Celebrating Black History Month: The Harlem Renaissance

Courtney Standley, Editor-In-Chief

A Brief History of The Harlem Renaissance

The Movement that Changed Jazz

     Throughout the “Reading Through History” video titled: History Brief: The Harlem Renaissance, the narrator shares how life and the overall culture changed in Harlem drastically in the early 1900s taking on a life of its own. What could easily be considered the “most exciting time in the history of New York City,” the Harlem Renaissance took place in the “triple” digit streets of Manhattan where the art, literature, fashion, music, and the culinary scene began to explode, shaping the north side of the island into a community influenced by the areas African American residents. At the start of the twentieth century, many Black Americans, facing racism and discrimination across the country, and moved to a neighborhood in the Upper Manhattan”triple streets” referred to as Harlem.


     History Brief: The Harlem Renaissance, primarily focuses on literary authors such as Langston Hughes, and exceptionally talented musicians that introduced a particular sound of music that stood out, unlike any other genre of music. By bringing Jazz music to the masses in Harlem during this exciting time period. Names you may recognize like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, and Jelly Roll Morton burst on the scene introducing “improved instrument solos” with their horn sections, rhythm drums, and pianos, the sound was quickly dubbed, now refer to, as the jazz movement. Word spread quickly, and jazz musicians would perform nightly at the legendary Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club.

Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker


    It didn’t take long for word to flow downtown.  The sound was so unique, and the crowd was celebrating nightly, that soon the audiences were equally filled with both black and white Americans in the tri-state area (a.k.a. The Bridge and Tunnel People from New Jersey and Brooklyn) vying for their turn to experience this musical phenomenon for themselves. Which quickly became believers, and within a short amount of time, the Jazz scene exploded. “Reading Through History’s” main objective succeeded to point out how rich and influential the arts were during the Harlem Renaissance in order to document and preserve history. The narrator tells this story in a formal, yet casual tone for viewers of all ages to understand and enjoy. “This period saw an increase in musicians, specifically Black jazz musicians. Artists like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and many others were able to jumpstart their careers because of the popularity of the movement.”




But this era was not all butterflies and roses. Black American’s were still frowned upon, but there were some very special people who made sure their long nights performing were greeted by small acts of kindness. Prior to, and during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, My great grandfather, Joseph Di Trolio, owned a small diner in Montclair, New Jersey, just a short train ride from Harlem. My grandfather did not believe in segregation. Each morning, he’d leave his home before 4:00 am, to open his Park Avenue Diner promptly by 5 o’clock. However, each morning, he was greeted on the steps of the diner by a familiar group of “regulars” waiting for him to unlock the doors, and take a seat either in a booth or at the counter stools adjacent to their group of friends. On any given night, those “regulars” were nonother than the legendary, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, and Ella Fitzgerald.

     It was the only place to get served without prejudice, and something to nosh on after their evening at the Apollo theater, because during this time, there were very few establishments that would cater to black Americans, but my great-grandpa Joe, not only did but would send them all off with leftovers to share with their families for them to enjoy during the day, and for local black citizens, he always made sure his waitresses and line cooks were sent home with homemade dinner for them and their family and children to enjoy.