Great Migration (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Great Migration (Jazz Age Jazz Series) Though native of the South of the US, jazz spread all over the country together with migrants, looking for a new life in the North

Jazz Age Jazz - Great Migration

JAZZ AGE JAZZ - The Great Migration #AtoZChallenge #jazz travels North to Chicago and NYC Click To Tweet

G - Great Migration (AtoZ Challenge 2016)There’s a romantic story which tells of how jazz came up North, particularly to Chicago, on the Mississippi riverboats after Storyville was closed down in New Orleans in 1917.
History is a lot less charming. Jazzmen came to the North the same way and for the same reasons multitudes of other African Americans did in the years between the 1910s and the 1940s. It was later called the Graet Migration.


WEB DuBois was one of the most influencial black leaders of the beginning of the XX century and one of the stronger opposers to jazz

At the beginning of the XX century, crops failed for several years in the Southern States due to bug infection. At the same time the demand for jobs raised in the North since during WWI European immigration had virtually ceased, diminishing the supply of unskilled labour.
Black newspapers – notably the Chicago Defender – actively advertised this demand for workers in the North and campaigned so that African Americans left the South for the more liberal North. The Defender was actually so proactive that it was banned in many Southern communities who feared that the departing of so many young black men and women would leave them without unskilled labour.

But life in the North didn’t prove as good as many hoped for. True, Northern States didn’t have legal segregation, but discrimination often jammed African Americans into crowded inner city neighbourhoods. Many of these northern communities had been quite small before the Great Migration and had merged in a more or less seamless way in the fabric of big cities. But the Great Migration made the number of African Americans bulge in many cities, which created tension inside and outside those communities. Coexistence between old settlers and newcomers became very difficult. The rural culture of the new immigrants from the South was very different and in many ways less refined than that of African Americans who had lived in the North for generations. Newcomers were criticized for their “primitive behaviour” and accused of attracting negative attention to the community. They were also criticised for their preference in the matter of entertainment, since they seemed to prefer speakeasies and the new music like jazz, but also blues, because it reminded them of home, but were often connected with vice in the mind of many people. Many welfare associations, such as the Urban League, tried to counter this idea by organising alternatives, more ‘wholesome’ activities for the newcomers, so to battle the impression that vice equated ‘black community’.

Langston Hughes

One of the most influencial artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes used jazz as a language in his writing

When New Orleans and other hot style musicians moved North, their status of newcomers produced new objections to jazz. It was wild and primitive, it didn’t sound like music and it was performed in disreputable places with underworld connections. The average Negro family did not allow that kind of music.

The large numbers of migrants created distinctive black communities throughout the North. In the 1920s, more than 75.000 black Americans moved to New York City’s upper
Manhattan area, making Harlem the “Negro Capital of the World”. It was in Harlem that African American art flourished more fully in the movement that came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Home to nightclubs and fledging recording companies, Harlem was also the centre of African American writers, artists and spokespersons of the Harlem Renaissance.
Most musicians were not given the same recognition as writers, though, and on their part – and maybe in response to that – jazz musicians don’t seem to have paid much attention to the manifestation of artistic pride.

It was in Harlem that a deeper, more complex debate about jazz took place. Harlem Renaissance leaders generally dismissed jazz as a lower music. Some leaders disdained it because of its identification with vice, crime and migrants’ “backwardness”. And when Primitivism became a fashion, many black leaders criticised jazz and the entertainment it produced for reinforcing the negative stereotypes Primitivism seem to encourage.
On the other hand, prominent Harlem Renaissance intellectuals praised jazz and blues as a new language, a new means of communication atoned to the new times, and they tried to assimilate it into their novels, poems and paintings. This evocation of jazz usually included a recognition of the participatory and expressive tradition of blues and jazz.

Popular as it was, jazz didn’t have an easy life in the 1920s.




Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989

University of Chicago Library – Chicago, Jazz and the Great Migration
Jazz in America – The Great Migration
Music in the World – How the Great Migration effected the development of Blues music
Synonim – The Great Migration and the Roaring Twenties
Shmoop – Society in Blues Music History

Give in to the Feeling (Sarah Zama) Banner

SmashwordsBarnes&Nobles | KoboiBookStore
And many other stores

FREE EBOOK - The Roaring Twenties A to Z

Subscribe to The Old Shelter mailing list and get this 56-pages FREE pdf

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

33 Comments on "Great Migration (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)"

  1. Fascinating – I hadn’t thought about how jazz is so tightly tied in with social history.
    Anabel recently posted…The Greenock CutMy Profile

    • It was a very important social phenomenon of 1920s America. I don’t think it was uniquely a music phenomenon. In this respect, I think jazz was different from many other genres of music.
      Music is a very important part of social life, but I don’t think all music gerenes influece and are influenced by society the way early jazz was.

