Good Example Of Jazz And Its Influence On Social Justice Research Paper

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Music, Jazz, People, America, United States, Race, White, Time

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2021/02/13

In the 1920s America was a prosperous time. World War I had ended in victory for the allies, sending the surviving troops home with feelings of pride. This pride spread among the United States and inspired sentiment among the population. Families were reunited with their loved ones and those who had been widowed from the war knew their husbands had died valiantly. New developments were beginning to take shape, and industrialization was booming. More jobs became available and more people could afford luxuries. By the end of the decade, women were given the right to vote. This means that advancements to combat gender segregation were advancing during this time. The world was in a peaceful state, and people were finally able to enjoy themselves and focus on recreation like they never had before. The advent of concert halls and clubs brought with them the popularity of live music, and a new form of music began to spread through the country. This music was known as jazz. Jazz was a popular music form among people of all ages, races, generations, and classes. It united people among many fronts, but it came with its share of criticism. Jazz was a lot more than a type of music. Jazz opened doors for social change, allowing intellectual discussion and progression to move to the forefront of American thought. Many social issues were still a threat in the beginning of the 20th century, and social justice was beginning to take shape. Jazz played a strong role in social justice, particularly in the early to mid 20th century America.
Jazz music originated in New Orleans, Louisiana, and developed from African American music (Johnson 15). During slavery, black culture was considered inferior and was banned by slave owners. Slaves began to incorporate elements of their music into their work songs, which included basic jazz elements (Taylor 23). This work music was used as a communication tool that united slaves, despite the fact that they all came from different backgrounds and cultures and did not necessarily know the same languages. It was a way for them to relieve the stress that came from the gruelling labor they were forced to perform (Taylor 23). Once slaves were emancipated, and freed slaves began to migrate north, these work songs came with them. These songs formed the roots for modern jazz music. Developments in technology, such as the phonograph, allowed people all over the country to experience jazz music. It also spread by boat through major port cities that later became hubs for jazz, including Memphis and St. Louis (Teachout 68). Jazz grew in popularity after World War I when African American people began to migrate to other major cities such as Chicago and New York (Johnson 16). Chicago became one of the most important centres for jazz music and musicians alike. The music style of jazz began as a hybrid of ragtime, classical music, and blues (Teachout 67). Popular jazz musicians at the time included Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, and Louis Armstrong. Jazz music became instantly popular among the United States. In the late 1920s, jazz music occupied over two-thirds of air time on the radio (Johnson 16).
With the spread of jazz came many critics, blaming the music for post-war social issues such as divorce and crime rates (Johnson 16). Jazz music became associated with scandal and youth, alcoholism and sexuality (Teachout 66). Many jazz musicians performed in nightclubs and concert halls, which could encourage behavior such as clapping, whistling, dancing, and stomping (Taylor 24). These behaviors were considered obnoxious and scene-causing, something that was not seen as part of proper social behavior. Dancing was widely considered as inappropriate and could lead to sexuality among young people. The nightclub and concert hall venues also were seen to encourage the consumption of alcohol in large amounts as well as drug use. Jazz music was also featured in the theater and films, providing the score, stage acts, or the orchestra (Magee 716). This associated the jazz music with the themes of the show, which were not always socially accepted. Many of these venues also inspired social criticism, due to the fact that some of the venues were not considered classy or safe environments for young people (Magee 717). Jazz also became associated with vaudeville, a type of variety style live entertainment, which was seen in some conservative circles as crude or silly. Jazz also received criticism from music experts, as jazz did not follow traditional rhythms that other genres did, which was considered fragmented and “not real music” (Johnson 17).
The main social justice issue that came about with the popularity of jazz was a race issue. Jazz music was dominated by black musicians, and during this time racism was still a prevailing theme. Patriotism from the war had brought a lot of American citizens together through their united sense of victory. Patriotism, however, often brings with it the views that white Americans are the superior race. The majority of the soldiers in World War I were white, therefore they believed that the largest contribution was made by white people. This encouraged racial tensions between other races, not only between white and black races but between people of all races in America, including Jews and Oriental people. The Klu Klux Klan (KKK), the infamous white supremacist group, was a looming presence in Southern United States. There were also some KKK groups in northern cities such as Buffalo and Detroit. The KKK worked closely with the Anti-Saloon League, who were in favor of prohibition, and acted as a policing force for the anti-alcohol policy (Pegram 93). There were reports of lynching and racial violence by the KKK, and some members even went as far as murdering black people. The KKK was formed in 1916 with its first branch in Jefferson County, Alabama (Brownell 40). They rapidly mobilized members and by 1924 there were 10,000 people devoted to the group (Brownell 40). In the Southern states, Jim Crow laws were in place to segregate black and white people. Cities like Birmingham, Alabama left black populations to live in sparse neighborhoods full of undeveloped spaces and vacancies (Brownell 28). These cities had zoning laws in place that separated communities by their race, protecting the rights of white business owners first and foremost (Brownell 29). This was common throughout the Southern states in all major cities. Black people were segregated into their own communities, set away from white neighborhoods and businesses. They lived in geographical locations on the edge of society, near railroad tracks, creek beds and alleys, and suffered a lack of street lights (Brownell 28). This caused an additional threat of danger, which became a stereotype perpetuated by white people towards black people. This segregation also included separate washrooms, entrances, and fountains for black and white people. They had their own churches, bars and restaurants, theaters, and community places that were separate from the white population. Streetcars in Alabama were separated through different compartment and entrances for black people, and black people were always required to sit in the back (Brownell 29). Many white Americans saw jazz music as scandalous and thus associated this view with the black people who had introduced the style. Since it originated through African American culture, this was the natural thought process.
