By Isabella Cuan, Kelly King, Courtney Law, and Sian Barry

The Harlem Renaissance was a time of freedom and exploration. It was one of the greatest times in history. African Americans explored their identities as Black Americans and expressed themselves as artists and intellectuals. They discovered their freedom, fought for their rights, and made Harlem, NYC, (the northern part of the borough of Manhattan) the "it" place to be (Harlem Renaissance). The Harlem Renaissance showed the beginning of a new time period filled with hope for the African Americans, hope for them to finally be treated equal and live a free life in the United States. The African American point of view revealed that the 20's was a time period for change. African Americans could now write books, make music, earn money, and create art with being more freely judged and having less limits. The Harlem Renaissance didn't just impact the Black Americans, it impacted every person of the arts: Musicians, Artists, Poets/Writers. Musicians from all around the world became important figures in history. Genres such as jazz, blues, and bebop were extremely popular in Harlem. Ones such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington became immensely successful musicians who were thought to be some of the greatest jazz musicians in history. These influential entertainers paved the way for others who would soon follow in their footsteps. During the Harlem Renaissance, there were many other influential figures who helped the New Negro Movement. They lived in black communities and were victims of racial prejudice. They wrote about the reality of black life before the 1920s and brought awareness to segregation and other problems that black Americans faced. They were people such as James Weldon Johnson and Alain Locke who were able to express their feelings through the arts. Harlem Renaissance is also where African Americans were first excepted as artists. African American artists in Harlem drew inspiration from the African culture and even Africa itself. Artists could now reveal their own identity and make a living painting and selling their work. People began calling Harlem the "Negro capital of America" (Songs of the soul: the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1935-Special Report).


Harlem is a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, New York City where many African Americans moved to in the 20's. This era was known as the Harlem Renaissance.The Harlem Renaissance was named after the " The New Negro Movement" (Wikipedia). The migration from southern homes to New York City was different for the African Americans because they mostly moved from familiar, southern, country homes to a new urban neighborhood known as Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance is remembered because it was a time for change and hope for African Americans equality. This was not easy for the African Americans because they had to fight for it. People of the Harlem Renaissance, turned out to be so unique and creative, that it was an extremely inspirational culture movement that took place in the "Roaring 20's."

During the Harlem Renaissance, the "Neighborhood of Harlem in Manhattan drew about 175,000 African Americans" (Rowen, Brunette). This made the neighborhood "the largest concentration of black people in the world" (Rowen, Brunette). In addition, Harlem only covered about 3 square miles. Harlem was sometimes even called, "black Manhattan"(Rowen, Brunette). Mainly, the African Americans that came to live in New York City, settled in Harlem. In the Harlem Renaissance, a series of events that helped change America were held such as, the Third Pan African Congress 1923, American Negro Labor Congress 1925 and, the Cotton Club opened 1923. (Reuben)
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The Harlem Renaissance showed the beginning of a new life for African Americans. They were slowly, but surely getting closer to acceptance in the nation. The life for African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance was harder than it appeared, for they were not fully accepted. Many African Americans still struggled to make a living in the city. The African Americans did have a supportive large group of people known as the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (MSN.Encarta) which was always there for the African Americans and still is. The NAACP still exists today. The NAACP would help by boycotting racist things, for example. They would hold meetings that would have discussions about problems throughout the neighborhood concerning colored people mostly. For instance, the reason for a meeting could possibly be someone local was going against the law and trying to kick a colored person out of their neighborhood. This was simply because they felt that they were above the colored person. Hubert Harrison, "The Father of Harlem Radicalism" was an inspirational African American that founded the first newspaper and organization of The New Negro Movement (Wikipedia).

During the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem became the center of African American creativity. Inspiration came from many different people. Music, for example, was inspired by Bessie Smith who was known as the "Empress of Blues" (Wikipedia). Creativity during the 20's for African Americans had spread throughout Harlem. Finally, black Americans could compose music and perform it. Many inspirational African American musicians played the blues and jazz. Art had also made its way to success since African American artists could finally sell their artwork. A great artist of the Harlem Renaissance was Aaron Douglas who brought artistic creativity to a whole new level. A famous poet of the 1920's, Claude McKay, explained in his book, "Home to Harlem" (1928) how things were like for Negros in the Harlem Renaissance.

