African American Music Jazz and Blues

Leading up to the 1920s, African American music came to the attention of the white music industry and white music audiences.  In 1912 W. C. Handy became the "Father of the Blues" with his composition, Memphis Blues. His inspiration for the style came from an African American musical practice of singing away one's sorrows to move on and up away from them.  W. C. Handy and "Ma" Rainey both recalled having heard the blues being sung by amateur singers in this tradition, but their ability to translate this country form into a performance style is what brought it to the attention of white audiences and the music industry. 

Jazz was likewise rooted in Southern African American music, yet it was a band of white musicians, billing themselves as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who first recorded jazz music. By the 1920s, "jazz" was being played around the country by both African American and white bands and eventually became the sound we associate with the Roaring Twenties. The '30s ushered in the Swing Era with Duke Ellington, his Orchestra, and other Big Bands.  

The popularity of African American performers with white audiences brought about a number of racial conflicts.  For example, The Cotton Club, well know for billing popular swing and jazz artists, only allowed white patrons.  In another incident, Marian Anderson was invited to sing by Howard University, but the venue they wished to book, Constitution Hall, was owned by the Daughters of the Revolution, who refused to allow her to perform because of her skin color.  The incident prompted Eleanor Roosevelt, then First Lady, to publicly resign from the DAR, and ultimately Anderson performed instead in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  

During all of this time, of course, African American musicians were continuing to play their music for African American audiences, dancers, families, and churches, just as they had always done.

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