Today I will give one of my favorite lectures for the American Civilization Since 1865 class: the Roaring Twenties. It’s a great chance to show the tensions between the great art being created in that decade and the artistic works we hear today.
I will, among other things, address the arrival of jazz via the experiences of New Orleans-native Louis Armstrong.
and the way in which jazz has shown up in hip hop recordings.
In doing as much, I get to mention Kendrick Lamar as well Chicago’s Noname, a hip hop performer and singer who offers another chance for us to think about how music and people move through space. Her “Diddy Bop” tune, which I first heard on The Chi‘s soundtrack, recounts her days of growing up in a working class Chicago neighborhood. However, from the first lyric in which we hear “Mississippi,” an alert listener knows this song isn’t just about Chicago, but about the black community, the Great Migration and so much more.
The lecture also provides a chance to think about the cross-fertilization of culture as made evident not only in jazz, which is said to have grown out of the field hollers of enslaved people, spirituals, and the blues while sometimes reflecting European influences.
What all can we make of such exchanges on many fronts including dance? I will mention the Jewish choreographer Helen Tamiris whose suites of dances to Negro spirituals beginning in 1928 poses tensions with the works of Katherine Dunham, who received training in anthropology at the University of Chicago in the 1920s as well as Lester Horton and Alvin Ailey.
Without question, I will mention my shero Zora Neale Hurston, author and anthropologist and her time in Florida, Harlem and elsewhere before her death in 1960.
She was among the African American and white historical figures associated with the Harlem Renaissance, a key term on next week’s Midterm exam.
In this decade that seemed to roar owing to loosening attitudes toward one’s behavior, which doubtless added to existing racial tensions, one witnesses American people trying to sort through (as we do even now) the answer to this question: “who gets to maximize the promises of the American dream?”
What does this pursuit look like on the heels of an economy that boomed following the money made by big business during the First World War?
What does this pursuit look like with leisure time figuring more and more into the lives of everyday people alongside ongoing pressures? How does it look regionally with sports in view? I welcome the chance to tell the students about how Alabama’s win at the 1926 Rose Bowl put the Crimson Tide and the South on the map in unexpected ways.
There will obviously be many opportunities today to show how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go as a society with culture and a decade that roared in view. I’m grateful we have a nice soundtrack for the still difficult journey before us.