In Harlem, things were tough for making a living and starting a new life after migrating to New York City. It was not easy and they were not treated perfectly, but they were strong and creative and started to prove that there was more to them than meets the eye. Black Americans of the Harlem Renaissance came to New York City with an open mind. The Harlem Renaissance showed that the Negro's creativity was building up in Harlem and had finally bursted revealing all the creativity we see today. All in all, the Harlem Renaissance was the beginning of change for not just African Americans, but for people of different races throughout the United States.

In the Harlem Renaissance, African American artists started to embrace and share their culture through art inspired by African culture, and even Africa itself.This was shown through paintings with bright colors, and also paintings that included traditional costume and traditional celebrations. The paintings each told a story about personal experiences, slavery, culture, religion, love, and life in general (Eyeconart).
William johnsons ,Chain Gang, shows a group of African Americans chained together in jail uniforms. This expressed injustice against African Americans in Harlem (Wikipedia). Harlem, NY, became the place to be for African American artists. These artists moved from all over the United States to Harlem to be accepted as real artists and make a living selling their art. This included Lois Mailon Jones who moved to Harlem so she could take credit for her paintings for the first time in her art career. Lois had lived in Boston before coming to Harlem where her white friends would sell and take credit for her paintings. They would secretly then give the money to Lois. Every time someone found out about the secret exchanges, they would take the money and give it to a business compensator (eyeconart).

The Harlem Renaissance also gave birth to new use of mediums, such as bronze,wood, clay, and lithographs. The bronze, clay and wood sculptures had usually been used to create African inspired masks, women and shapes barely resembling a human.
lithographs were paintings that came out looking like charcoal and usually looked and felt sad (Artlex). American avant garde began in the Harlem Renaissance. American avant garde was a cousin of European avante garde. European avant garde art was America's abstract art. American avant garde, also known as cubism, was like European avant garde, only instead of taking an object and changing it to look less like itself, Americans kept the object and emphasized the emotion it gave off (

Jacob Lawrence was the first African American sustained recognition. He had gotten numerous awards, including a presidential medal of arts and eighteen honorary post docterary awards. The artists were also called modernists because they started the idea of "modern" art (Eyeconart). "...our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black...let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let's do the impossible. Let's create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic." - Aaron Douglas. Aaron Douglas had said this in the Harlem Renaissance, and it seems his idea has been accomplished. (Eyeconart).

Before the 1920s, Black Americans were not treated with the same dignity as many white people of the time. People did not appreciate the arts created by African Americans. The lives of African Americans were hard, battling segregation and racial prejudice. They lived under the shadows of the white people. Landmarks throughout the towns were segregated into black and white sections. "The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously and that African American literature and arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large" (Harlem Renaissance). People such as Alain Locke and James Weldon Johnson supported the New Negro Movement. They were the voices of the Harlem Renaissance who spoke out and let the world know they were there. They had finally won the battle against slavery and were ready to become Black Americans, their new identity.

The literature of the 1920s explained the transformation of the "Old Negro", where African Americans were unable to explore literature and arts, where the word freedom was rare and unknown. The "New Negro" was a time of freedom and the gain of long lost equality, as well as the discovery of African American literature and arts. Most African American literature expressed and depicted the daily lives of Black Americans before the 1920s. They told about their individual struggles and problems that they were confronted with each and every day. James Weldon Johnson was a very influential figure and inspired many African Americans. Johnson was known as a poet, diplomat and composer. Johnson accepted the position of the field secretary for the NAACP(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). While in this job, Johnson was noted for many great things. Firstly, he made awareness of racism, lynching, and segregation, his goal was to improve the situation of many African Americans living in America. He encouraged Black Americans to produce great literature and art and believed this was important in the growth of equality with the white people (James Weldon Johnson). "Johnson composed the lyrics of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," originally written for a celebration of Lincoln's birthday at Stanton School. This song would later become to be known - and adopted as such by the NAACP - as the Negro National Anthem" (James Weldon Johnson). His most recognized work written during and about the Harlem Renaissance was The Autobiography of an Ex Colored Man. (James Weldon Johnson). Johnson also helped many young black authors get published. Johnson wrote a piece call Black Manhattan which questioned how racial problems would be solved between black and whites. Johnson was an activist and supporter of the New Negro Movement. He protested along with many other people about the subject of racial discrimination (James Weldon Johnson).


