Essay on African Americans: Jazz, and Their Contribution to America

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A type of music that is usually played in the major key and quite popular in America is jazz. It was originally invented in the late 1800s by African-American musicians. However, it didn’t become very popular until the 1900s. By this time, jazz had become an inherent part of American culture. In the 1920, there was a time period known as the ‘Jazz Age’, since jazz music flourished and became extremely well-known especially among the younger generation. Jazz also spread from being played mainly in the street of African American to the white people as well that began to make jazz part of their culture as well.

Cab Calloway – ‘Minnie the Moocher’ (1931)

Cab Calloway was born in Rochester, New York, in 1907. The song ‘Minnie the Moocher’ played in the G-major key by Cob Calloway is in the public domain. Calloway and his Orchestra managed to sell over a million copies of the song. The song involved the band members and the audience to participate, engage, and repeat after him after each scat phrase. The song was about a girl name Minnie. His Orchestra plays a jazz type tune, and Calloway sings as he tells and dances according to the beat of the song. The words he uses in the song are quite inappropriate, however Calloway doesn’t mention how the story ends. Although the tale was disreputable, shockingly the song wasn’t censored. Instead, in 1999, ‘Minnie the Moocher’ was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

Billie Holiday – ‘Strange Fruit’ (1939)

Billie Holiday was born in 1915 in Philadelphia. She was one of the most influential jazz singers of all time and had a thriving career for years. ‘Strange Fruit’ is known to be a protest song written by Billie Holiday. Through her song she tries to explain how cruel the white people have been to the colored ones. Her song remained the most vivid symbol of American racism, a stand-in for all the more subtle forms of discrimination affecting the black population. In 1978, her song received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and was included in the song list of the century. Holiday’s song was not only just a song but more of a poem with vivid words that spoke out for the colored people for the way they were being treated.

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Miles Davis – ‘So What’ (1959)

Miles Davis was able to play one of the most recognizable jazz songs around the world. He began his career since he was a teenager and continued his journey as a musician. Years later, he was able to combine jazz with hip-hop as well. ‘So What’ features Miles Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Miles Davis was an inspiration to the people around him since he came so far even though he was a colored man. He was the son of a dental surgeon/music teacher, and he was taught about the trumpet by his father at the age of 13. He even dropped out of school to focus on his career of becoming a professional musician. He proved to the world that he was so much more than what the color of his skin revealed.

Nina Simone – ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ (1961)

Nina Simone was born on February 21, 1933. She was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and civil rights activist. She played all types of music (classical, jazz, blues, etc.). She mainly tried to get her message and thoughts out through her songs. However, in this song, Simone mainly talks about her lover. She talks about how loyal he is to her and how he only cares for her. In her lyrics she said: “My baby don’t care for shows. My baby don’t care for clothes. My baby just cares for me. My baby don’t care for cars and races. My baby don’t care for high-tone places. This suggests that her lover isn’t concerned about the world or her wealth, he only cares about her and loves her for who she is”.

Louis Armstrong – ‘What a Wonderful World’ (1967)

Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) was born on August 4, 1901. He came to prominence in the 1920s, influencing countless musicians with both his daring trumpet style and unique vocals. Armstrong had a sad childhood. His father left the family and his mom turned to prostitution. He was left with his grandmother often and had to begin working since fifth grade. He fell in love with music when he was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. He symbolized the civil rights struggle that was part of the changing America which he lived. Armstrong wrote this song to mainly say to never lose hope. No matter how terrible things were for him, he always learned to look in the positive side of everything. Therefore, he is saying that no matter how things may turn out in life, you should always try to look at the beauty of things and never lose hope.


Overall, all these songs contribute to the topic of how African Americans contributed to America. Due to slavery, all these African Americans were forcefully brought to America as plantation workers. Thankfully later, legal slavery ended. All the African Americans received their freedom; however, they were treated very poorly simply due to their skin color. African Americans had very few ways of protesting and standing up for their rights. Music was one of their main ways of delivering their message. In the time period, we can see how jazz changed and how America changed. Towards the beginning of jazz, musicians/singers mainly just wrote poem type songs and directly or indirectly distributed their message in their song. Later, there were songs being written to simply just prove that colored people were able to do just as much as white people. Eventually, there were actual songs that were being written especially since there were so many people that protested for equal rights for colored folks. This clearly shows the changes in music (jazz) and in America as well.

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