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Harlem Renaissance

February 5th, 2015 · Carole · Staff Recommendations

Strolling past the Apollo Theater on a wintery day early in the new year, I could hear a refrain of the sounds long ago. The voices of Billie, Ella, and Lena resonated in the air. Were they calling my name? Intrigued, I wanted to learn more.

Opening on January 26, 1934, in its first decade the theater hosted names that are today considered to be at the core of American music. Theatrical plays, comedy acts and of course all the jazz greats made their way to the Apollo in the coming years. Did you know that Gladys Knight, Jimi Hendrix and Sarah Vaughn were all winners of Amateur Night at the Apollo? Billboards highlighting upcoming acts in genres from jazz and Broadway to dance and comedy confirm that the legendary theater continues to be a vibrant venue for the performing arts. Much more than just a music hall, the complete rich history of the theater is worth reading about atApolloTheater.org.

Let’s go back a bit further. Imagine being in Harlem in the Nineteen Twenties! With writers, artists and intellectuals all converging in one geographic center, sharing ideas and inspiring each other, the movement known as The Harlem Renaissance was flourishing. Writers explored black culture in literary works in the form of poems, short stories, novels and essays. The 18 major writers of the Harlem Renaissance published almost fifty full length books from 1922 to 1935. Though not bound by theme or style they all shared the determination to give voice and vision to the African American experience. Visual artists explored themes of an African heritage, race and racism in America, and life in Harlem in their paintings, sculptures and murals. Blues and jazz penetrated vaudeville and made their way from St. Louis and New Orleans to Harlem and Broadway. New Yorkers became fascinated with Harlem’s activity and atmosphere. Everyone wanted to be there…Harlem was the rage. National interest for African American literature and music had been stimulated. Main stream record labels were signing black artists and jazz clubs were opening throughout the county. As its influences spread to Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, the Harlem Renaissance became a global movement.

Want to know more? Harlem Speaks: a living history of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Cary D Wintz is a readable history of the movement. The accompanying audio CD helps bring to life some of the major players of the movement.

Explore the writings of Countee Cullen, Rudolph Fisher, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Nella Larsen, Claude McKay, and Willis Richardson. Seek out pieces by visual artists Aaron Douglas, Archibald J. Motley andAugusta Savage. Listen to Eubie Blake, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong andJosephine Baker. Transport yourself back to Harlem in the Twenties.

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