There were many voices of the Harlem Renaissance who spoke out through literature and arts. During the Harlem Renaissance, plenty of amazing people stood out and left great incites of what the life of many Black American was like. Langston Hughes, who was born to mixed raced parents, grew up in an African American community. His childhood was tough but served as a motivation for his later poetry career. Hughes was unashamed of being black, his racial pride showed confidence within himself. This inspired the people around him as they too should be proud of their skin color. Hughes had attended Columbia University but left because of racial prejudice. His heart was not in his studies, it was in the neighborhood of Harlem (Langston Hughes). "Harlem, in New York City, became a center of this expanding black middle class" (Harlem Renaissance). Hughes' most known poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, was published in The Crisis, and his other works were extremely influential in the Harlem Renaissance. They portrayed the struggle, joy, laughter, and music of black life. Some of his poems were based on the rhythm of jazz and blues (Langston Hughes). Another interesting person during the Harlem Renaissance was Claude McKay. McKay was born and raised in Jamaica but when he came to America, he was shocked by the intense racism. Many public facilities were segregated and things he heard were not pleasant. McKay published his well-known novel, Home to Harlem. This piece had a major impact on many African Americans. It discussed the reality of street life in Harlem and the truth about the lives of African American people before the Harlem Renaissance (Claude McKay). "McKay also presented glimpses of the glamor and the grit of Harlem life in the above-mentioned Harlem Shadows" (Harlem Renaissance).

The Weary Blues- Poetry by Langston Hughes

Some of you may have heard of Alain LeRoy Locke. This incredible man was an American writer, philosopher, educator, and patron of the arts during the Harlem Renaissance. Locke is known as and often called the "Father of the Harlem Renaissance". Locke wrote a piece called The Problem of Classification in the Theory of Value, it was part of his theory of cultural pluralism (Alain LeRoy Locke). "His philosophy served as a strong motivating force in keeping the energy and passion of the Movement at the forefront." (Alain LeRoy Locke). Locke "encouraged black people to depict African and African American subjects, and to draw on their history for subject material" (Alain LeRoy Locke). His focus was to promote black literature and art (Harris, Leonard). He set many high standards for African Americans and his works centered around the topics of self confidence, political awareness, and fair treatment of the black population. His most famous collection of works, The New Negro, named the movement. He was influential to people like Zora Neale Hurston and many others who followed in his footsteps (Alain LeRoy Locke). Locke was almost like the architect of the New Negro Movement (Harris, Leonard). Zora Neale Hurston was an author and folklorist. Hurston grew up in the all black town of Eatonville, Florida. She produced a magazine Fire!! along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. "This literary movement became the center of the Harlem Renaissance" (Zora Neale Hurston). Her stories charmed many listeners but she never mentioned the racism between black and white. Many readers of her books and other work objected to her dialect (Zora Neale Hurston)."Her stylistic choices in terms of dialogue were influenced by her academic experiences, she thought like a folklorist" (Zora Neale Hurston). Hurston was one of the most accomplished and significant writers of the 1920s (Zora Neale Hurston). These people were the signal of "the new creative energy in African-American literature" (Harlem Renaissance).

"For thousands of blacks around the world, the Harlem Renaissance was proof that whites did not hold a monopoly on literature and culture" (Harlem Renaissance). This was history, it is known as one of the most accomplished and recognized times for Black Americans. They had been accepted into the arts, it was a time of celebration of black dignity and creativity (Harlem Renaissance). The African American culture emerged, this was a new generation of literature and other arts. African Americans could finally express their feelings and concerns through writing. But this was no journal, their thoughts would be known and published. Their struggle for racial identity was over. "Not only through an explosion of culture, but on a sociological level, the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance is that it redefined how America, and the world, viewed the African-American population" (Harlem Renaissance). The Harlem Renaissance open a whole new future for African Americans. For many, this was a new beginning, a fresh start, an unwritten book that would soon be filled with wonderful things yet to come. This was all with the help of the voices of the Harlem Renaissance.


