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Jazz in the American culture

Jazz is a genre of music that originated in African-American communities during the late
19th and early 20th century. Jazz stemmed from blues and ragtime, two styles some
consider to be the first forms of jazz and emerged in many parts of the United States of
independent popular musical styles.
In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, African American musicians
began gathering in New Orleans. They would congregate to improvise and share their
music in Storyville. By 1920, New Orleanian jazz musicians had already spent years
spreading the "New Orleans sound" throughout the nation and sounds of jazz became
very popular in Chicago, New York and Kansas.
Soon, jazz grew in popularity, particularly among the middle class white population,
leading to segregation of clubs by race.

Importance of Jazz in the Civil rights movement

As early as the 1920s, white and black jazz musicians played together in after-hours jam
sessions. But it was not until the 1940s that jazz musicians and their audiences mixed
publicly in clubs tentatively at first, but then freely and openly, in violation of local laws
and mores. The music, which appealed to whites and blacks alike, provided a culture in
which the collective and the individual were inextricable, and in which one was judged
by his ability alone, and not by race or any other irrelevant factors.
Not only was jazz structured similarly to ideals of the civil rights movement. Jazz
musicians took up the cause, using their celebrity and their music to promote racial
equality and social justice.

Louis Armstrong
In 1929 he recorded (What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?, a song from a
popular musical.
The lyrics include the phrase: My only sin Is in my skin What did I do To be so black
and blue? The lyrics, out of the context of the show, and sung by a black performer in
that period, were a risky and weighty commentary.

Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday incorporated the song Strange Fruit into her set list in 1939. Adapted
from a poem by a New York high school teacher, Strange Fruit was inspired by the
1930 lynching of two blacks, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. It juxtaposes the horrid
image of bodies hanging from trees with a description of the idyllic South. Holiday
delivered the song night after night, often overwhelmed by emotion, causing it to
become an anthem of early civil rights movements.

Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman, a preeminent white bandleader and clarinetist, was the first to hire a
black musician to be part of his ensemble. In 1935 he made pianist Teddy Wilson a
member of histrio. A year later, he added vibraphonist Lionel Hampton to the lineup,
which also included drummer Gene Krupa. These steps helped push for racial
integration in jazz, which was previously not only taboo, but even illegal in some states.

Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus was known for being angry and outspoken on the bandstand. One
expression of his anger was certainly justified, and it came in response to the 1957 Little

Rock Nine incident in Arkansas, when Governor Orval Faubus used the National Guard
to prevent black students from entering a newly desegregated public high school.
Mingus displayed his outrage at the event by composing a piece entitled Fables of
Faubus. The lyrics, which he penned as well, offer some of the most blatant and
harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism.

John Coltrane
John Coltrane, while not an outspoken activist, was a deeply spiritual man who believed
his music was a vehicle for the message of a higher power. Coltrane was drawn to the
civil rights movement after 1963. That was the year that Martin Luther King gave his I
Have a Dream speech during the August 28th March on Washington, raising public
awareness of the movement for racial equality. It was also the year that white racists
placed a bomb in a Birmingham, Alabama church, and killed four young girls during a
Sunday service.
The following year, Coltrane played eight benefit concerts in support of Dr. King and
the civil rights movement. He wrote a number of songs dedicated to the cause, but his
song Alabama, which was released on Coltrane Live at Birdland (Impulse!,1964), was
especially gripping, both musically and politically. The notes and phrasing of Coltranes
lines are based on the words Martin Luther King spoke at the memorial service for the
girls who died in the Birmingham bombing.


Strange Fruit
Billie Holiday
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Fables of Faubus
Charles Mingus
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!
Name me someone who's ridiculous, Dannie.
Governor Faubus!
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won't permit integrated schools.
Then he's a fool! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)
Name me a handful that's ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Faubus, Rockefeller, Eisenhower
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?
Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
H-E-L-L-O, Hello.
Orval E. Faubus was the governor of Arkansas in 1957 and against desegregation.
He sent the National Guard to prevent black children from attending high school in
Little Rock.