The Harlem Renaissance: Artists & Musicians


The Harlem Renaissance was a period of artistic explosion during the early 20th century, from roughly 1919 to 1940, centered in Harlem, New York. The art and music of this period celebrated black culture and challenged the racism that existed in much of the country at the time. The art and music of the Harlem Renaissance has influenced many artists and musicians since the 1940s.

Aaron Douglas

  • Aaron Douglas was one of the most important artists of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a painter who specialized in using geometric designs in his art work. Some of Douglas's most famous works include "Building More Stately Mansions" and "Into Bondage." Douglas was also an activist who helped raise money for the Harlem Renaissance movement by appealing to wealthy patrons.

William Henry Johnson

  • A modernist artist who focused on images of African American life, William Henry Johnson was another of the major artistic figures from the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson was born in 1901 in South Carolina, where he lived until he was 18 years old. He then moved to New York and enrolled in the National Academy of Design. He later studied art in Paris, France. His works include "Street Life in Harlem" and "Street of Cagnes Sur Mer."

Duke Ellington

  • Jazz legend Duke Ellington is one of the most enduring figures from the Harlem Renaissance. Duke, who's real name was Edward Kennedy Ellington, was born in Washington, D.C., in 1899. During the Harlem Renaissance, he played in many theaters and nightclubs in New York. "Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady" and "Solitude" are some of Ellington's most famous pieces.

Louis Armstrong

  • Louis Armstrong is one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time. Born in New Orleans on July 4th, 1900, Armstrong made his mark on the Harlem Renaissance by playing the trumpet with the Fletcher Henderson New York Band in the 1920s. Although he traveled the world playing music, he often returned to Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, where he made his first national recordings and performed on Broadway.

Bessie Smith

  • Bessie Smith was known as the "Empress of the Blues." Born to a poor family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894, Smith was a critically acclaimed blues and jazz singer who made her name playing in New York during the Harlem Renaissance. Some of her most famous songs include "Crazy Blues," "Golf Coast Blues" and "Downhearted Blues."


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