The Harlem Renaissance: Modern Art and Music

The Great Migration is given a lot of the credit for bringing 1.6 million African Americans from the South to the North to seek a better life. The Great Migration also increased the population of Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance was a time where African Americans migrated from the Rural South to Northern cities during World War I, taking advantage of inexpensive living.. During this time in the early 19th century, both social and intellectual growth took place here for African Americans, more specifically for the African Americans living in Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance peaked in the 1920s where African American music and art grew in popularity and provided a foundation for today’s modern music and art. The Harlem Renaissance was a great time in American History but not many people fully understand the impact it had on today’s art and music. To understand these contributions, it’s important to understand what the Harlem Renaissance was.

Starting in the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance was “flowering with African American writing, music, and art (Brown). Before the 1920s, African Americans didn’t have a lot of places to go, where they felt safe, and welcome to express what they felt through art and music. Harlem was the place where they could do that with no fear of judgment or discrimination. The rapid opening of real estate in the North added to the appeal of cities. After people found out about these new spaces, “the city’s local blacks were moving to take advantage of plentiful apartments” (Brown). Due to the fact that several who lived in New York was overseas fighting in World War I, many apartment spaces opened up offering new oulets for creativity and better opportunities for African Americans looking for a better life. Since African Americans had the ability to move around freely and they weren’t stuck in one spot, like a plantation, they were taking every opportunity to change their lives. Many new musicians came out of the Harlem Renaissance, but one of the most memorable was Louis Armstrong.

According to a history magazine, “Louis Armstrong [was a great influencer of jazz music]that percolated in and then boomed out of Harlem in the 1920s” (History.com Editors). Jazz was a new type of music in the 1920s, Armstrong was in a way, one of the first big jazz musicians, and to some, one of the first big African American artists. Armstrong’s music found an audience of both black and white people which was rare in the time period. According to the same source, “[Jazz music] was often played as speakeasies offering illegal liquor” (History.com Editors) Speakeasies are a place where alcohol is served when it is outlawed. Speakeasies were a good place to play jazz music They where frequented by both black and white people who were there to listen to jazz and enjoy the liquor and large crowds. In addition to the great impact music made, art that came out of The Harlem Renaissance heavily affected today’s modern art. Research explained that “prior to World War I, black painters and sculptors had rarely concerned themselves with African American subject matter” (Hutchinson).

In the past, black artists didn’t have African American subjects because they didn’t have the inspiration that the Harlem Renaissance gave them or even more likely, they were afraid of altercations that would come from the art. During the Harlem Renaissance, however, black artists were in a place where this kind of art was both accepted and encouraged. Due to previous beliefs that all black painters were in Harlem, many “black artists of the 1920s spent little time in Harlem. Paris was the mecca of black painters and sculptors in that decade” (Hutchinson). Even though many painters spent most of their time in Paris instead of Harlem, these painters still had an enormous impression on painters that were still in Harlem. The artists in Harlem might have not been in Paris because they couldn’t afford it or it didn’t sound appealing to them. It didn’t matter where artists were during the Renaissance, they still made art and continued to inspire people with their creativity. Thanks to the Great Migration, African Americans brought ethnic and cultural diversity to New York, sparking the Harlem Renaissance, which had a great impact on much of today’s music and modern art. The Great Migration brought 1.6 million African Americans to the North making New York and other Northern cities both more ethnically diverse and culturally diverse.

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