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Jazz in America

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Submitted By MeloMan7
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How Jazz Music Lead to a Victory in World War II Music is a very powerful tool, it can bring people together, it can make two people hate each other and in some instances it can put words into your head without you even knowing (ie. Hotel California- The Eagles). Music is something that nearly everybody listens to anywhere from church hymns to the ear splitting dubstep music that sounds like Autobots and Decepticons fighting. Since it is so universal that means that it could have a large impact on every population. I shouldn’t use the word could, it has impacted history already as it is. In my paper I will prove this by showing you that the invention of jazz music effected World War II enough to push us onto the winning side of the war. Imagine a time when the United States only consisted of nineteen states, and James Monroe has just been elected president. This time would be the year 1817 and it was also the year that the world of jazz would begin. I use the word begin in a very loose way, because jazz music didn’t just pop out of the ground one day. What I am referring to is that in New Orleans in 1817 Congo Square was designated as the official site for slave music and dance. This was what began what lead up to become jazz music. The music itself wasn’t started until at the very earliest 1892 when African American artist, Tommy Turpin writes what is considered to be the first ragtime song on his piano. [2] Ragtime music is a music style that would eventually turn into Jazz. It started around the beginning of the twentieth century and continued to be popular in African American culture. Its upbeat rhythm made it fitting for the times and it was purely an American style of music so it became almost patriotic to listen to ragtime. In the early twentieth century a ragtime band would usually consist of just a few pieces such as; a piano, and the occasional string or brass. But, after a little bit of development these occasional sit-ins became more of a regular occurrence and Jazz music emerged. [3] When I think of Jazz there are a few distinct places/ era that I think of. One would be where it was all started back in 1817, but is still known for their New Orleans. This was a city that would have a brass band at funerals, picnics and even ball games. The music was fused into their culture as for decades there was a battle of who would be the master of what was referred to as “ratty” music by the white folks. [2]Unfortunately the 1920’s was still a time of hate and segregation in the South especially. But that started to change because of jazz music, none of this change was on a permanent level but it brought them baby steps closer to being accepted. [3] On top of being the most referred to birth place of jazz it is also the home of a very influential jazz musician, who was known as “Sachmo”, Louis Armstrong. Born in New Orleans on August 4th, 1901 Louis was around music all of the time. Ragtime was gaining popularity and he would spend a lot of time in the dance halls close to his house while his mom worked as a prostitute. He observed how the bands would play their music and he love it. He would spend all of his money from his paper route and spend it on getting tickets for shows in the “red light district” of New Orleans. Armstrong dropped out of school at only age eleven, when he joined a quartet of boys who would sing on the street for money. Even early in his life music was his major source of income, but he would get much bigger from here. Armstrong learned how to play the cornet from Joe “King” Oliver one of the musicians he often saw. After shooting a gun into the air on New Year’s Eve Louis Armstrong was sent to a colored waif where he would start his first serious band. Davis, a man that would visit the disciplinary home and instill discipline into Louis as well as some musical training. At only age thirteen Armstrong started to draw the attention of people with his cornet playing. By the age of fourteen Armstrong was already a regular at a local dance hall where he continued to be inspired by his mentor Joe Oliver. [6] As jazz became largely more popular it expanded north to other influential cities such as Chicago. Although Chicago is known as the home of Blues it also had a large influence on the Jazz scene. Oliver and Armstrong were a few of the many musicians that traveled to Chicago but, they were often considered the best around. Armstrong would perform long solos which was a rare occurrence at the time. He continued to progress and the city recognized him as huge crowds swarmed into wherever he was playing. Then his second wife, Lil Hardin tried to persuade him to try to better himself and Armstrong took that advice. He moved to New York in the neighborhood of Harlem. This is where everything was starting to change. Harlem during the 1920’s was a culturally booming place, the arts were changing like never experienced to the point where they called it a renaissance. The night scene was exploding at such theaters as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. It was the twenties so America was going through prohibition and yet these clubs were selling out every night. These sell outs didn’t only included the locals in Harlem whom were mostly African American. But, it also got the interest of the white culture. [6] This was a huge change, having whites and colored people interact was unheard of at a time like