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Duke Ellington



Duke Ellington (back)... between 1940 and 1942


Part 2. Continued from Part 1.

I'll be brief, because this is a continuation of the first article, and namely because the pattern was still the same and repeated itself wherever people went. There's no point in repeating the meat and potatoes, but I'll still include a basic summary of what was said. The church, home, the field (often cotton, sugar, rice, and other agricultural plantations which varied by location – yes, while slavery had been declared ended and illegal, it still existed in the most part but with a new name, so-called 'sharecropping' where one would work and toil all day in all sorts of harsh inhumane conditions for a 'cut' of the profits of whatever was produced – often the lesser quality and a meager portion of the produced items with little or no fiscal returns) – this still occurs today , not only in the US south, but all over the US and in other countries in the world, with the only difference being before various Civil Rights Acts being passed by the US Supreme Court, it was upheld by state based laws, and criminal originations – like the Ku Klux Klan and other racist white supremacist groups – caused by fear-mongering; and back woods/back alley juke joint were the roots of the cultural movements known as the Neo Negro Movement, also widely known as the Harlem Renaissance, and beyond. Said derelict conditions caused people to leave the South in droves and go elsewhere during various periods of time, and as such they took their cultural traditions with them to wherever they went. Because of segregation and the laws supporting such behaviors, better known as Jim Crow, blacks, let alone ALL people of color, were 'quietly' and in some places and cases forcibly kept within their own communities, and as such, separate but equal – better, and later known as 'separate but not equal', became the rule of law. As such, people had to adapt and adjust and because of such conditions developed their own means of keeping entertained. One such irony of this, which is still the case today in the US, is how whites often flocked in droves to the 'negro' area of town to be entertained, and often purchased black art, music, and employed black musical acts and groups to entertain them.

As I have previously discussed in the previous article, the American Negro Movement didn't have it's roots in only one place, nor was it 'confined to merely one place. It had it's roots in the southern US where there was a high concentration of newly freed slaves. Said slaves, migrated, during a period – one of many, known as the Great Migration (typically considered to have occurred during the Great Depression, but the 'first' on occurred just after the ending of Reconstruction, and about 10 years or so after the advent of Jim Crow). It was during this period that the former slaves relocated themselves, either as individuals or as whole families – often starting with one person migrating elsewhere and then sending for relatives as they could afford to do so, to places outside of the South, e.g. Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and not, still withstanding, the migration continuing even further north and beyond to places like Canada, Europe, South America, the Middle East, Far East, and Near East, despite US government sponsored/encouraged relocation movements back to Africa – modern day Liberia is a result of this, and was highly pushed by individuals such as Marcus Garvey and many others, W.E.B. DuBois being one such, often flip-floping on this position. The locations within the US had their own movements and cultural renaissances which depended upon from where the individuals had arrived; to put it in modern terms, the Philadelphia sound, the Atlanta Sound, the Memphis Sound, and so forth and so on.
As such, genres such as ragtime, minstrel, vaudeville – so attributed to whites, but has/had its roots with the black minstrel shows (yes featuring both whites AND blacks in 'blackface') – which were basically old school versions of variety shows featuring short plays, songs, performances, and other 'acts', with far more 'umph' than the 'white ran/acting' vaudevillian shows (Joesphine Baker, Bessie Smith, and many other actors and musicians got their starts in such minstrel shows); blues, rhythm, gospel, jazz, and later swing music – which had it's heyday during the 30's and 40's (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and so many others, which passed through the infamous and famous Roseland Ballroom, and Apollo Theater in NYC), and a bit of a short renaissance of it's own in the late 1990's with the Mighty Mighty Bostones, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers, etc, and a lot of other genres that were later influenced.


Apollo theatre, New York



Apollo theatre, New York, 1922



One of the 'inventions' which helped spread the sounds of the day was the invention of the phonographic record player – and just about every major city/town in the US, which held any 'significant' amount of a population with purchasing power, had record companies. However, these record labels were namely based in NYC or in that vicinity, Philidelphia, Boston, Washington, etc, or had their parent labels there – Columbia, Atlantic, etc. There were a few in the South, the 'big' city for them being Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, Chicago, and later Detroit – it ending up on the map with the birth of the Motown Sound.

I won't worry about mentioning the famous actors during this period because quite frankly, just like now, being black wasn't exactly a 'good thing' in Hollywood – which was, for the most part at the time, financed/bankrolled by NYC gangsters – one can Wikipedia all that drama, and the racism behind it. That said, a film industry still managed to 'crop up' in the form of 'low budget B movies – known then as 'Coon Flicks' (Coon – being a racist term for blacks). I suppose one could say that a 'cruel irony' is said black movie industry is still flourishing and has spread around the world, along side the 'white' movie industry – the biggest production company(ies)being owned by Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and T.D. Jakes – interestingly enough, in my humble opinion a pastor of several mega churches in the US with a frevrent following.



Also important to note – and a lot of people outside of the Arts and black communities fail to notice this fact, is that the black theater scene is currently experiencing a bit of a rebirth in and of itself with plays being resurrected from or 'tweaked' from the minstrel shows or 'Harlem Renaissance' periods. Even new plays based on the Bible, and other holy books are popular with all black casts, crews, and directors – some even produced by Tyler Perry (the biggest director/writer/producer/employer of anything black media related of plack people in the US), Oprah Winfrey, and T.D. Jakes. Said plays, television shows, and movies, have proven to be popular both in the US and abroad – much to Hollywood's chagrin – hence, the cruel irony. Long story short on that one, the 'players' in Hollyhood (Hollywood's nickname b/c of all the dirty dealing and such done behind the scenes) did everything in their power to 'stomp' out the popularity of anything negro – and this attitude still prevails in the 'industry' today – bought to the forefront in the recent Sony hacking scandal. All this and everything else mentioned in not only this article, but in the previous one will be continued in the next :) Stay tuned... Part 3. Disclaimer: These are the opinions of the author and no one else, although there are some that might share them. For more info on some of the subject matter visited, check out Google and Wikipedia.



Marian A.B.



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