by Samantha King, originally published on

In continuation of NYS Music’s series celebrating the Harlem Renaissance in its centennial years, it is important to highlight the Cotton Club which was instrumental in displaying Black talent.

Before it was the Cotton Club, the venue was owned by the first Black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson. It was called the Club Deluxe, a nightclub with 400 seats in 1920. It was located in the core part of Harlem, at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue. About two years later in 1922, Owen “Owney” Madden, a leading figure of the underworld, purchased the…

Written by Aaron Ginsberg for

As part of NYS Music’s continuing series looking at the Centennial years of the Harlem Renaissance, we turn to writer and poet Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes, full name James Mercer Langston Hughes, was born around February 1st, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He was raised by his mother and grandmother, and grew up in a series of towns across the United States midwest, showing a proficiency in writing from a young age.

His tumultuous childhood may have given him the experiences that made him such a profound writer down the line. …

Written by Lucas Essex for

As part of NYS Music’s continuing series looking at the Centennial years of the Harlem Renaissance, we turn to activist Marcus Garvey, leader of the Pan-African movement, the first American Black nationalist movement.

Marcus Moziah Garvey was born in St Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887. His father, Marcus Garvey Senior, was a stonemason and his mother, Sarah Jane Richards was a household servant. Garvey had 11 siblings but was the only one to survive to adulthood. Attending a local church school until the age of 14, Garvey then moved to Kingston where…

By Nora Hones, originally published on

America has an immensely rich culture of art in all its forms, spanning from the early years of the country through present day. Musicians, sculptors, painters, architects, illustrators and graphic designers give this nation a broad history of artistic accomplishment and appreciation that is found through all walks of life and every corner of the country.

We have heard for nearly a year about the plight of independent music venues and the #SaveOurStages campaign, seen musicians turn to virtual tip jars to make money while streaming performances on various platforms, and in some…

On August 4, 1901, Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans. Until the age of five, Armstrong’s grandmother was his caregiver. At the age of six, he attended the Fisk School for Boys, an all black school in New Orleans. While performing odd jobs for the Karnoffsky family, Armstrong heard the early sounds of jazz from King Oliver.

Armstrong and the Karnoffskys bonded over their discrimination. Armstrong faced the obvious racial discrimination, but the Karnoffskys, a Jewish houselhold, also faced discrimination by “other white folks.”

In his early career, Armstrong performed on riverboats along the Mississippi River. This gave him…

Eleanora Fagan was born on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia. As a child, she started going by Billie Holiday, Billie from Billie Dove and Holiday from her dad. She began listening to records by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Her mother Sadie cleaned houses, but could not make a living, so moved to New York City.

As a teenager, Holiday began singing in nightclubs. She teamed up with saxophonist Kenneth Hollan, performing at numerous clubs in Harlem. In 1932, Holiday replaced Monette Moore at a club where John Hammond, a producer, heard her and signed her to a record. …

Cabell “Cab” Calloway III was born on Christmas Day 1907 in Rochester, living on Sycamore Street. His mother was a teacher and church organist and his father was a lawyer. When Calloway was 11, they moved to Baltimore. After he was caught playing dice on the church steps, his mother sent him to a reform school in Pennsylvania.

When he returned to Baltimore, Calloway began private voice lessons and continued his study of music throughout school. He soon began performing at nightclubs in Baltimore and was mentored by Chick Webb and Johnny Jones.

In 1927, Calloway joined his older sister…

Written by Joseph Dugan, originally published on

On May 21, 1904, Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was born to Adeline Locket Waller, a musician and Rev. Edward Martin Waller, a trucker and pastor in New York City. He began playing piano at the age of six and began playing organ at his father’s church at the age of ten.

Waller left school at 15 to work as an organist at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem. Within a year, he composed his first rag. He was the top student and friend to pianist James P. Johnson. …

Written by Joseph Dugan, originally published on

On April 15, 1894, Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her parents and brother had died by the time Smith was nine, leaving her sister Viola as the caretaker. Therefore, Smith had a “wretched childhood” and never received an education.

Early Life

In 1904, her oldest brother left to join a troupe with Moses Stokes. Eight years later, he returned and arranged an audition with the group for Bessie. She was hired as a dancer since Ma Rainey, a popular singer of the time, was already their singer. …

By Joseph Dugan. Originally published on

William James “Count” Basie was born in Red Bank, New Jersey in August 1904. Both of his parents played instruments: his dad on mellophone, his mom on piano. He dreamt of traveling, heavily inspired by touring carnivals. However, he spent most of his free time working at the Palace Theater in Red Bank where he eventually received free admission for performances.

Although he was more proficient on piano, his real love was drums. However, another drummer, Sonny Greer, also grew up at the same time in Red Bank, and Greer eventually became Duke…

NYS Music

New York State’s music news source, covering events of all genres from all corners of the Empire State.

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