this. But, the smooth horns, kicking drummers, silky sax and whooping trombones of the bands of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were irresistible to everybody of the times. Both of these musicians were African Americans and yet there were white folks who would swoom to get their hands on one of his records or to see him at a club. [6] Nothing like this had happened in America, during a time of racial hatred from the KKK, there were white folks purposefully going to see an African American musician. Although it might not seem like much, huge strides were being made and everyone was happy. Eventually the times of prosperity came to a close and the night scene began to die down. The Great Depression hit and the fun stopped, most of the night clubs shut down and once again the African Americans were at the bottom of the food chain. The glimpse of respect that they had gotten was now inexistent. A dent was being made into the prejudices held about the African American community because they were now being hired more often, but as the economy became worse and companies began laying employees off the African Americans were often the first ones let go. I think the small mark that was made was caused by jazz music and the desegregation that it caused. I also think that the desegregation that was caused by the jazz culture was the reason that soldiers, black and white alike, were able to fight alongside each other in World War II. Although Executive Order 9981 (which ordered for abolishment of all segregation of the armed forces and the integration of all armed forces) wasn’t signed until 1948. But, when given the chance 2.5 million African Americans signed up for the draft. The total population of African Americans in America in 1940 was 12.6 million, that’s almost 20% of them signed up for the draft. Only about 1.1 million of the registrants were accepted and deployed, that’s around 11% percent of all American soldiers. These 1.1 million people were willing to put their life on the line to fight for a country that wouldn’t give them any respect and yet they loved the opportunities they were given in this country so much they were willing to die to save them. [1] That shows me a lot about the passion of these soldiers that they could take going and fighting alongside or even under the commands of people that didn’t have the slightest care of what happened to them. [5] Meanwhile they can’t even get the respect they deserve at home, as complaints were being made about African Americans in the states. Roosevelt ended this quickly by making Executive Order 8802 which did exactly the opposite of what the general American population wanted as it directed that blacks be accepted into job-training programs in defense plants, forbidding discrimination by defense contractors, and establishing a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). [1] This slowly gave them the rights that they deserved in this country. [1] But the 1.1 million that went to fight for their country weren’t able to take advantage of these rights as they were trying to eliminate oppression in Germany. [5] Originally African Americans were primarily in non-combat positions which would be the opposite of most other American wars where they were made to fight on the front lines. But, not-so-thankfully there were mass casualties to our soldiers and eventually the amount of African Americans in combat grew significantly. [4] On D- Day (Normandy, Omaha Beach), which was considered a major battle and is looked back upon by every history class in the country, among the first army on the beach 1,700 of the soldiers were African Americans. Some of these were a part of the famous Tuskegee Airmen who flew over 15,000 sorties and by the end of the war these men were being requested by everybody who needed protected transportation. They were great men who were praised when they returned to the country. There were of course many other successful groups of African American fighters whom of which the most famous is; 761st Tank Battalion was fighting its way through France with Patton’s Third Army. They spent 183 days in combat and were credited with capturing 30 major towns in France, Belgium, and Germany. That’s an impressive feat especially by a race that’s supposedly inferior. This accomplishment was just one of a handful of all African American squadrons whom had success in World War II. [4] Without this success maybe those cities wouldn’t have been captured and that could have potentially changed the war. I realize that is a lot of “maybes” and “could haves” but I think that it truly would have wound up differently if the African American soldiers wouldn’t have been present. The fact that they were even allowed to fight in the war was because of the temporary desegregation that was caused by jazz music in the 1920’s. So maybe we should thank the great people of New York and Chicago, and the great jazz musicians like Satchmo and the Duke for their efforts in WW II.
1) Executive Order 9981, July 26, 1948; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives. 2) Gable, George 1959, "The Dance In Place Congo." Creoles and Cajuns: Stories of Old Louisiana. New York: Doubleday. 3) The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Jazz in America. 2013. 25 September 2013. 4) National World War II Museum. African Americans in World War II: Fighting for a Double Victory. n.d. 25 September 2013. 5) Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures (Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001)

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