“You hate me, don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture You’re f***in’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey.” Songs like “The Blacker The Berry” by Kendrick Lamar demonstrate modern music’s ability to express powerful emotions and messages about equality and racism. The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1920s similarly brought African-American’ together to express their emotions towards their present and past through great music and literature. Since the beginning of time, music has been a prominent way to express emotions and messages. The According to Tia Ghose, bioengineering and science master from Live Science, “universal emotions such as anger, sadness and happiness are expressed nearly the same in both music and movement across cultures.” This means that emotions caused by music are universal across all cultures. People use music to express their emotions and problems.The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great music, literature, poetry, and innovation. African Americans used music as a way to both celebrate their culture and express their anger towards their past and being treated horribly. The African American community united through songs and literature to create the Harlem Renaissance. Have you ever wondered the real meaning of songs you listen to all the time? Modern music listened to all over the world is greatly affected by the fight for equality pride conveyed through music during the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance was named for the Harlem neighborhood in New York City and lasted roughly from the 1910s through the mid-1930s. African American people had gone through centuries of slavery and the fight for freedom. The ending of slavery did not bring the happiness and equality many people thought it would. White supremacy was legal and was very prominent in the South long after slavery was illegal. African American people started to gain respect and a voice in the government in 1876 however, forces such as the Ku Klux Klan restored white supremacy in the South. Many people moved to the cities because of industrialization and because of extreme racism in the south. This cultural movement became known as “The New Negro Movement” later the “Harlem Renaissance.” This is now called the Great Migration.
Many African American people discovered they had similar experiences in their past histories and unclear futures. In the city of Harlem, quickly emerged a community of pride and brotherhood. African American culture was invented during the Harlem Renaissance. These communities emerged as grounds for creating wonderful and powerful art and literature because African American people were not oppressed in any way, and had the freedom to do anything they wanted to do for a living. Artists like Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong became internationally recognizable due to their masterpieces. Today, the African American community is seen as a serious source of literature, art, and music. The great music and literature that emerged in this time period was astonishing and could not be ignored. Now all types of music are listened to by all people, we partly have the Harlem Renaissance to thank for that.
Many great artists emerged during the Harlem Renaissance. One being, singer Louis Armstrong. Louis was born into a poor family in New Orleans. He found himself with a passion for music and performing. In the early 1920’s he began to perform with bands in small clubs, and play at funerals and parades around town in New Orleans. This did not last for long, soon he became one of the most influential musicians of all time. Louis Armstrong is one of the most appreciated jazz artists of the Harlem Renaissance, and of all times.His song “What a Wonderful World” is still a very popular song in America. People learned to both appreciate and respect jazz and African American music because of the contributions by Louis Armstrong. In 2011, a total of 11 million jazz albums were sold.
Billie Holiday was also among the most influential jazz singers of all time, not only because of the quality of her voice, bold truthful songs that relate to African American People. She is most recognizable by her song called “strange fruit”. The song was originally written and by Abel Meeropol, after seeing a photograph of two African American men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. The song’s heavy lyrics portray bodies hanging from trees. The lyric “strange and bitter crop” is a metaphor for the African Americans who were subject to lynchings. Lynching is when someone is killed, especially by hanging, for an alleged offense. This was happening all over America, especially in the South, due to extreme racism and hatred. The metaphor argues that lynching blacks were almost considered an instinctive thing in the South, as stated in the line “Southern trees bear a strange fruit,” when it’s something so incredibly wrong and unnatural, this is why it is called “strange.” This song clearly shows the pain that African American people went through during this time period. “Strange Fruit” swept across the nation and was referenced as the song of the century. This song is so powerful and shows the mass cultural pain, it adds meaning and determination to struggle that African Americans went through to achieve freedom and equality.
The Harlem Renaissance represents the origin of African American people uniting and fighting for equality. At the time, African American people were not at all equal and In this time period, rhythm and Blues was good ghetto music, entertainment created by African American people and were still excluded from white clubs and theatres. But progressively, equality was achieved.
The style of music called rap emerged from jazz. Rap is a style of speaking in which the performer does not sing the words but speaks rapidly over a rudimentary musical background. African American people had been severely depressed and had a lot of anger and things to say. Thus started this type of music. Today, rap can be heard in the contemporary music of all types and by many popular artists today. Many groups all over the country like Public Enemy, Arrested Development, Common, Alicia Keys, Roots, Talib, Kendrick Lamar, Tupac and many other artists rap about the roots of the Harlem Renaissance and Black inequality today.
Many modern songs sung today have messages that root back to the Harlem Renaissance. A great example of this is, in the song “Changes” by Tupac. It’s about fighting against racism, stopping people from treating others differently because of their skin color and their nationality. Tupac says in the song that our society needs to change who we are how we treat each other. “We need to start to make some changes,” says Tupac in the song. The sole purpose of this song was to expose a flaw in our society and find a way to fix it, all treat each other equally and not judge someone based on their skin color. These were the exact messages that lead the Harlem Renaissance.
“Everything black, I don’t want black (They want us to bow) I want everything black, I ain’t need black (Down to our knees)”, The Blacker the Berry by Kendrick Lamar. This song is talking about how society hates black people and how they have always been treated badly. He says at the end of the song that he is a hypocrite because he actually believed it and killed a man only because of how dark his skin color was. This song reveals the sad truth in some cases and calls action to stop and start treating people according to who they actually are. These are also the same beliefs that the small neighborhood in New York City had and led to the massive movement of the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance left a prominent impact on music today. Many people mindlessly listen to music and never really understand the true meaning of the lyrics. Next time you listen to music, listen to the message it is trying to send because maybe it relates to the Harlem Renaissance.
Article by Hannah Dardano and Joel Hamersley
“AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’: Harlem Renaissance Time Line.” Long Wharf Theatre, www.longwharf.org/aint-misbehavin-harlem-renaissance-time-line.
“Harlem Renaissance.” History.com, www.history.com/topics/black-history/harlem-renaissance.
“The Harlem Renaissance.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/46e.asp.
“The Impact of the Music of the Harlem Renaissance on Society.” 89.01.05: The Impact of the Music of the Harlem Renaissance on Society, teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1989/1/89.01.05.x.html.
“Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry.” Genius, 9 Feb. 2015, genius.com/Kendrick-lamar-the-blacker-the-berry-lyrics.
“Musicians.” The Harlem Renaissance, historyoftheharlemrenaissance.weebly.com/musicians.html.
Provenzano, Nick. “Tupac and the Harlem Renaissance.” The Nerdy Teacher, 1 Jan. 1970, www.thenerdyteacher.com/2010/04/tupac-and-harlem-renaissance.html.
“What Conditions Led to the Harlem Renaissance?” Enotes.com, Enotes.com, www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-social-cultural-political-economic-conditions-265368.
log, Tom. “The Harlem Renaissance and Billie Holiday: Strange Fruit.” Tom’s Blog, 16 Apr. 2011, tcalleninalaska.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/the-harlem-renaissance-and-billie-holiday-strange-fruit/.
Ghose, Tia. “Why Music Moves Us.” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Dec. 2012, www.livescience.com/25611-why-music-moves-us.html.