Important People During the Harlem Renaissance:
Langston Hughes (1) Claude McKay (2) Zora Neale Hurston (3)
James Weldon Johnson (1) Alain LeRoy Locke (2)
"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 ..."(Songs of the soul: the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1935-Special Report). This was Harlem, NYC. This was the music that lasted throughout history. Harlem in the 20's was exciting, joyful, and active. Jazz and blues music rang throughout the city all day and night long. Black Americans were spotted singing along to one of their favorite musician's song or seeing their favorite entertainer perform at Harlem's Cotton Club (Songs of the soul: the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1935 - Special Report - Statistical Data Included). The music of Harlem: Jazz, blues, bebop, and many more, influenced many black Americans, both men and women, to begin or continue a successful career as a musician. Little did these musicians know that they would one day become one of the most famous musicians in history.
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Music in Harlem became an interest, a success, and a special talent. Musicians performed at entertainment places like Harlem's Cotton Club, Ed Smalls Paradise, Connie's Inn, Savoy Ballroom, The Apollo Theatre, and rent parties which were held in apartments (Hilliard). Many different genres, techniques, and ideas originated from the busy streets of Harlem. Jazz and blues were the main genres to listen to at the time. Blues dealt with hardships of love and life, while jazz was a type of influential, big band dance music (Jazz). Blues was usually self-accompanied by a singer on a harmonica or guitar. The singers often worked with jazz bands and pianists (Harlem Renaissance). On the other hand, jazz was usually a form of improvisation. It was characterized by syncopation, usually heavily accented rhythms, and unusual tone effects on the trumpet, saxophone, trombone, clarinet, and others (Jazz Definition). "Jazz isn't just music, but also a spirit that can express itself in almost everything' (Kwa).

Although blues and jazz were considered the most popular styles in Harlem, other styles and techniques of music arose. One of the most popular, recognized ideas was the way to play the piano. It was known as "Stride Piano." It was a style of playing the piano that only the most advanced musician could perform. It takes a period of years, determination, experience, and time to perfect. It was a form of swing music that makes one of the most vibrant, full piano sounds (Harlem Stride Piano). Following this successful idea, yet another technique was born. It was known as the boogie-woogie which was a style of piano-based blues (Boogie-woogie). Although these style did not become extremely popular until the 40's, it influenced generations to come (All About Jazz). Although these styles were big in the music industry, it wasn't the style itself that became a success, it was the one who created it.

Harlem was known for its creativity, it was known as the finest, most accepted place to be during the "Jazz Age." Musicians from around the world came to begin a career at the birthplace of many jazz discoveries and ideas. Jazz originated from New Orleans and eventually made its success in the home of NYC: Harlem (Where Jazz Came From). Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, despite his poor, troubled childhood, made his way to the top of his jazz career. Although he was born in New Orleans, he showcased his talent in Harlem. He was and still is considered the greatest of all jazz musicians. He is recognized as the true definition of jazz (Kwa). Not only was he an extremely talented cornet and trumpet player, he was a powerful singer too (Louis Armstrong). His trumpet solos and vocals were and still continue to be the most identifiable in jazz (Louis Armstrong). He influenced many others and is a role model in external image Louis_Armstrong_Cover.jpgexternal image 169796~Louis-Armstrong-Posters.jpgexternal image louis_armstrong.jpg
in history. He is a legend still dominating jazz today (Louis Armstrong). Armstrong began to make a series of recordings with studio-only groups named the Hot Fives or the Hot Sevens (Louis Armstrong). "The records made by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven are considered to be absolute jazz classics and speak of Armstrong's creative powers" (Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong). His Hot Fives' recording of "Muskrat Ramble" gave Armstrong a top ten hit, along with many others (Louis Armstrong). His "Hot Five" and "Hot Seven" recordings had no parallel in jazz (Louis Armstrong). Louis Armstrong was not only a strong force, he was an inspiration to many around the world both in the 20's and today. '"Louis Armstrong's station in the history of jazz is unimpeachable. If it weren't for him, there wouldn't be any of us" -Dizzy Gillespie, 1971 (Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy).

