The Harlem Renaissance was an extraordinary time of cultural and artistic growth in the African-American community and that began in 1919 and flourished until the stock market crash in 1929 and was centered in Harlem, which had become an African-American neighborhood in early 1900 during the Great Migration of southern blacks to northern cities, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. Harlem became the cultural and intellectual center of African-Americans.
The Harlem Renaissance was an explosion of arts and literature, with writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Huston, actor Paul Robeson, and intellectuals W. E. B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey all came to prominence. It was also a magnet for jazz musicians and it was during this period that the great Harlem jazz clubs were opened including the Cotton Club, the Savoy and the Apollo Theater. Jazz was the sound and the musicians from this era are still legendary: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Noble Sissie, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, Bill Robinson, Ma Rainey, Jelly Roll Morton and, of course, Duke Ellington.
It’s no wonder that the young Duke Ellington would want to be a part of this exciting movement. He and the bad first moved to Harlem in 1919. However, they found breaking in to the Harlem jazz community more difficult than they imagined, and mostly played rent parties to support themselves. After a few months they returned to Washington, but by 1923, Ellington was making a name for himself in Harlem as well as New York City. In 1927, his band was offered a contract at the Cotton Club and Duke Ellington was the toast of the town and his weekly radio show introduced him and his music to the entire country.
Tomorrow … The Great Depression
We leave you today with one of Ellington’s great hits from 1927: Creole Love Call.