At one point, some health professionals claimed that jazz music was threatening to one’s health (Johnson 14). This could have been because jazz was believed to lead to drug and alcohol use which could result in overdose or alcohol poisoning. George M. Beard, a well-known physician in the 20th century, went as far as to state that jazz had negative effects on neurological health and caused “molecular disturbance” (Johnson 20). Beard believed this was because of the style of music that jazz was, and the instruments that were used, such as banjos and bass-heavy sounds. Some other doctors and noted physicians believed that jazz music promoted unrest and nervousness among Americans, which they believed could cause neurological diseases (Johnson 21). According to these people, young jazz listeners would become fidgety and restless, which could lead to the committing of crimes and disturbance in society. In some extreme cases doctors would claim that jazz music was making people stupid, as they believed it was making peoples’ brains turn to mush (Johnson 22). Traditional European classical music was considered beneficial to training one’s mind, but jazz would have extreme negative side effects. Some health professionals believed that the dance moves associated with the jazz movement, such as the Charleston, resembled movements of those with epilepsy or other neurological diseases (Johnson 18). Jazz produced some new dance styles that had not been seen before due to the non-traditional rhythm the music style utilized. These were considered dangerous and unhealthy. This all came in contradiction to the studies before World War I that linked music and health, stating that the two interconnected and health could benefit from music (Johnson 19).
African American people still managed to persevere, despite significant improvements to their status as a group not being made until later on in the 1960’s. Black art culture had a strong presence in cities and boroughs like Harlem that had larger black populations. Harlem was especially important because it became a central hub for urbanization and black culture. The 1920’s saw the formation of the “Harlem Renaissance,” a splurge of black American intellectuals centering their work around the New York City borough (Mattson 293). Harlem was formed from the amount of people migrating from the South due to the poor treatment of African Americans in those states, and it became a place where black people could come together without judgement and talk about political and social thought. The formation of Harlem allowed for black people to be members of communities, work in industry jobs, and express their talents through literature and art. It also allowed black culture to form, as it had been repressed previously. Many of the concert halls where jazz musicians performed were located in Harlem, which allowed for easy access to jazz shows. Harlem also allowed people to come together in community meetings to discuss local events and issues as well as political matters (Mattson 295). This gave the black community a voice that they had not had before. Publications came into circulation written and produced by black people such as magazines and journals (Johnson and Johnson 364). Many art forms came about that encouraged people of all races to express themselves. Art is often considered an important aspect of culture, and black culture was forming. Jazz was one of the reasons that these doors were opened, because many of the black jazz musicians that populated the time were expressing themselves through their music. A common theme in jazz music itself is self-expression, therefore it was encouraged among black communities. In many ways this intellectualism allowed for black communities to begin to challenge the laws that oppressed them and inspired them to take a stand for change. They were inspired by political and social thought, and began to pave the way to fight for anti-lynching and civil rights laws (Mattson 299).
There were some activists of the time that encouraged peace among the races, including Rachel Davis DuBois, who advocated that prejudice came from ignorance, so the best way to stop it was to teach students about other cultures (Selig 41). People became united over their love for dancing and jazz music, regardless of the race of the performer. Black musicians of the Jazz Age created an acceptance among lovers of the genre, as they were respected as musicians and in the music community. Some of these musicians have left legacies and are still well known in modern times. These musicians include Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, and Earl Hines. They are widely considered as influential to music history. While rights for black people were not equal yet, and would not be for a few more decades, this was a major stepping stone in the uphill battle for racial tolerance.
When the Great Depression hit America, jazz music began to fade slightly. It was replaced by a more bland form of music that was more appropriate to the sentiment of the time (Teachout 70). When the stock market crashed in 1929, the high sentiment of the roaring twenties came to an abrupt halt. The threat of war was over but debt was still present. The revival of jazz after the Great Depression was brought back with the rise in popularity of swing music. Swing music is considered the successor to jazz, as it took over in popularity after 1930. Between the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II swing music was a popular form of relief in the same sense that jazz had been, only jazz had been a source of prosperity.
Jazz music had a strong influence on social justice in early 20th century America. In a time of prosperity and pride, there were still underlying issues including race discrimination that needed to be addressed. Despite its many critics, jazz music was a prominent part of the 20th century, and was in general a beloved form of music and art. Jazz helped African American people fight for their place in the world, regardless of how much progress they actually made in the 1920s. It allowed black musicians to have a voice and say what they thought, with the chance that it would influence some of the crowd. Before Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington and made his famous speech championing black rights, there was the Jazz Age. The Jazz Age was a time where people were happy and carefree, living in a world where the music was swinging and the threat of disaster was nowhere to be found. Music is strongly connected to emotions, and since the emotions of the time were in high spirits, the music was in high spirits as well. It encouraged people to embrace dance and rhythm, expressing themselves with their bodies as they moved to the music. Jazz made people happy, which encouraged the peace and prosperity of the time. Despite the prosperity ending with the stock market crash and the advent of the Great Depression, jazz managed to remain an important part of music theory as well as music history to this day.