Louis Armstrong wasn't the only jazz musician who had a great impact on society in Harlem. Edward Kennedy Ellington, known as Duke Ellington, was a huge success in Harlem during the 1920's. He was a bandleader, composer, and pianist. Not only was he one of the most respected figures in jazz, he was known as the man who brought jazz into concert halls and religious services (Edward Kennedy Ellington). Similarly to Armstrong, he too growing up was a poor black boy (Collier). He moved from Washington D.C. to Harlem, NYC and created a 10-piece band hoping to be a success. The band appeared in theaters, nightclubs, radio stations, and foreign tours (Edward Kennedy Ellington). He had a four year time period at Harlem's Cotton Club and had made it the "in" place to be. His compositions were in a kind of modified concerto form since they were organized around solo instrumental performances and also often introduced vocal passages without words. His style came from many different places and carried many influences, combining blues, various forms of jazz and big-bang sound of swing music (Edward Kennedy Ellington). He was largely self-taught and had the self-confidence to trust his own judgment and intuition. He ignored the rules, and developed a compositional style that was all his own (Collier). Duke Ellington had always said, "A problem is a chance for you to do your best"
external image Duke_ellington_cdaja5573.jpglexternal image duke.jpgexternal image duke_ellington_h_leonard.jpg
(Duke Ellington Quotes). His most famous songs included "Mood Indigo", "Sophisticated Lady", and "Solitude" (Edward Kennedy Ellington). Other songs included "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and "Take the 'A' Train" (subway to Harlem) ( Songs of the soul: the Harlem Renaissance, 1920-1935 - Special Report - Statistical Data Included). Duke Ellington was a unique musician who had his own style and methods which is why he remains one of the most significant jazz musicians of history. As Duke Ellington had said, "The wise musicians are those who play what they can master" (McElrath).

Duke Elllington's "Take The A Train"

Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong (Mood Indigo)

Although Armstrong and Ellington made a success as jazz artists, new genres of jazz arose from a talented, black man named Miles Davis. Today, he is widely considered one of the most influential musicians. He was at the forefront of almost every major development in jazz from World War II to 1990's. He was a trumpeter, bandleader, and composer who made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He played on various bebop records and recorded one of the first cool jazz records (Miles Davis). " Bebop was known as the music that was forced underground. The music shifted emphasis from dancing to listening. Bebop was also known as modern jazz that developed after World War II in the clubs along 52nd Street notably Mintons and The Swinging Door. Characteristically bop reflected the resentment black musicians felt over the rewards and benefits reaped by white big bands from swing developed by blacks" (Hilliard). Bebop artists developed their own styles of dress such as berets and growing goatees (Hilliard). Unlike bebop, cool jazz avoided the aggressive tempos and harmonic abstraction of bebop (Cool Jazz). While all types of jazz continued to be a success, blues made its way to success too. Legendary blues singer, Bessie Smith began singing on street corners for pennies when she was less than 10 years of age. It wasn't until a club operator heard her and paid her to sing at a tavern that she began her career (Jarvis). By the 20's, Smith was a leading artist in black shows. Her first recording of "Downhearted Blues" established her as the most successful black performing artist of her time. She recorded with important early jazz musicians and recorded more than 160 songs in a 10 year time frame (Bessie Smith). "Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out" was another one of her known songs. Her inspiration for her early career was influenced by Ma Rainey, who was another successful artist during Smith's time (Bessie Smith). As Smith said herself, “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing" (Bessie Smith Quotes).
external image Bessie_Smith_8120660.jpgexternal image MilesDavisKindofBlue.jpg

Throughout the years of the Harlem Renaissance, opportunity and new ways of thinking came about. Harlem became the center of entertainment for musicians around the world. New ideas, techniques, and styles arose making Harlem the most famous place to be. "The music of black America can be traced through the music of Harlem/New York City" (Hilliard). Although some black Americans were still continuing to fight for freedom and respect, most were accepted into society and could eventually join the success. Harlem became the path to life, fortune, and acceptance to many. The way to victory was by believing what Bessie Smith had: “It's a long old road, but I know I'm gonna find the end” (Bessie Smith Quotes). With a combination of optimism, confidence, and faith anything was possible.
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"Historians disagree as to when the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. It is unofficially recognized to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid 1930s, although its ideas lived on much longer" (Harlem Renaissance). The history of the Harlem Renaissance will never be forgotten. Harlem became a symbol of respect and new life and had lead many to achievement and triumph. Harlem was the reason why black Americans gained high opinion from whites and esteem to do what they wanted in life. Harlem lead African Americans to no longer be afraid of such harsh judgment and rejection. Harlem became the heart of African American creativity. Harlem gave opportunity to writers, artists, and musicians, and eventually lead them to victory and a sense of accomplishment. "It almost seemed like divine forces brought all these people at the same place at the same time in history" (Charlie Parker). A total of originality, independence, and popularity caused Harlem to stand through the test of time and be a significant place and time in history. "...New York has it all" (Hilliard).



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