Skip to Main Content

Harlem Renaissance: Musicians

A guide to the literature, art and music of the cultural period.


photo from Google images

The African-Americans gained new-found freedom through the renaissance and expressed it through the form of music and jazz. The musicians and singers formed The Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom, which didn't just attract the black crowd, but also the white people as much, making African-American music a rage in the 1920s.
~ from Buzzle

Duke Ellington 1899-1974


hoto from Google images

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader of a jazz orchestra,  which he led from 1923 until his death in a career spanning over fifty years.~ from Wikipedia

In late 1927, Ellington and his orchestra landed a job at the Cotton Club, one of New York's premier nightspots, located in Harlem at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. Operated by the gangster Owney Madden, patronized by wealthy whites, and staffed by blacks, the Cotton Club put on high-powered music revues featuring sultry chorus girls, sensual choreography, exotic production numbers, and plenty of hot jazz.   While celebrities and socialites flocked there to soak up African-American entertainment and Prohibition liquor, listeners around the nation could tune into the sounds of Duke Ellington's orchestra via broadcasts on NBC. ~ from The Duke Ellington Reader, Edited by Mark Tucker, copyright 1993 by Oxford University Press

Cab Calloway 1907-1994

photo from Google images

Cabell "Cab" Calloway III was an American jazz singer and bandleader. He was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City where he was a regular performer. He’s associated with 1930s Jazz and his 1931 hit “Minnie the Moocher” is considered to be one of the first recordings to feature scat singing. ~ from Wikipedia

Library Resources

The Cotton Club - Harlem Renaissance - Jammie Castleman

During the Harlem Renaissance, the happening place to be was the Cotton Club, located in the heart of Harlem... unless you were black.

A spotlight presentation for Castleman's ENGL 345 course.


16 mm reel found of censored black dancers, Cotton Club Girls Gone Wild! Meant for the trash, and never meant to be seen! Elegant black show girls ditch Opera for Jazz as they get seduced by a hot jazz tune.Stars: Dorothy Salter and pianist Maurice Rocco.

Filmed for Walter Wanger's movie "Vogues of 1938". This was the first close up take. The writhing bodies were deemed too titillating and too close up, so this footage was scrapped and the scenes reshot from approximately 100 feet away! This desensitized the thrilling nature of this close up version.



photo from Google images

A list of some of the other notablemusicians and performers during this time period.

  • Lil Armstrong
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Josephine Baker
  • Eubie Blake
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Billie Holiday
  • The Nicolas Brothers
  • Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

Ethel Waters 1896-1977

photo from Google images

Ethel Waters was an American blues, jazz and gospel vocalist and actress. She frequently performed jazz, big band, and pop music, on the Broadway stage and in concerts, although she began her career in the 1920s singing blues...Around 1919, Waters moved to Harlem and there became a celebrity performer in the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. ~ from Wikipedia

Chick Webb 1905-1939

photo from Google images

William Henry Webb, usually known as Chick Webb was and American jazz and swing music drummer as well as a band leader. ~ from Wikipedia

At the age of 17 he moved to New York City and began leading his own band in Harlem. His band became the house band at the Savoy Ballroom. He became one of the best-regarded band leader and drummers of the new “Swing” style.~ from Website Created by: Phylicia and Sari, June 2011