“ Everybody that you could name would join in our audiences from, LaGuardia on down. Everybody came. Everybody came to the Cotton Club.” -Cab Calloway
The Cotton Club and the Harlem Renaissance
Clubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy, were instrumental in the bust and boom of the Harlem Renaissance. Their presence greatly impacted Jazz while their stereotypes and racist ideologies were deleterious to the more serious aspects of the Harlem Renaissance.
White Patronage Behind the Harlem Renaissance
“ The Cotton Club gave respectability to a vision of African-Americans that the Harlem Renaissance was desperately combating. They not only confirmed humiliating stereotypes, but led significant numbers of blacks to embrace those same self-deprecating ideals.”- An excerpt from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance
In the midst of all the cultural and intellectual renaissance of the Black community in Harlem, the Cotton Club emerged to undermine it. The intellectual and artistic parity between Blacks and Whites was overlooked as Whites came to Harlem to be entertained and not overwhelmed. The clubs served as venues where the Whites could “… sit and stare at the Negro[s]…— like amusing animals in a zoo." –Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Wholly enthralled in the musical numbers and plays of the club, whites were presented with a lightly painted version and insight into African American life. They were disillusioned by the real wrongs that plagued the Black community even when the violence was all around them in Harlem, in the form of ghettos and crime.
Political activists such as Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois had a hard time convincing others that Blacks deserved and were capable of rational self-government when they were seen as an emotional and primitive people.
Negative Effects of the Cotton Club
Conducive to the Music of the Harlem Renaissance: Jazz
As more Whites came to the Cotton Club to escape the accepted Victorian and conservative orthodoxy of society, Harlem replaced Broadway as a popular spot. This in turn, gave many Blacks a chance to showcase their talent to those who had the resources to make things happen. Exposed to the national scene through the Cotton Club’s weekly broadcasting, several African American artists were recognized for being the accomplished musicians that they were. Many of these artists include: Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, and Cab Calloway.
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