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This chapter provides an overview of the role of jazz during the period, noting the genre’s beginnings in African music patterns and its migration to unexpected areas such as Chicago and California. The chapter also briefly profiles major musicians and singers associated with jazz during the mid-twentieth century.
In the popular imagination, the Harlem Renaissance is closely associated with the Jazz Age, with rent parties, clubs, cabarets, jazz, and blues. Langston Hughes did much to cement such views of the period, announcing in his autobiography The Big Sea (1940) that “it was the period when the Negro was in vogue,” a spectacular cultural boom that came to a sudden halt with the onset of the Depression. In fact, the Harlem Renaissance, or New Negro Movement, was characterized by remarkable diversity that cannot be limited to a linear narrative of boom and bust, and more fiction by black authors was published in the 1930s than in the 1920s. The unprecedented flowering of black cultural production in visual art, literature, dance, and music from the late 1910s to the 1930s encompassed jazz and blues poetry by Sterling A. Brown and Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston’s lyrical renderings of folk culture in the South, George Schuyler’s unusual blending of satire and science fiction in Black No More (1931), militant editorials in The Messenger, and modernist cover designs by such artists as Aaron Douglas and Laura Wheeler Waring.
The Harlem Renaissance was the most influential single movement in African American literary history. The movement laid the groundwork for subsequent African American literature, and had an enormous impact on later black literature world-wide. In its attention to a wide range of genres and forms – from the roman à clef and the bildungsroman, to dance and book illustrations – this book seeks to encapsulate and analyze the eclecticism of Harlem Renaissance cultural expression. It aims to re-frame conventional ideas of the New Negro movement by presenting new readings of well-studied authors, such as Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, alongside analysis of topics, authors, and artists that deserve fuller treatment. An authoritative collection on the major writers and issues of the period, A History of the Harlem Renaissance takes stock of nearly a hundred years of scholarship and considers what the future augurs for the study of 'the New Negro'.
In the wake of Paul Gilroy's landmark study The Black Atlantic (1993), an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective has transformed conceptions of the New Negro renaissance, revealing a cultural movement that stretched from the US to the Caribbean, Cuba, Mexico and the Soviet Union. Mapping the emergence of Paris as a transcultural capital of black modernism, Brent Hayes Edwards, Theresa Leininger-Miller and Tyler Stovall have examined the interplay between African American cultural expression, European fascination with African art and négritude. Judging the impact of travel to the Soviet Union upon Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Paul Robeson, Kate A. Baldwin introduces Communism into the mix, describing ‘internationalism's potential to trigger others’ national self-consciousness'. Focusing upon ‘concepts of culture’, David Luis-Brown has documented the development of hemispheric intellectual networks, led by the anthropologist Franz Boas, which prompted a flow of ideas between the New Negro movement, Cuban negrismo and Mexican indigenismo. More controversially, Mark Christian Thompson has argued that such writers as Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston and George Schuyler looked beyond America as they ‘appropriated and elaborated on fascist ideology as a means of revolutionary black nation building’.