorata Tidbit #4 - The Jazz Age, Part 3

Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 08, 2006 4:20 am

THE JAZZ AGE, PART 3

The Harlem Renaissance

HOT NIGHTS and cool jazz ... steamy sidewalks and fancy dressers ... songs of the soul and songs of the body ... the lilt of gentle laughter and the penetrating wail of the blues ...

That was Harlem in the 1920s and early 1930s--a place that vibrated night and day with excitement, promise, glitter, and joy.

If you had visited Harlem in those days, you might have heard bandleader Duke Ellington playing "Take the `A' Train" (the subway to Harlem) at the Cotton Club or Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong shaking up the jazz world with his trumpet playing at Connie's Inn. The place was swinging, but not just with music. Harlem was also the home of African American poets, novelists, actors, and philosophers. So great was the cultural explosion of Harlem during the 1920s and early 1930s that the period has since been called "the Harlem Renaissance." Renaissance is a French word meaning "rebirth." It is generally applied to any great outburst of artistic and intellectual creativity.

Harlem is a community in New York City that lies in the northern part of the borough of Manhattan. It is bounded roughly by 110th Street on the south, 155th Street on the north, Madison Avenue on the east, and Convent Avenue on the west.

But don't make the mistake of measuring Harlem by its boundaries. Harlem has always been measured by a spirit and way of life that have touched all of America and have created a legacy that continues to inspire today.

Harlem got its name from the original Dutch settlers of Manhattan Island. Around 1650, when the Dutch were calling southern Manhattan "New Amsterdam," they named the northern part of Manhattan after the town of Harlem in the Netherlands. For the next two and a half centuries, Harlem remained a rather quiet white community. African Americans began to move into the neighborhood in significant numbers only about 1900. The reasons: A real estate crash in Harlem made homes more affordable, and a race riot in southern Manhattan, where many Africans had settled, sent many black families in search of new homes.

Most moved to Harlem, which soon became the neighborhood of choice for New York City's blacks. Harlem also drew increasing numbers of black people from Southern states. Economic depression, failed farms, and worsening racial tensions sparked a huge migration from the rural South to jobs in industrial areas of New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.

In Manhattan, the African American population north of 130th Street jumped from 91,709 in 1910 to 327,706 in 1930. During that time, it became the largest, densest, and most famous black neighborhood in the United States. People began calling Harlem "the Negro capital of America."

With the multitude of black people who flocked to Harlem looking for a better life in the 1920s came a star-studded group of poets, writers, musicians, and artists. All were eager to bask in the freedom of city life and the growing excitement of Harlem. Unlike the South's cities and towns, New York City made African Americans feel free to express themselves, to create, to fully tell the story of the African American experience in words, pictures, paintings, and, most popularly, music.
In the 1920s, African American music was the rage. Every night, white people took taxis and subways uptown to Harlem to listen and dance to music by black musicians and singers at the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom. White publishers went to Harlem to find black writers and poets to publish. In the 1920s, black people, in Harlem at least, began to feel that they were an important part of the nation's cultural life.

No doubt about it--in the 1920s and early '30s, Harlem was a joint that jumped in many ways.

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Music & Dance

In 1927, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington began a fabled career as a bandleader, composer, and pianist with a four-year stint at Harlem's Cotton Club. A succession of popular radio broadcasts from the Cotton Club made his name famous throughout the world. Ellington composed such songs as "Mood Indigo" and "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing." Ellington's band made the Cotton Club the "in" place to be in New York City. But he wasn't alone. Jazz singer Lena Horne and legendary blues singer Bessie Smith (1894-1937) also began their famous careers during the days of the Harlem Renaissance. Ellington was once asked what Harlem was like during those heady days. Without hesitating a moment, he answered, "Why, it [was] just like the Arabian Nights."

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Duke Ellington

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Lena Horne

Here dance was a major part of the music. Big band tunes were specifically designed to get people up and moving to its swinging beat. Success was determined by the bands ability to get people to dance. This lead to other dance crazes such as the Lindy Hop, the Charleston, the Big Apple, Suzy-Q, Truckin’ and the Bumpy Bump.

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The Lindy Hop

The Lindy Hop, as seen at the Savoy, involved both a male and a female dancing together in fast moving acrobatic movements. The dance allowed the female dancer to be lifted by her partner into a second position scissor and then come down to a seated position on her partners lap. The female could also be helped into the air by her male partner by bumping her buttocks with his knees (the leg of the gesturing knee could be either bent or straight). They, along with many other couples appearing at the Savoy, continued like this for hours at a time.

