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The Harlem Renaissance and American Music

Mike Oppenheim By

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Towards a New Perception of American Identities

The incorporation of influences from the Harlem Renaissance into American music created a new perception both of what is black and what is American. The emphasis on black history and contributions to American society demonstrated the importance of black culture to the overall American identity. William Grant Still's works received performances in the United States and in Europe as American, not African-American music. Duke Ellington's patriotic representation of African-Americans reinforced American nationalism in the midst of World War II, while simultaneously addressing the race issues in the United States. George Gershwin's consideration of Porgy and Bess as an American, not a black, opera also reflects the idea of African-Americans as an unquestionable component of American society. Through the application of themes advocating the idea of the "New Negro" and the Harlem Renaissance Ellington, Gershwin, and Still synthesized black culture into a defining component of American culture.


DeVeaux, Scott. 1993. "Black, Brown and Beige and the Critics." Black Music Research Journal 13(2): 125-146.

Floyd, Samuel A., Jr. 1993. "Troping the Blues: From Spirituals to the Concert Hall." Black Music Research Journal 13(1): 31-51.

Locke, Alain. 1968. "The New Negro," in The New Negro: An Interpretation. Edited by Alain Locke. New York: Arno Press.

Murchison, Gayle. 2000. "'Dean of Afro-American Composers' or 'Harlem Renaissance Man': The New Negro and the Musical Poetics of William Grant Still," in William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions. Edited by Catherine Parsons Smith. Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press.

Tucker, Mark. 2002. "The Genesis of 'Black, Brown, and Beige.'" Black Music Research Journal 22: 131-150.



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