Many discuss the important musicians that performed in Harlem including Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway which helped to bring exposure to black music to a larger audience than before and helped to herald in a new age of music made exclusively by black people. Harlem’s important music scene also ran parallel to the writers, artists, leaders and everyday people living during that revolutionary time. Here are 5 books that capture Harlem and its music scene.
1. Rhythm Is Our Business: Jimmie Lunceford and the Harlem Express By: Eddy Determeyer
“Rhythm Is Our Business” focuses on bandleader Jimmie Lunceford and his rise to become one of the most sought out attractions in Harlem in the 1930s. He had a long-standing run at the Apollo Theater where his band performed for 10 years. Lunceford also introduced the bass and electric guitar to his performances which was unheard of at the time. His band sold many records and was so popular that they were close in name and stature to Duke Ellington. “Rhythm Is Our Business” also follows Jimmie Lunceford’s life from his time in Memphis and his attempts to get his band off the ground and receive mainstream attention. It also delves into the band’s touring life where they sold out shows and set many records for a jazz band.
2. Harlem Jazz Adventures: A European Baron’s Memoir, 1934-1969By: Timme Rosenkrantz
“Harlem Jazz Adventures” was written by a dedicated and involved jazz fan, Timme Rosenkrantz. Rosenkrantz was a Danish journalist and radio show host who had a deep passion for jazz which led him to the burgeoning jazz scene in Harlem during the 1930s. In this book Rosenkrantz discusses his involvement with the jazz scene where he recorded up and coming bands and musicians in his apartment and had the opportunity to create his own band named Timme Rosenkrantz and His Barrelhouse Barons. He also helped to produce jazz concerts and even ran a record shop in Harlem. Rosenkrantz’s enthusiasm led to his ability to meet famous musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Eddie Condon, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday.
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3. Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968 Edited by: Allon Schoener
“Harlem on My Mind” is an excellent book for those that want to see snapshots of Harlem throughout the 20th century. Editor Allon Schoener displays photos of many of Harlem’s musicians including Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday in their early years. The book also has photos of key figures such as Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. This book also catches the slice of life of ordinary residents in Harlem, bars, restaurants and apartment buildings.
4. The Harlem Reader: A Celebration of New York’s Most Famous Neighborhood, from the Renaissance Years to the 21st Century By: Herb Boyd
“The Harlem Reader” is an essential book for those who are interested in reading about what important figures had to say about their time in Harlem. In this book author Herb Boyd has collected stories, notes, and narratives from individuals such as Malcolm X, Ann Petry, James Baldwin and Sonia Sanchez. It also showcases the importance of the Harlem jazz scene in the 30s and its influence on contemporary music. There are also interviews Boyd arranged with many Harlem leaders who discuss their neighborhood and what it was like growing up there. Boyd is able to present an absorbing recollection of what Harlem means to its famous and ordinary residents.
5. The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents By: Jeffrey Brown Ferguson
“The Harlem Renaissance” is a book delves into black identity and what writers, musicians, and artists were trying to accomplish in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. Author Jeffrey Brown Ferguson analyzes the deeper meaning behind what was really going on during the Harlem Renaissance by providing documents and notes from individuals that were living during that time. In the book civil rights activists discuss what it meant to be the “New Negro” and how all that was being produced at the time was important for the black struggle towards equality.
Zane Castillo is a Brooklyn based who loves to write about Harlem music, news, and film/theater.
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