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How Jazz Helped Hasten the Civil Rights Movement

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The group nature of jazz music derives from its roots – the blues, which actively invited audience participation. Jazz was distinct from the traditional forms of music because audiences would often be clapping, stomping their feet and singing along. The appeal of jazz was such that all sections of society enjoyed it, including white Americans and thereby it functioned as a unifying force, that brought white and black Americans together in a true expression of a democratic society. In his poem titled “ Democracy” , Langston Hughes states: “ I have as much right as the other fellow has, to stand on my two feet and own the land” .

No other arena was such a potent unifying force among whites and blacks as jazz was; the sheer joy and beauty of the music drew people of all colors and it became the tool by which the barriers of segregation were effectively broken down. Hughes in his poem mentioned above, does not wish to wait for years and years for the effect of democracy to be felt, he states: “ I do not need my freedom when I’ m dead” , jazz was, therefore, the proactive manner in which African Americans actively reached out for democracy and equality.

Hentoff (2009) describes how jazz performance sat the Philharmonic became weapons to fight segregation; “ colored” sings were removed from toilets and both black and white audiences had to sit together if they wished to enjoy the performances. The unique expression of the African American spirit and history and the bold, rebellious outbreak into freedom and equality which is represented in jazz is especially evident in Hughes’ poem titled “ Jazzonia” .

In this poem, the poet describes six African American girls in Harlem who are dancing along to jazz music. Their eyes are described as “ bold” and they wear dresses of “ silken gold” . The poet questions whether these girls are too bold and too gorgeous, thereby subtly suggesting that the legacy of slavery may not necessarily lend itself to African American girls presenting themselves boldly as equal citizens.

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preview essay on How Jazz Helped Hasten the Civil Rights Movement
  • Pages: 10 (2500 words)
  • Document Type: Essay
  • Subject: Music
  • Level: Masters
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