One of the lasting legacies of the Harlem Renaissance was that it gave African Americans a united culture. Previously, middle-class black people living in New York had tried to integrate with the local white population. What the literature and music gave them was a cultural heritage to be proud of. It blended the soul and jazz of the southern immigrants with the piano, considered a more middle-class instrument than the brass of the jazz band and a staple of the more affluent New York African Americans.
While it has its critics – they argue that the movement relied too much on the white establishment to be heard – the impact it had on drama, literature and music is too good not to be appreciated. Soul, Funk, Rock & Roll, R&B (the old kind) and Hip Hop, not to mention the Stax and Motown labels, all stem from the melting pot that was the Harlem music scene. Consequently the 80’s counter-culture music also exists because of the movement (or maybe that’s stretching it a little. I do like the idea that Nazi-Punk music exists because of what was going on in a black suburb in the 1920’s though…)
Any how, here are four songs that I consider to be among some of my favourites and that probably wouldn’t have been written without the cultural emancipation that the Harlem Renaissance allowed.