One of the most famous Lindy Hoppers, Frankie Manning, described the big bands at the Savoy in terms of their ability to "speak to the people". Many of the Lindy Hoppers give credit to the dynamics of the music for the desire to perfect the newest dance crazes. Manning stated that the bands "generated a more flowing, lifting momentum. The effect of the dancers was to increase the energy and speed of execution”.

Literature

Creative African Americans were making great music with words as well as notes. Harlem in the '20s and early '30s supported some of the greatest black writers America has produced.

In 1922, poet Claude McKay (1890-1948), published a book of poems entitled Harlem Shadows. In the book, McKay talked of "the weary, weary feet/In Harlem wandering from street to street."

At much the same time, Langston Hughes (1902-1967) became the first African American writer to support himself by his writing alone. Hughes, who moved to Harlem in 1926, produced more than 60 books of poetry, plays, novels, and nonfiction and earned the praise of critics for his realistic portrayal of black characters. His writings were mainly about the lives of plain black men and women and their struggles against injustice. Later in his life, Hughes wrote a newspaper column featuring a character named Jesse B. Semple, who seemed to sum up the dogged survival of African Americans by boasting: "I've been insulted, eliminated, locked in, locked out, and left holding the bag. But I am still here."

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Langston Hughes

While Hughes was blazing a brilliant literary trail, Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was breaking new ground for African American women writers. Hurston became famous not only as a novelist but also as a recorder of black folklore. One of her strongest messages was for blacks to give up the legacy of slavery.

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Zora Neale Hurston

"Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves," wrote Hurston. "It fails to register with me. Slavery is 60 years past. The operation was successful, and the patient is doing fine, thank you."

Harlem also boasted such great African American writers as Countee Cullen (1903-1946) and James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938).

Art

While Harlem Renaissance writers wrote about the African American experience, artists such as William H. Johnson (1901-1970) painted it brilliantly. Born in South Carolina, Johnson recognized early that he could not survive as an artist in the segregated South.

In 1918, Johnson moved to New York City, where he was able to enroll in an art school. He went to Paris, France, then the art center of the world, in 1926. In the 1930s, he returned to Harlem. Johnson's paintings celebrate the sights of both the rural South, where he grew up, and of Harlem in the '20s, '30s, and '40s.

Politics

Harlem in the '20s and '30s also became the center of African American political thought. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois (1868-1963) was the inspirational leader of African American political writers during the Harlem Renaissance. In his political writings, Du Bois urged African Americans to return to their roots and to rise to greatness. Du Bois believed that education was the way for African Americans to achieve independence. He celebrated the dogged persistence of African Americans in a white society, where they tended to look at themselves through white eyes. His most famous book is The Souls of Black Folk.

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) energized the feelings of black people during the '20s and '30s. Garvey, who was born in Jamaica, led a "back to Africa" movement. In 1914, Garvey organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). In 1920, the organization held its first convention in New York, opening with a parade down Harlem's Lenox Avenue. After the convention, Garvey outlined his plan to unite all black people in one autonomous black country in Africa.

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Marcus Garvey

Legacy

Whatever Harlem did for black people during the 1920s, the Stock Market crash (1929) and the Great Depression (1929-1935) took it away. Suddenly, the money that had supported African American poets, artists, musicians, and writers dried up. The cultural life of Harlem, once so vibrant and joyous and creative, seemed to fade slowly into increasing poverty and bleakness.

"We were no longer in vogue.... The generous 1920s were over," wrote Jervis Anderson in This Was Harlem.

Nevertheless, the great legacy of the Harlem Renaissance has continued to enrich and influence American life. The writers, artists, musicians, and thinkers who made Harlem their home in the 1920s and early '30s continue to inspire Americans of all colors today.
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Unread postby ibbi 3 » Sun Jan 08, 2006 5:34 am

I don't have the book but I will read all the tidbits and discussions about it , it's interesting.

The Dutch town is not far from Amsterdam ; Haarlem
( mr. ibbi was born there )


The Dutch Peter Stuyvesant was the founder of Harlem in 1658.
Haarlem is famous for his writers , like Harry Mulisch and painters , like Jan Steen.

The newspaper Het Haarlems Dagblad is the oldest newspaper in the world that still excist ! The first print was in 1656.
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Unread postby suec » Sun Jan 08, 2006 11:00 am

ibbi 3 wrote:I don't have the book but I will read all the tidbits and discussions about it , it's interesting.

