One of the big draws in Harlem during the Renaissance was the nightlife that manifested itself at clubs such as the Savoy Ballroom, the Cotton Club, or Smalls Paradise. The patrons that swarmed into these popular jazz clubs were white, and the entertainers were black. Ironically, blacks were not allowed into these popular clubs as patrons. These clubs can be researched on the internet, as can the entertainers who drew record crowds night after night. Among them are: the man considered to be the first significant jazz composer, Jelly Roll Morton; the famous tap dancer, Billy “Bojangles” Robinson; vocalist, Bessie Smith; jazz great, Duke Ellington; trumpeter, Louis “Satcho” Armstrong; songwriting team, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle; band leader Fletcher Henderson; vocalist, Florence Mills; Earl “Snakehips” Tucker; and vocalists, Ethel Waters and Billie Holiday. No list is complete without Cab Calloway, the famous, entertaining bandleader and vocalist. Libraries carry CD’s featuring many of these entertainers. There is a thirty-five minute video Cab Calloway and his Orchestra 1935-1950 that documents the flamboyant Cab Calloway. Once students have researched these clubs and entertainers on the Internet and in books listed in the bibliography, they will present and mount their findings, including photographs, on the mural.
The Lindy Hop, named after Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 1927 and Swing dance were also very popular in these clubs and can be researched on the Internet. Two videos, Tap with Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. and The Cotton Club with Gregory Hines, Richard Gere, and Lawrence Fishburn have dance sequences based on tap and swing, and performances at Harlem clubs in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s. The Cotton Club is rated R due to language, but it is possible to select lively sequences that give a flavor of dance during the Renaissance.
Activity: To add to the milieu of the classroom, students will design and create posters advertising these nightclubs, the dances, and the famous entertainers who performed there.
It was not uncommon in Harlem during the ‘20’s and ‘30’s to see flyers or posters advertising “rent parties.” These were literally parties held in private apartments for which participants paid a nominal fee to help pay the rent. Rent parties were also a social outlet for blacks that could not go as patrons to the big name clubs to dance and drink and socialize.
Activity: Students may enjoy making flyers or posters advertising these popular “rent parties.” Langston Hughes wrote a poem titled “Rent-Party Shout: For a Lady Dancer.”