Influence of African American Culture in the 20th Century!

Treden Wagoner, 20th Century

Treden Wagoner, 20th Century

20th century was a time of great change and social shifts. With the Great Depression, Roaring 20’s, and the Stock Market Crash, a lot was going on. What was also going on, was an African-American Renaissance that shook the world and brought on the beginnings for social change, jazz, black dance, and jazz. Did I mention Jazz?


After the emancipation Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln was so kind to write, African American’s were freed and got a small hold in the middle class of America. They mostly migrated North because of great equality and the promise of industrial jobs. The Harlem Renaissance was a burst of culture that originated in an area of New York City called “Harlem”, hence the name. African-American arts, music, and culture exploded into a beautiful time of expression and newfound sense of pride and identity. It was basically a giant social revolt against realism and inequality. This attitude and ideals set the tension that pushed through the civil rights movements later in the century, which led to African American equality in America.

The Harlem Renaissance also brought literary artists like Zora Neale Hurston whose short story Sweat was written in the African American vernacular and opened the doors for the true story of what life was like. Here is the link to the short story , I highly recommend reading it!

Pearl Primus, first African American modern dancer

Pearl Primus, first African American modern dancer



Jazz, as it so happens, was the biggest artistic thing of the century.  Yes, Jazz was THAT big. It’s creation is mostly accredited to African Americans, as it’s foundations came from the African music style that was preserved through the slaves. It even influences us today. Almost everything we listen to has Jazz roots. Jazz music revolutionize the music realm, and blew everyone’s minds away. The music was played on regular European instruments, yet sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard. Jazz was upbeat, loose, and was a full body experience. Jazz also caused ripples in social settings. Jazz music challenged racial segregation by being popular among all races. It also helped bring about the commercial radio stations, which allowed the African-American influence of jazz to be broadcasted around the world! Some of the most influential and popular artists came from this time, like Billy Holiday and Louis Armstrong, whose music is still heavily featured on today’s movie soundtracks.

Here, Louis Armstrong plays his oh-so-poplular What a Wonderful world. This song, and many other of Armstrongs’ works, have been credited on 201 movie soundtracks.

 Jazz not only brought about a revolutionary and ground breaking style of music, but it also created a culture of brand new dances which were showcased throughout the century. Dances that started in black jazz clubs and the Harlem spread throughout the nation, to Caucasians and African Americans alike. Dances such as the “Charleston“, “Swing”, and “Lindy Hop” spawned dance competitions between people of all races and ages. The 20’s Flapper girls especially took a liking to the Jazz culture and Swing dance.



The African-American influence on 20th Century America was no small thing. Jazz revolutionized the music world, the Harlem Renaissance challenged social barriers and ideals, and black dance brought about a newfound frivolity and excitement that especially permeated the roaring 1920’s. What a Wonderful World.


Sources, Yal!

*A large portion of my information came from the Audio Learning Portion of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s ART_MUS_THR 200 class, provided by Professor Lisa Kljaich*

Trueman, Chris. “The Jazz Age.” The Jazz Age. History Learning Site, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.

“Louis Armstrong.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2014

“African Dance Music.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2014.

“The Jazz Age.” Boundless. Boundless, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.

“Ray Charles – Hit The Road Jack (Original).” YouTube. YouTube, 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 09 Apr. 2014.

“Louis Armstrong What A Wonderful World.” YouTube. YouTube, 09 Nov. 2010. Web. 09 Apr. 2014.

Urton, Robin. “Eyeconart: The Harlem Renaissance.” Eyeconart: The Harlem Renaissance. Eyeconart, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.

JChamBliss. “The Harlem Renaissance: A Social Documentary Through Art @ Project Mosaic: Hurston.” The Harlem Renaissance: A Social Documentary Through Art @ Project Mosaic: Hurston. Project Mosaic, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2014

Hurston, Zora. “SWEAT – Zora Neale Hurston.” Biblioklept. Biblioklept, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2014.


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