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Jazz History

Homework Assignment 2
Read the following two essays, including the text at each of the
hyperlinks, and answer the 10 questions. Please try to offer
thoughtful, insightful, and thorough answers to each question.
1. Write the paper in Microsoft Word or in a comparable program.
2. The text should be in 12 point CG Times, Times Roman, or New
Times Roman.
3. Single spacing is fine but skip a line between questions.
4. Use a spell checker!
5. Include the corresponding question before each answer in your
6. Upload the file of your assignment in Canvas as indicated.
7. Submit the assignment before the deadline.
I. Jim Crow America
Following the Civil War, Southern states began passing laws that
virtually reinstated slavery through a series of “Black Codes” that
governed political, economic, and social status of former slaves freed
by the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The enactment of
these restrictive codes aroused a storm of protests in the Republican
controlled Congress and ushered in a new policy of Reconstruction that
divided the South into five military districts and initiated new
amendments to the Constitution to guarantee equal rights and extend
suffrage to African American males. The 14th Amendment, ratified in
1868, defined citizenship and prohibited states from limiting civil rights
and liberties of a citizen under the due process and equal protection
clauses of the amendment
The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, guaranteed that the rights of
citizens to vote “shall not be abridged by the Untied States or by any
State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The constitutionality of the 14th Amendment came into question within
a few years after ratification. In a 5-4 decision in the Slaughterhouse
Cases in Louisiana (1873), the Court narrowly interpreted the
“privileges and immunities” clause in the first section of the 14th
Amendment. In an 1883 decision in the Civil Rights Cases, the Court,
by an 8-1 decision, held that the 14th Amendment only prohibited
states and not individuals from discriminating on the basis of race. The
decision left it up to state governments to determine if private
interference of a person’s civil rights were in violation of the law. The
majority opinion in the case asserted that the U.S. Congress did not
have the authority to prohibit private interference with the rights to
vote, to serve on juries, or to appear as a witness in state courts as
these matters were solely within the realm of states rights.
State laws establishing a rigid segregation policy came to be called
“Jim Crow” laws. The term “Jim Crow” is believed to have originated
from a 19th-century minstrel song and dance act, “Jump Jim Crow.”
The Tennessee legislature passed the first “Jim Crow” law in 1881
requiring segregation of the races on railroad cars. Shortly thereafter
states throughout the South passed similar laws strictly forbidding the
mixing of races. Please read through this list of Jim Crow laws for a
better understanding.
In 1894 the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a
challenge to a Louisiana Jim Crow that required railroads operating in
the state to provide “equal but separate accommodations for white and
colored raced.” In 1896 the Court rendered its decision in the Plessy v.
Ferguson case
( For
the next half-century “separate but equal” became the litmus test for
cases involving racial segregation. African Americans were at the
mercy of bigoted state laws that enacted a rigid segregation policy.
Jazz musicians were continually plagued by Jim Crow America, often
not being able to stay at the same hotels or dine at the same night
clubs in which they were performing. Refusing to accept a status of
second-class citizenship, individuals and organizations persistently
challenged Jim Crow legislation and ultimately prevailed when the
Supreme Court reversed the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1954.
Part I: Questions
1. How did the Supreme Court reinterpret the 14th
Amendment to justify segregation?
2. What was the purpose of Jim Crow laws? How effective
were these laws?
3. What was the Court’s ruling in the Plessy case? What
effect did the decision have on government policy
between 1896 and the 1950s?
4. Describe how did Jim Crow laws impact jazz musicians?
How did they impact the music?
Further Exploration:
The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward
For further information and/or to order this book from, click on the following URL address:
II. Jazz Musicians as Cultural GoBetweens
Jazz was born out of the cultural experience of African Americans and
can be traced in a direct line to the slave songs of the plantations
through the Negro Spirituals, Ragtime, and the Blues. Music was an
essential aspect of African American life. Many of the great spirituals
expressed faith, perseverance, and a passion for freedom. “In the
riotous rhythms of Ragtime” according to James Weldon Johnson, a
prominent African American poet and musician, “the Negro expressed
his irrepressible buoyancy, his keen response to the sheer joy of
living.” Blues were a reflection of the trials and tribulations of life. The
cultural experiences of African Americans weave in and out of the
lyrics and reflect emotions ranging from lamentation to exuberance.
In 1921 Johnson published an anthology of African American poetry
and spirituals, entitled The Book of American Negro Poetry. In his
preface Johnson wrote that artists accomplish their best when working
with something they know best and, according to Johnson, “race” is
what African Americans know best. In his poem, “O Black and
Unknown Bards,”
Johnson recognizes the power of song and celebrates the memory of
“slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed.” The poem reflects Johnson’s
view that music formed the core of African American culture.
