The Music In The Great Migration

The Great Northward Migration, commonly called the Black Migration, was the movement of approximately 1.6 million African Americans out of the South between 1916-1940. The Great Migration was one of the largest and most rapid mass of internal moves in history. The factors that contributed to this migration was segregation, lynchings, and lack of social and economic opportunities in the south. In cities such as New York African Americans were able to integrate more with European Americans with many of them transitioning from rural laborers to industrial workers. One of the outcomes of the Great Northward Migration was the Harlem Renaissance.

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Before the great migration African American music was mostly blues and folk music. Blues is an element of Jazz but the two have many differences. The main focus of Jazz music is the dynamics and improvisations of an ensemble, while blues music is usually centered on a single guitar player/vocalist, and the personal lyrical content of the song. Most Jazz tunes are purely instrumental while a blues songs always contain lyrics. Blues is also usually based on the trials and tribulations experienced in life while Jazz seems to be upbeat and sophisticated. When I think of blues music, I picture a dilapidated wooden shack with floors that dip, no air conditioner, and drinking from a mason jar while a band is singing about the common woes experienced by its patrons that week. When I think of Jazz, I envision well-dressed patrons in a marble floor facility with linen napkins and table cloths, excited about what the future will bring.

Although Blues is an element of Jazz, Jazz actually originated from a form of music called Ragtime. The library of Congress defines Ragtime music, as uniquely American, syncopated musical phenomenon, having been a strong presence in musical composition, entertainment, and scholarship for over a century. Ragtime genre of musical composition for the piano, generally in duple meter and containing a highly syncopated treble lead over a rhythmically steady bass. A ragtime composition is usually composed three or four contrasting sections or strains, each one being 16 or 32 measures in length. Scot Joplin was a famous Ragtime composer who was actually dubbed the King of Ragtime. During his brief career, he wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas.

Similar to Ragtime Jazz music also used improvising, meaning it was composed on the spot. One of the great Jazz musicians who excelled at improvisation was Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong was born August 4, 1901 in one of the poorest sections of New Orleans, LA. It was not known at that time that this distinctive and widely popular music new band music out of blues and ragtime which would later be called Jazz music. After being sent to the Jones Home for Colored Waifs for firing a gun at New Year’s Louis Armstrong would take his first formal music lesson while at the home. Louis also played in the home’s brass band.

By the early 1920s Louis Armstrong’s became immensely popular upon leaving New Orleans to play in both Chicago and New York. He had a very unique way of singing called “scat” singing. It was said that Louis Armstrong used his voice like a horn and his horn as a singing voice to create his unique sound. Armstrong served as ‘Ambassador Satch,’ spreading good will for America around the globe including State Department-sponsored tours and broadcasts in the ’60s. He was especially well-received in the newly independent nations of Africa, marked by such events as a 1956 concert celebrating Ghana’s independence, attended by more than 100,000 Louis Armstrong fans.

Armstrong summarized his philosophy in the spoken introduction to his 1970 recording it’s A Wonderful World. ‘And all I’m saying is, see what a wonderful world it would be if only we would give it a chance. This is by far one of my favorite songs and the reason I selected Louis Armstrong for my musical reflective essay.   

07 July 2022

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