How the Great Migration Affected African American Music

The Great Migration was a vital factor in the development of African American music in many ways that led to an overall improved life for the migrants. From 1910 to 1970, approximately 6 million African Americans migrated from the Southern United States to Northeast, Mid-West, and Western states in search of a better life. They left the South due to lynchings, discrimination, segregation, denied rights, and a lack of jobs. Most migrators moved to large cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. As they settled in communities filled with people of the same race, many found job opportunities which led to an increase in prosperity and overall sophistication. An important outcome of this migration was the Harlem Renaissance which ushered a movement of new African American accomplishments in art, literature, and music.

This Renaissance presented an idea of the “New Negro”, a thought that a person could overcome racism and oppression through intellect and production of the arts. This idea somewhat “uplifted” the race and led to musical advancements, including a development to jazz music. As the Renaissance thrived, new ways of playing music were created including the Harlem Stride Style, a modern style of playing the piano.

Artists such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Nat King Cole became very famous, as the more sophisticated music began to appeal to white people as well as blacks.

The Great Migration had a huge impact on Jazz musically in specific. Since the migration had led to jobs and prosperity for African Americans, more people were able to buy records and listen to music in their homes. This greatly intensified the spread jazz music. In addition, musicians were exposed to better education leading to an increase their musical abilities. This expanded the development of music, and caused new methods and forms of jazz itself.

Finally, the Civil Rights Movement was undoubtedly influenced and impacted by music. African Americans began writing and playing “freedom songs” which inspired people to fight for their rights. Jazz, gospel, and soul music thrived during the Civil Rights Movement. These songs were aesthetically pleasing to African Americans, as well as serving as a “rallying flag” for the culture. The songs were became socially and politically conscious, as African Americans fought oppression and pushed for equal rights. These new genre’s and musical advancements served as support for African Americans, as Martin Luther King said, “Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties — and, if you think for a moment, you realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.”


  1. This was a good blog post. It explained the Great Migration and its role in creating and enhancing people’s morale and creative tendencies. Jazz was definitely bolstered. Another genre that changed and developed was the blues. In the rural south, electricity wasn’t common, so people used acoustic instruments. Life had a slower, more mellow pace there, which is reflected in the music. This is an example of Delta Blues, as the style came to be called due to the geographic region of the Mississippi River delta.

    The Great Migration brought people to the cities, where electricity and a fast paced life was the norm, which influenced many musicians to amplify, electrify and pick up the tempo. This style became known as Chicago Blues.

    • colin williams on February 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I felt that the blog post accurately portrayed the information in a clear and informative way. The article talks about The Great Migration and how it impacted African American’s lives. I agree when the author says that the new music started to appeal to whites as well as African Americans. I also the mention of “freedom songs” which reflected their desire and hope of becoming equal. this can be seen in the song “This Little Light of Mine”.

  2. I loved reading this blog post. I agree the Great Migration was a great time in history for African Americans. They finally got a chance to live a life they wanted and deserved. I took the class History of Jazz and the impact of music for life during the Migration and Renaissance was enormous. I like your mention of the idea of the “new negro” because it embodies the idea that anyone can change their life, circumstance, etc when given an opportunity. The music of this time clearly reflects the idea of freedom. Stride style playing was important to improvisation which is very prominent in jazz music. Here is a video of Art Tatum playing in stride
    Although it is at a different tempo than your example, it exemplifies the diversity of playing during this time. Stride pianists often had “cutting” contests to determine the best improvisers. This was a great choice for a topic, very interesting and well written.

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