Jazz was born in the lower Mississippi Delta and was nourished in New
Orleans. In the first decades of the twentieth century its emotional
rhythms moved north with the Great Migration, a mass movement of
Blacks from the South to urban areas seeking better opportunities and
attempting to escape from rigid Jim Crow laws that held them in a
state of virtual slavery. This distinctly American music, with an
emphasis on improvisation, captured the spirit of the nation. The radio
and phonograph had a major impact on Jazz’s popularity as
improvisation and the spontaneity that typified the music was better
conveyed through sound than sheet music.
During World War I, African American soldiers introduced jazz to
Europe. Band director Lt. James Reese Europe
( and his “Harlem
Hellfighters” of the 15th Regiment Machine Gun Battalion, gave a
concert in Paris as part of the Allied celebration surrounding the
Versailles Peace 1111Conference. Popular enthusiasm for jazz
prompted the French government to request that Europe’s band give a
series of performances in Paris. A French band director, unable to coax
the same sound from his military band, invited Lt. Europe to a
rehearsal. Europe explained that jazz was more than musical chords; it
was a release of emotions. In an interview published in the Literary
Digest on his return to the United States, Europe remarked: “I have
come back from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negroes
should write Negro music. We have our own racial feeling and if we try
to copy whites we will make bad copies. . . . The music of our race
springs from the soil. . . .” (Literary Digest, April 26, 1919, Vol. 61,
No. 4, pp. 27-28)
By 1920, jazz had traveled from the rural Mississippi Delta to New
Orleans and through the Great Migration to northern urban centers
and across the Atlantic to the capitals of Europe. The music had
captured the imagination of white society and thousands of patrons
flocked to dance halls and cabarets to revel in the music of African
American musicians and singers. Music from the jazz clubs confronted
the prejudice of the era. In the midst of the racial turmoil of the 1920s
Survey magazine remarked that “jazz with its mocking disregard for
formality is a leveler and makes for democracy.” (Survey, March 1,
1925, p. 665)
Although jazz musicians helped to erode racial prejudice, they were
sometimes unable to break down long established barriers. At the
same time Black musicians were opening doors, Harlem’s Cotton Club,
the most popular New York jazz club of the 1920s and 1930s, featured
Black entertainers but seated only white patrons. In Chicago, Black
musicians were prohibited from playing at downtown clubs but became
well established in enclaves outside the center city.
In time color lines began to blur and interracial jazz bands formed.
Black and white jazz musicians formed bonds based on their music and
“gradually saw themselves as workers in similar creative enterprises. .
. . Occasionally these bonds were strong enough to overcome deep
mistrusts.” (Burton Peretti, The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and
Culture in Urban America, p.199)
In the 1920s some African American musicians looked upon jazz as a
means of smashing Jim Crow barriers. (Read the Article: Jazzing Away
Prejudice). Mixed audiences in northern urban areas began to put
aside their prejudices. According to pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines, “it was
musicians and theatrical people who first began to change the strictly
segregated way of life.” A half-century later, Hines organized band
tours through the South to challenge Jim Crow laws.
While millions celebrated America’s popular culture, jazz was not free
of critics. In 1922 The Ladies Home Journal ran a series of articles
charging, “Jazz disorganizes all regular laws and order; it stimulates to
extreme deeds, to a breaking away from all rules and conventions; it
is harmful and dangerous, and its influence is wholly bad.” (Anne Shaw
Faulkner, “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation,” The Ladies Home
Journal, Vol. 38, No. 8, August 1921, p. 34) Jazz was considered to be
nothing more than vulgar, cheap music. A refrain echoed by
established African American families in the North admonished black
migrants urging them to “blend in.” But, jazz survived the barrage of
detractors and became widely accepted. So dominant was its impact
on American society that the 1920s came to be called the “Jazz Age.”
Part II: Questions
5. Describe how James Weldon Johnson’s poem “O Black
and Unknown Bards” reflects the influence of music on
Black culture?
6. How important was the Great Migration in spreading
jazz throughout the nation?
7. According to James Reese Europe, how was the Black
experience interwoven with jazz?
8. What do you believe accounts for the popularity of jazz
in American popular culture?
9. How did jazz musicians begin the process of breaking
down racial barriers? How effective were they at doing
10. Why do you think that jazz in the 1920s was
characterized in some quarters as harmful to American
values? Is this attitude unique to jazz or have we seen
it before and since related to other styles of music?
What about today?


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