  2. Jazz never seems to be able to get a break, does it? The Great Migration sounds like it was a complicated affair.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…G – Grace Stewart – Fictional Phantoms #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile

  3. The history of jazz is so deep and multi-layered. I just knew the bare bones of it. I’m really enjoying your posts!
    Modern Gypsy recently posted…{G} Gesso loveMy Profile

  4. Very well written post! I have some classmates who are doing their research on topics related to (or affected by) the Great Migration, so we have been discussing it quite a bit lately. It is a very complex part of America’s social and cultural history.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    Tarkabarka recently posted…G is for Girl teamsMy Profile

  5. This is so interesting! The way you’re telling us about history through telling us about jazz–I love it!
    Megan Morgan recently posted…G – GenreMy Profile

  6. I really like the New Orlean Jazz sound, and have often wondered how that sound migrated to various places.
    Mary Burris recently posted…#AtoZChallenge G is for The Go Go’sMy Profile

  7. Thank you for sharing this fascinating history. I had no idea that jazz was frowned upon. I’m learning so much from you about both history and jazz.
    Claire Noland recently posted…G is for Greece and GuamMy Profile

  8. J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge – where I am part of Arlee Bird’s A to Z Ambassador Team.
    How has the first week of the challenge been for you so far? Are you meeting your goals of posting and hopping to other blogs?
    My blog has a giveaway with bonus a to z challenges to encourage people to visit more stops.
    Great post. Seems like some of that is still true today. There are some neighborhoods that don’t have much diversity, and have been known for that for decades. I wonder if one day that’ll change?
    As long as there is good music, I’m in!
    J Lenni Dorner recently posted…#atozchallenge G is for Getting Published #WriteTip #query @carlywattersMy Profile

  9. Truly Hard times for Blacks. The north was better but acceptance still a probleem, Like refugees! Complicated yet such amazing music came out of the migration.

  10. There was a lot of great information in this post! The New York State Museum, in my city, has a sub-exhibit about the Harlem Renaissance, and Harlem itself, within their exhibit about New York City and its history. The local film colony was also supposed to do a film festival called “Harlem on the Hudson” in March, but I guess they decided to either push it off or not do any more film festivals until they have more money and better marketing efforts.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…The Grand Cathedral of the Winter Palace and the House of GagarinMy Profile

    • That’s so cool! And what is it on display? I’d love to see that exibition 🙂

      • They display a lot of artifacts from the people of Harlem, both famous and ordinary, like sheet music, clothes, letters, books, and photographs. They also have plaques and text on the walls about important dates, people, and events. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the museum (since downtown parking isn’t exactly easy), but I think they might have some mannequin displays too, as they do for other parts of the New York City exhibit. They dress the mannequins in period clothes and recreate a scene from the era, like a tailor shop or schoolroom.
        Carrie-Anne recently posted…HemophiliaMy Profile

        • That sounds os intersting. I think I’d love the photos and letters in particular.

          Having the possibility to read letters from the past is such a treat. A few years back, they displayed letters from the Verona archives from literatis of Verona in the 1700s (the Società Letteraria is always been very important here). It wasn’t easy to read in the artistic handwriting of that time, but I tried anyway.
          And you know what surprised me the most? That in their private letters, these noble people very often wrote in dialect. In the last 100 years, dialect has been considered illiterate and even vulgar, only recently it has regained dignity as a cultural language.
          I was very surprised 🙂

  11. I’m so impressed with the way you interweave jazz history with the more general trends of social history. Have you thought of turning all this into an online book, complete with musical excerpts?
    Susan Brody recently posted…G IS FOR GPSMy Profile

  12. Yet another informative and insightful post. Learning so much about Jazz music and its history, through your eyes and words 🙂
    Shilpa Garg recently posted…Hope #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

  13. When I was in college, one of my favorite periods to study in Humanities was The Harlem Renaissance. I loved the music and art. It seemed to be a bit more free than other times for African American’s to create and enjoy life. It’s interesting how we always equate Jazz with the “Roaring ’20s” but it really did have a hard time in the decade that we always picture it in.
    Jen recently posted…The 2016 A-Z Challenge brought to you by The Letter “I”My Profile

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


CommentLuv badge

%d bloggers like this: