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This paper will analyze, critique, and help us to understand the music of the Harlem Renaissance and the Pop Art periods. The social conditions that influenced the art and the characteristics of the artists’ style were in many ways similar; however, with advancing technology, they had differing struggles to overcome.
The Harlem Renaissance was sparked by the Great Migration from 1919 – 1926 in which African Americans began moving to northern cities to find employment and a better way of life. The musicians of this era were very influential in renewing the culture and history of the United States. Jazz, race, and class divided Harlem and New York cities. Some historians have said the best way to understand the Harlem Renaissance is by understanding the music (http://historyoftheharlemrenaissance.weebly.com/index.html; www.1920s-fashion-and-music.com/Harlem-Renaissance-1920s.html). With the roots of jazz coming from slave songs, it is truly an African-American invention. This newly formed music utilized the dissonant “blue” note. This modification to the to the standard major scale allowed the musician to play the note flat; usually the third, fifth, or seventh note of the scale. Music critic Sidney Finkelstein stated, “It expresses the hope and struggle for freedom, the vitality which enables a people to wrest joy out of misery and to assert the triumph of human beings over the obstacles that would grind them down.” ("MindEdge," 2014)
Jazz was the sound of the 1920’s; with the Roaring Twenties, individuality blossomed along with the pure jazz sounds from Harlem. Nightclubs began opening in New York. Many black musicians were employed to perform in these New York nightclubs, but none were allowed admittance (Hilliard, 2014). Per Ted Giogia, “Middle-class and upper-class black families were, at best, ambivalent about embracing vernacular elements of African American culture and often explicitly hostile.” He also believed there was a profound desire for well-to-do blacks to assimilate into the white business culture of the larger northeastern cities in America (i.e. New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.) where jazz was gaining in popularity (Giola, 2011, Chapter 4). It quickly became the “people’s” music, growing in popularity nationally and worldwide (http://www.1920s-fashion-and-music.com/Harlem-Renaissance-1920s.html).
Pop art appreciates popular culture, sometimes known as the “material culture”. (http://arthistory.about.com/od/modernarthistory/a/Pop-Art-Art-History-101-Basics.htm). The phrase pop music was first coined in the 1920s as referring to a piece of music having popular appeal. This music has influenced the modern day pop music industry the “pop music” genre of popular music was a result of the post World War II consumer age. Pop art was born in the 1950s, and its music derived from rock and roll, and completed the Modernist movement in the early 1970s. Often the terms popular music and pop music are used interchangeable; the former is a description of music that is popular while the later is a specific genre containing qualities of mass appeal (www.citelighter.com/music/overall/knowledgecards/history-of-pop-music).
This mass appeal allowed for the merging of pop art and pop music. Instead of having music for dancing, music began to be designed for listening. (Early, 1995) The pop art culture was born out of a generational refusal of high modernism. The younger generation of the 1950’s placed the earlier popular culture as something ‘un-hip’ and for an older generation. This collapse was key in combing pop music and pop art.(Storey, 2006, p. 131)
The music genres of Harlem Renaissance and Pop Art were similar in their qualities of mass appeal. African Americans moved north into neighborhoods where other blacks already lived. These close communities cultivated the art and music by allowing freedom to do whatever they wanted. Anybody could become an artist. (Seneca, n.d.) Music and art, similar to the pop art period, could be made by almost anybody. Beyond that, the two styles are inherently different. The rhythm of these songs is as diverse as the number of songs themselves. Jazz music is usually more complex than popular music. Where the melody in pop music is more structured and predictable, jazz is more improvised, with multiple melodies and rhythms. (Lawrence, n.d.) The theme of popular music is more structured. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, is a standard theme, while Jazz is more intricate. Improvisation is standard within Jazz, using a call and response pattern throughout the songs.
This may have been due to the changes in society taking place that inspired artists to venture into undiscovered sounds of music that fans could relate to in their own lives. In the 1920s America was changing from agricultural to an industrial giant; this transformed the core population from farm workers to urban dwellers (Hilliard, 2014). In the 1950s America was experiencing the post war consumer boom in which the common interest was in mass media, mass production, and mass culture (www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/pop_art.htm). During the Harlem Renaissance the black artists were segregated from the whites and not allowed to socialize in predominantly white communities. During the Pop Art period laws were passed to make segregation illegal and to allow all American citizens over the age of 18 to vote regardless of race, color, gender, or creed. Both of these periods of history have influenced every future generation. The artists influenced improvements not only to the music of their genre, but also to society as a whole (Goffman, 2010).
While segregated, the Harlem Renaissance celebrated the black culture. The black artists used their talents to instill a racial pride among artists, musicians, and songwriters, and planted the seed for the upcoming Civil Rights movement. ("Harlem Renaissance," 2014)
While the Harlem Renaissance period ended in the 1940’s, the Jazz influence on Pop Art prevailed. Beginning in the 1940’s with jazz, and into the 1950’s hard bop, jazz artists began a movement through their music. From hard bop to the swing era and into the era radio-friendly rock n roll, the Harlem Renaissance set the stage for the pop art culture to thrive. ("History of Jazz," n.d.)
Billie Holiday’s song There is No Greater Love remains one of the most famous songs of the Harlem Renaissance genre while Nat King Cole’s song Unforgettable remains a popular song from the Pop Art genre. While the rules of society were strict, in order to make her art visible, Holiday had to break many of these rules as a black woman by working in jazz clubs throughout New York. Nat King Cole also had to work against the rules of society and as a black entertainer worked in the Chicago nightclubs, not only to break the mainstream, but to also become popular in singing stardom (Carney-Smith, 2010, p. 7). Many artists of the Harlem Renaissance inspired Cole in his style of jazz, both Holiday and Cole found their music provided a freedom of expression never before seen in the United States (Ross, 2007, p. 149). Holiday’s work was a compilation of art from a singer, songwriter, and musicians released during the time home radios became available and was allowed to promote the various styles of music and make them popular to people outside of a specific community ("The Victor-Victrola Page," n.d.). While also popular in the radio market, in 1955, Cole made his first appearance on television and in 1956 became the first black man to host a nationally televised show. For Holiday, her music was liberating; the absence of tradition meant freedom from tradition (Ross, 2007, p. 124). While Holiday helped bridge the social divide, Cole gained acceptance with all communities throughout the world. (Holmes, 2005)
While both singers began in the Jazz era during a time of severe segregation, both Holiday and Cole were able to take their musical compositions and cross over to the white pop music charts. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s few black artists became famous. Their music style, while initially meant for blacks, transformed all of the American culture by delivering energy into the white era. (Appiah, 1999)
Listening to both of these artists is an absolute joy. The musical style of both Holiday’s There is No Greater Love and Cole’s song Unforgettable utilize an Adagio tempo at about 88 beats per minute. The rhythm of both of these songs are unique, while Cole uses duration to enhance points throughout the song, Holiday utilizes a staccato type of approach to accent the beats. Both songs utilize a homophony texture with limited usage of harmony throughout the song; however, the dynamics of both songs are what really set these two pieces apart. Both songs use soft dynamics for most of the song, but then Cole crescendos to take the listener to a more dramatic level. Holiday though stays true to the song and maintains a consistent interval from beginning to end.
Some will say that every generation has to do the work all over again (Ross, 2007). Although these two entertainers are a generation and a few historical art periods apart, they are similar in many ways. They both survived many attacks, experienced segregation, and racism to share their art with others. While in the Harlem Renaissance the weekly newspaper and radio were the primary mass media, by the Pop Art genre mass media evolved to include daily newspapers, magazines, radio and television. By the end of the 1920s nearly half the homes in the US had home radios. By the end of the 1950s ninety-nine percent of homes in the US had televisions, along with radios. In the 1950s the mass media remained a white culture and many television stations refused to allow black artist entertainment, until they realized this is what the population wanted.
The present and future of music and entertainment has been impacted greatly by these two genres and artists. Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole were both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Rap and hip-hop were born of the evolution of jazz music from these time periods. Many famous artists of today such as Alicia Keys and Bruno Mars have stated their music styles may not exist today if it were not for the great artists from the Harlem Renaissance and Pop Art genres. References

Appiah, K. A. (1999). Africana. New York, New York: Perseus Books Group.
Black American Artists. (2014). Retrieved April 7, 2014, from http://www.askart.com/AskART/interest/black_american_artists_1.aspx?id=33
Carney-Smith, J. (2010). Social Science. In Encyclopedia of African American Pop Culture. [eGoogle]. Retrieved from Google Books
Early, G. (1995). Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition. Retrieved from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1917beyond/essays/jazz.htm
Giola, T. (2011). The History of Jazz (2 ed.). Retrieved from Google Books
Goffman, E. (2010). From the Blues to Hip Hop: How African American Music Changed US Culture and Moved the World. Retrieved from http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/aamusic/review.pdf
Hilliard, K. B. (2014). The Impact of the Music of the Harlem Renaissance on Society. Retrieved from http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1989/1/89.01.05.x.html
History of the Victor Phonograph. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2014, from http://www.victor-victrola.com/History%20of%20the%20Victor%20Phonograph.htm
Holmes, R. (2005). A Biography of Nat King Cole. Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://highstreets.co.uk/kcc/html/biograph.htm
Lawrence, C. (n.d.). How Jazz Works. Retrieved April 8, 2014, from http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/jazz.htm
Literature, Arts, and the Humanities. (2014). Retrieved April 7, 2014, from http://wgu.mindedgeonline.com/content.php?cid=19952
Ross, A. (2007). The Rest is Noise. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Seneca, P. R. (n.d.). The Harlem REnaissance’s Effect on Modern Culture. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from http://www.teenink.com/nonfiction/travel_culture/article/27043/The-Harlem-Renaissances-Effect-on-Modern-Culture/
Storey, J. (2006). Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. The University of Georgia: Pearson Education Limited.
The History of Jazz. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~asi/musi212/introduction.html

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