From the Harlem Renaissance

To Montmartre's Commune Libre

dancers at the savoy ballroom

Savoy-style Lindy Hop

Jazz's golden age in the United States was the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to the African-American movement, Harlem Renaissance, which began in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. Its aim was to showcase the talents of black artists in various fields, such as literature, music, theater and modern art. Clubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom are examples of an era in which all jazz enthusiasts, black and white, liked to party together. This movement played a particularly important role in the growth of jazz in the United States, and its influence on literature had a major impact around the world. This renaissance was not limited to Harlem, but the neighborhood was, nonetheless, home to an amazing number of outstanding intellectuals and talented people. So much so, that Harlem became the "symbolic capital" of the artistic movement. But despite these efforts by African-Americans to promote their artistic skills, they were still looked down upon on American soil, particularly since segregation was very much in place. That's why they started looking for alternatives...

jazz band harlem in renaissance

Harlem Jazz Band (Wikipedia)

When they returned home to the US after the First World War, the Harlem Hellfighters brought with them the French values of freedom they had enjoyed in Paris. In fact, we owe an entire generation of Black American performers this cultural contribution - all those black artists who crossed the Atlantic with the aim of finding this famous freedom they had heard so much about. For example, Eugene Bullard was told by his father that France was a place where "man was judged by his merit, not the color of his skin." As for the Commune Libre de Montmartre, (the Free Commune of Montmartre), which emerged in the 1920s, it seemed like the perfect place for these African-American artists as it was renowned as being an ideal spot for painters and performers. Montmartre was unique at the time because it was the only district which could help them integrate and give them artistic freedom. We believe the Commune Libre had much in common with the Harlem Renaissance movement because the two shared the same goals: to fight for and defend artistic diversity. That's why the jazzmen from Harlem were able to fit in and enjoy their art the Montmartre way.

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La commune libre de Montmartre en 1920 (Gallica)

For two decades, (from 1919 to 1939), many artists, a great number of them jazz musicians, contributed to the Harlem Renaissance in Paris. African-Americans, eager for a freedom they could not enjoy in their own country, decided to move to France. The idea came from Black American liberation soldiers who fought alongside the French during the war. It was by coming to Paris (in particular the Montmartre districts), and thanks to the city, that a Franco-American union was secured and, over time, grew ever stronger. And when more than 200 African-American jazz musicians took up lodgings in Montmartre, its clubs and cabarets suddenly became incredibly popular. Artists such as the painter Henry O. Tanner, the writer Langston Hugues, and the exuberant Ada Bricktop Smith proved that Harlem and France (Paris) were key staging posts for African-American culture to break through and grow. It was the golden age from Harlem in Montmartre to the Grand Duke of the aviator, musician and nightclub manager Eugene Bullard, the wild Paris of Josephine Baker and Sidney Bechet. We called them the "Roaring Twenties"; in France they were the "années folles" - the crazy years.