One of the all-time influential authors, Zora Neale Hurston, has close ties to the Harlem Renaissance. Through her writings, Robert Hemenway wrote in the book “The Harlem Renaissance Remembered,” that Hurston was a strong voice that held together her race.
Langston Hughes was one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance, which was the African-American artistic movement in the 1920s that celebrated Black life and culture. Hughes’ creative genius was influenced by his life in New York City’s Harlem, a primarily African-American neighborhood. His literary works helped shape American literature and politics. Hughes, like others active in the Harlem Renaissance, had a strong sense of racial pride. Through his poetry, novels, plays, essays and children’s books, he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice and celebrated African-American culture, humor and spirituality.
Louis Armstrong was one of the most important artists of the Harlem Renaissance, famous for his amazing skill with the trumpet and his unique voice. He often used an improvised style of singing, with random syllables or sometimes without words, which was called “scatting.” Armstrong’s music was uplifting and countered the oppression, segregation and racism of the times.
Jacob Lawrence was the most widely acclaimed African-American artist of the 20th century. He was adept at creating narrative collections that told the stories of Black life that were thought-provoking and uplifting. In his Migration Series and War Series, he brought the African-American experience to life using blacks and browns juxtaposed with vivid colors that exuded energy and life.
Billie Holiday was a superstar jazz singer whose sultry voice and tumultuous life were the subject of the film Lady Sings the Blues. During the Harlem Renaissance, Holiday was a renowned artist, an escape from the ills of the times. During this period, the American music industry was still segregated, and many of the songs Holiday was given to record were intended for the Black jukebox audience. She later broke all segregation barriers.
James Weldon Johnson was an early civil rights activist, a leader of the NAACP and a leading figure in the creation and development of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote the poignant books, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” and “God’s Trombones,” a collection that celebrates the African-American experience in the rural South. Johnson’s leadership was in direct opposition to the white supremacists’ ideals and provided Black people with a source of strength against the threatening force.
Jazz legend Duke Ellington moved from Washington, D.C., to New York as part of the Great Migration, and played a major role in the Harlem Renaissance as the bandleader of the famous Cotton Club. William Grant Still, one of the most prominent African-American music composers of the time, was greatly influenced by the concept of the “New Negro,” a theme frequently evident in his concert works. Ellington reflected the “New Negro” in his music, particularly in the jazz suite “Black, Brown, and Beige.”
He was perhaps the most famous African-American actor of the early 20th century, rising to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. His father was a former enslaved man who instilled in his son a strong social awareness. Paul Robeson did not fail his father, becoming the prototypical “Renaissance Man” who thrived at acting, sports, writing and teaching — all with a slant toward empowering Black people in the face of so much racial disharmony.
He arrived in Harlem in 1925 and quickly became a major part of Harlem’s cultural life. Aaron Douglas created powerful images of African-American life that offset the racist perception whites embraced, and he won awards for the work he created for publications, ultimately receiving a commission to illustrate an anthology of philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke’s work titled “The New Negro.” He contributed illustrations to Opportunity, the National Urban League’s magazine, and to The Crisis, published by the NAACP. Douglas had a unique artistic style that fused his interests in modernism and African art. He incorporated parts of art deco along with elements of Egyptian wall paintings. Many of his figures appeared as bold silhouettes, symbolizing the strength of Black people.
He was so affronted by the racial injustice in America that his best verse — indeed most of his verse — gave voice to racial protest, according to the poetryfoundation.com. The title of Cullen’s 1925 collection, “Color,” was not chosen unintentionally, nor did Cullen include sections with that same title in later volumes by accident. At the start and end of his career, he was considered a “racial poet.” Cullen married Nina Yolande Du Bois, the daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois, a man who for decades was the acknowledged leader of the Afro-American intellectual community. Much of Harlem joined in the festivities that marked the joining of the Cullen and Du Bois lineages, two of its most notable and influential families.