The Dutch town is not far from Amsterdam ; Haarlem
( mr. ibbi was born there )


The Dutch Peter Stuyvesant was the founder of Harlem in 1658.
Haarlem is famous for his writers , like Harry Mulisch and painters , like Jan Steen.

The newspaper Het Haarlems Dagblad is the oldest newspaper in the world that still excist ! The first print was in 1656.


That's interesting ibbi. 1656 - how wonderful.
Liz, I begin to see what a rich collection of tidbits we are being treated to!
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sun Jan 08, 2006 11:56 am

Another great tidbit, Liz! :bounce: Ibbi, thanks for the extra info. :cool:
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Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 08, 2006 2:30 pm

Ibbi, that is quite interesting! :-O
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Unread postby jolivent » Sun Jan 08, 2006 3:25 pm

One of the most famous Lindy Hoppers, Frankie Manning


The first time I met Frankie Manning, he was 80 and teaching at a dance camp. After his days at the Savoy Ballroom, he got married and went to work at the post office. Just at the time he retired, there was a renewed interest in Lindy Hop. He was found and has been teaching dance all over the world ever since. He is known as the person who developed the aerial moves in Lindy Hop. I got tears in my eyes, when at 80 he threw a young Swedish Lindy Hopper (the dance is really big in Sweden!) for an aerial. Then about 4 years ago he came to my home town in :canada:, something I never believed could have been possible. There is no dance more fun than the Lindy. Frankie is a great teacher, and now at 91 still has a teaching schedule all over the world. He is a gracious man with a great big smile, and a real national treasure who can bring to life some of the time we are discussing. You can see his schedule as well as a number of old film clips at http://www.savoystyle.com/frankie_manning.html
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Unread postby Liz » Sun Jan 08, 2006 3:44 pm

Jolivent, it's a small world, isn't it? :-O I hope I'm still going strong at 91.
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Unread postby H2H » Sun Jan 08, 2006 7:31 pm

I finally caught up with all the tidbits. Thanks for all the info.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Sun Jan 08, 2006 7:55 pm

jolivent, your story jogged my memory about him! Good to know he is still going. So you are a Lindy Hopper? How fun! A friend of mine and her husband are swing dancers and they love it! :cool:

H2H, glad you are enjoying the info! Plenty more on the way... :-O
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Unread postby Bix » Sun Jan 08, 2006 8:44 pm

The whole Harlem renaissance has always fascinated me. Duke Ellington was one of my parents favorites, so I heard his music from childhood on. The musicians, the poets and writers, the artists of all kinds of that period were groundbreakers. I'm sure we could have a year of tidbits just on the The Jazz Age if we started taking each one of these talented people separately! Thanks for a great overview, Liz! And thanks ibbi 3 and jolivent and others for your fascinating tie-ins to the period.
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Unread postby Junebaby » Mon Jan 09, 2006 12:29 am

Whew! I am finally caught up reading the Tidbits! Wonderful source of information! I certainly understand this time period better then before.

Mr. Junebaby and I were talking about the 20's the other day, discussing Inamorata and the Tidbits, and it came up that his grandmother who died last year at age 99 (1905-2005) lived her 20's during these years. Just imagine being 20 in the 20's, so much happening especially with the change in lifestyle for this age group. I remember seeing pictures of her and yes, she was wearing a shorter dress and shorter hair. From what I have learned about her, she was a "modern woman". Neat to think of her possibly being a Flapper. There are also pictures of her and her husband with their "Model T". It is amazing to think of all the things that they saw in their lifetime - just amazing!

Thanks for all of the hard work! Love it! :bounce:

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Unread postby Raven » Mon Jan 09, 2006 1:06 am

Thank you Liz and zoners for these tidbits and added info.

cannot wait for the rest of them!
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Unread postby Theresa » Mon Jan 09, 2006 2:11 am

Excellent tidbits -- so informative and interesting.

Thank you!


:thanks!:

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Unread postby Liz » Mon Jan 09, 2006 3:13 am

I think it is really neat that some of you have actually known people who have lived through that time. I don't remember ever talking with my grandparents or DH's grandparents about this period in history.
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Unread postby gilly » Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:40 am

I remember reading about Lena Horne and that because she was perceived to look 'white',it was one of the reasons she managed to break into movies,although some of her scenes were deleted for audiences in the south...I loved the sound of some of those black women singers..Bessie Smith through to Billie Holiday..I would have loved to have hung out at the Cotton Club. :cool: What a fascinating place Harlem would have been...
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