Duke Ellington Harlem Renaissance

What role did Duke Ellington have in the Harlem Renaissance?

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thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dating from approximately 1919 to 1935, the Harlem Renaissance is noted as an important period for American art, literature and music. This development was necessitated by the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North especially to cities such as New York due to industrialization and increased employment opportunities. A majority of the people moving to New York settled in Harlem, bringing with them different art and culture that existed in the South. These differences led to experimentation and the evolution of the art movement across America.

Duke Ellington (among other artists) played a major role in the development of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a Jazz artist who played with a big band in popular clubs such as the Cotton club. He composed thousands of songs and is noted as a key figure in the history and development of jazz music. Duke was a master pianist but to produce his type and style of music he incorporated other instrument players with unique styles in his ensemble. Among his most popular songs include “Sophisticated lady,” “Solitude,” and “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Harlem Renaisance was a period of increased recognition and involvement in various cultural movements and developments. Duke Ellington played a major role in popularizing jazz music in Harlem, and throughout the nation. Aside from his live performances at the Cotton Club, Ellington also wrote music for Broadway musicals, for other performers, and for tours taken by his band.

Ellington was a master pianist and skillfully used elements of improvization, jazz rhythmic and harmonic patterns, and blues-based lyrics to his compositions. As "Duke," he presented himself and his band with a style and refinement that gained recognition and widespread popularity among both black and white audiences. Movie appearances featuring his band enhanced his widespread reputation and appeal.