The jazz age emerged in the American society in 1920s as an era of modernism and revolution in the conventional societal thread. By the end of 1920s, it had spread to Europe in countries such as England, France and Spain. The era was also described as Harlem renaissance as it was characterized by culture overhaul among the African-Americans who composed songs and dance in jazz, theatre and graphic arts as well as poetry. It was associated with the aftermath of World War I and the search of identity among the youth of the time. It was a revolutionary period filled with changes in dress codes and behavioral changes; a break away from inherited conventions. The era began with women being allowed to participate in voting and the ban on sale of alcohol. During the 1920s, tremendous economic progress was also made until the 1929 depression came calling. The term Jazz age was coined by a famous author, Fitzgerald. Through this artistry, the African-American were rapidly penetrating into middle level whites’ class in areas such as New York, Chicago and the Kansas City. Soon the music spread to almost all parts of the nation courtesy of radio broadcasts and amateur concerts. The entry of mainstream publishers in publishing black literature only served to give the much needed impetus to the industry. This paper will analyze the characteristics of Jazz age as described by James Weldon who discusses black poetry, Paul Robenson who describes the appropriate traits of an actor portraying race relations and the Langstone Hughes observation of the penetration of black song and dance into the mainstream American society (Fitzgerald, pg.212).
According to Weldon, (Fitzgerald, pg.213), the African-American desire to drop their dialect in poetry to gain acceptance among the whites is misplaced. He argues that it would be wrong to drop the quaint and traditional speech which to him forms the communication medium for the Negros. To curve a niche, the negro must aim to stick to their dialect as it is the only way to express their identity without necessarily appearing as if seeking racial assertion. The colored poet needs to be creative in using expressions and symbols as opposed to only modifying dialect to pass any message regarding racism. The use of humor and imagery would help in expressing both emotions and aspirations of the Negro in a multi colored society (Fitzgerald, pg.213).
The plays in theatre during the jazz age mainly focused on critical topics such as segregation. Robenson, explains how the plays depicted the impact of racism on mankind. In ‘All God’s Chillun’ the play’s theme is to mock racial prejudice while advocating for oneness of mankind. The play is said to have registered a big impact on the audience since its theme clearly manifested that Negro equals human (Fitzgerald, pg.215).
Hughes criticizes the approach by blacks in Harlem to shift their focus on pleasing the whites during the jazz age. He points out that the blacks performed artistry they previously never imagined in an effort to please the white patronage that flocked Harlem in the evenings. The biggest disappointment happened when even the intellectually upright writers stopped writing to amuse themselves and instead dedicated themselves to pleasing the whites (Fitzgerald, pg.228).
The description of the jazz age by Calverton, (1928) gives the perfect picture of the scenario in the 1920s not only in America but Europe as well. Morality gained a new meaning and the women folk reborn into a new socialite status. Jazz swept the nations and was described as the music of the masses. Modernity was creeping in with night life becoming the symbol of a new era. In simple terms, jazz immediately became an institution or an expression of the new age. What was previously considered a societal vice was embraced as a virtue. The major beneficiary of this new freedom was the young girl w ho courtesy of this newly won independence, displayed a revolutionary mentality literary revolting against existing systems. The family structure was going through changes in a way that the young enjoyed staying out more than at home. The youths preferred the disco clubs and watching movies or going to theatre. They also had no regard for marriage as an institution and preferred remaining single to avoid being tied down by responsibilities that come with marriage (Calverton, pg.341).
The earlier music genres such as blues and ragtime had a large following cutting across generations. The entry of jazz brought a sharp division between the generations. The older generation was reserved in embracing the new, loud and sultry kind of music. The old folk actually described the new genre as evil partly due to its source of origin-the African-American who were faced with racial segregation at the time. The whites from the north considered the blacks from the south parts of the country such as Mississippi and Harlem as illegal immigrants. The influence of the music on their children therefore worried them as perceived the entire situation as retrogressive (Denver, Para, 11).
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