You are on page 1of 9

Siyuan Chen Dr.

Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013 Jazz music and the Civil Rights Movement

In the U.S history, the development of jazz music strikingly boosted the African Americans Civil Rights Movement and helped African Americans to be included in the society. Due to the abolition of slavery in 1865, many African Americans had chance to receive education, which resulted a big population boom of African American jazz musicians in early 1920s (Schmidt-Jones 49). By giving public speeches, giving public performance or recording albums, many great African American jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, etc. utilized numerous ways to support the Civil Rights Movement, and finally became the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s. Louis Armstrong Louis Armstrong was the preeminent icon of jazz music in last century. As one of the most popular jazz musicians in history, he once gave several public speeches about the Civil Rights Movement to support his fellow African Americans. Although sometimes criticized by activists and black musicians for playing into an Uncle Tom stereotype by performing for mainly white audiences, Louis Armstrong often had a subtle way of dealing with racial issues. In 1929 he recorded Black and Blue? a song from a popular musical. The lyrics include the phrase: My only sin is in my skin

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013 what did I do to be so black and blue? ( What did I do to be so) The lyrics, out of the context of the show, and sung by a black performer in that period, were a risky and weighty commentary, because they mentioned the problem about skin colors, which is really sensitive at that time. This showed Louis Armstrongs paradox, that he had to perform for white audience, but must fight for his fellow African Americans against white people. After the 1957 Little Rock Crisis, when the National Guard prevented nine black students from entering a high school, Armstrong canceled a tour to the Soviet Union, and said

publicly, the way theyre treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell. (Teichreow). As a popular jazz musician, he tried his best to use his fame to attract peoples eyes and earn rights for African Americans. Billie Holiday Many things in the Civil Rights Movement were incorruptable, like the song Strange Fruit, which was regarded as the anthem of early Civil Rights Movement. Billie Holiday, the performer of the song, adapted it 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.

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013

The lynching of two Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith (Beitler)

Duke Ellington Duke Ellington was connected to the Civil Rights Movement in a little bit different way from the two jazz musicians above. Duke Ellingtons commitment to the Civil Rights Movement was complicated. Many felt that a black man of such esteem should be more outspoken, but Ellington often chose to remain quiet on the issue. He even refused to join Martin Luther Kings 1963 march on

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013 Washington, D.C, just because he wanted to remain silent. However, Ellington

dealt with prejudice in subtle ways. His contracts always stipulated that he would not play before white audiences. When he was touring the South in the mid 1930s with his orchestra, he rented three train cars in which the entire band traveled, ate, and slept. This way, he avoided the grasp of Jim Crow laws, and commanded respect for his band and music. Ellingtons music itself fueled black pride. He referred to jazz as African American classical music, and strove to convey the black experience in America. He was a figure of the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic and intellectual movement celebrating black identity. In 1941 he composed the score to the musical Jump for Joy, which challenged traditional representation of blacks in the entertainment industry. He composed Black, Brown, and Beige in 1943 to tell a history of American blacks through music (Teichreow). His albums encouraged many African Americans to fight for their rights, fight against the tradition and build a better society. Max Roach Thought as an outspoken activist, Max Roach supported the Civil Rights Movement by recording albums that included the anti-racism spirits. In the 1960s he recorded We Insist!, featuring his wife and fellow activist Abbey Lincoln. The title of the work represents the heightened fervor and enthusiasm that the 60s brought to the Civil Rights Movement. Even though in a tough circumstance in

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King still insisted to give the famous I have a dream speech. Roach recorded two other albums drawing attention to civil rights: Speak Brother Speak(1962), and Lift Every Voice and Sing (1971). Continuing to

record and perform in later decades, Roach also devoted his time to lecturing on social justice (Teichreow). Charles Mingus Charles Mingus was known for being angry and outspoken as a trumpeter 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. So that Mingus displayed his outrage at the event by composing a piece entitled Fables of Faubus. The lyrics, which he penned as well, offered some of the most blatant and harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism. Lyrics to Fables of Faubus: 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!

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013 Name me someone who's ridiculous, Danny. Governor Faubus! Why is he so sick and ridiculous? He won't permit integrated schools. Then he's a fool! Oh Boo! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremacists Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan) Name me a handful that's ridiculous, Danny. Faubus, Nelson 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 Fables of Faubus originally appeared on Mingus Ah Um (1959). At first, Columbia Record refused to record this song because the lyrics were so incendiary. In 1960, however, Mingus recorded the song for Candid Records, lyrics and all, on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus. John Coltrane John Coltrane played a comparatively controversial role in the Civil Rights Movement since he was not an outspoken activist and many black performers thought he did not try his best to earn rights for African Americans. However,

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013 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!), 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. Mirroring Kings speech, which escalates in intensity as he shifts his focus from the killing to the broader Civil Rights Movement, Coltranes Alabama sheds its plaintive and subdued mood for a crackling surge of energy, reflecting the strengthened determination for justice. From the stories of these master jazz musicians over last few decades, its obvious that they did help the Civil Rights Movement and made great contribution to the emancipation of African Americans. They used their fame to draw as much attention as possible to this movement and put their talents to express the emotions for their fellow African Americans. So that jazz music did helped the African Americans to be included in the whole society.

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013

Work citation 1. Schmidt-jones, catherine. Ragtime. 1st. New York: 2006. 49. Print.

Siyuan Chen Dr. Lauren Holt Eng 101 8th, Nov, 2013

2. Teichreow, Jacob. "Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement How Jazz

Musicians Spoke Out for Racial Equality." Jazz Music and Civil Rights - A Profile of Civil Rights in Jazz., n.d. Web. 18 Nov 2013. <>.

3. Beitler, Lawrence. Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. 1930.

Photograph. wikipedia, Milwaukee. Web. 18 Nov 2013.

4. Impulse. 1964. Print.

5. Beitler, Lawrence. Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. 1930. Photograph. wikipedia, Milwaukee. Web. 18 Nov 2013.