Works Cited

Brownell, Blaine A. “Birmingham, Alabama: New South City in the 1920s.” The Journal of Southern History 38.1 (1972): 21-48. Web.
Johnson, Russell L. “Disease is Unrhythmical: Jazz, Health, and Disability in 1920s America.” Health and History 13.2 (2011): 13-42. Web.
Johnson, Abby Ann Arthur and Johnson, Ronald M. “Forgotten Pages: Black Literary Magazines in the 1920s.” Journal of American Studies 8.3 (1974): 363-382. Web.
Magee, Jeffrey. “Everybody Step: Irving Berlin, Jazz, and Broadway in the 1920s.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 59.3 (2006): 697-732. Web.
Mattson, Kevin. “The Struggle for an Urban Democratic Public: Harlem in the 1920s.” New York History 76.3 (1995): 291-318.
Pegram, Thomas R. “Hoodwinked: The Anti-Saloon League and the Klu Klux Klan in 1920s Prohibition Enforcement.” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 7.1 (2008): 89-119. Web.
Selig, Diana. “Celebrating Cultural Diversity in the 1920s.” OAH Magazine of History 21.3 (2007): 41-46. Web.
Taylor, William “Billy.” “Jazz: America’s Classical Music.” The Black Perspective in Music 14.1 (1986): 21-25. Web.
Teachout, Terry. “Jazz.” The Wilson Quarterly 12.3 (1988): 66-76. Web.

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