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Alain Locke (1885–1954)

Autor(a) de The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance

18+ Works 554 Membros 6 Críticas 1 Favorited

About the Author

Obras por Alain Locke

Associated Works

Cane [Norton Critical Edition] (1988) — Contribuidor — 482 exemplares
The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (1994) — Contribuidor — 403 exemplares
Voices from the Harlem Renaissance (1976) — Contribuidor — 105 exemplares
The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Concise Edition (2003) — Contribuidor — 67 exemplares
Gender in Modernism: New Geographies, Complex Intersections (2007) — Contribuidor — 12 exemplares
New World Writing: First Mentor Selection (1952) — Contribuidor — 11 exemplares


Conhecimento Comum

Nome legal
Locke, Alain LeRoy
Data de nascimento
Data de falecimento
Local de nascimento
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Locais de residência
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Berlin, Germany
England, UK
Harvard College (AB|1907)
Oxford University (Hertford College) (MA)
University of Berlin
university professor
patron of the arts
James, William (teacher)
Howard University
Prémios e menções honrosas
Rhodes Scholar
Phi Beta Kappa
Bowdoin Prize (1907)

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Philosophical architect of the Harlem Renaissance



A decade after editing The New Negro anthology of Harlem Renaissance writers, Alain Locke published a volume on The Negro and His Music, which included the most substantial treatment of jazz by a black writer to date, touching upon the historical, musicological and sociological aspects of the music. In presenting a chronology of the development of black music in the US, he reveals a history largely unknown to the white authors of early books on jazz—from plantation songs performed at the behest of slave owners, to sorrow songs (spirituals) and secular folk songs (blues and work songs), from minstrelsy to ragtime to jazz. In the spirit of articulating the cultural contributions that Negroes have made to American civilization (one of the functions of the New Negro), Locke makes the point that it was inevitable for the Negro to become the principal source of America’s popular music, given the ‘weak musical heritage’ of the dominant Anglo-Saxon stock. (No Anglo-Saxon rebuttal was forthcoming.)

Black music achieved its own direction and development only in the 1890s. While Negro folk songs contained the unique expressions of Negro emotion, folk-wit and musical inventiveness, writes Locke, Negro musicians had to overcome the caricatures perpetuated by minstrelsy. Nevertheless, they built upon elements of rhythm and swing in the ‘coon songs’ to compose ‘raggin’ tunes’ for Negro cabarets in Memphis and St. Louis, and Negro music began to distinguish itself with its own peculiar idioms of harmony, instrumentation and technique. In Locke’s telling, jazz arrived with the 1912 “Concert of Negro Music” at Carnegie Hall, featuring James Reese Europe and his Clef Club Orchestra.

From a musicological perspective, jazz early in the 20th c. was both evolutionary and revolutionary, writes Locke. In terms of evolution,

…The jubilant spiritual camp-meeting shout contained the ecstasy and rhythms that characterized ragtime and blues, out of which developed jazz in the improvised breaks between choruses…the free style introduced by Negro musicians has generations of experience behind it in the voice tricks and vocal habits of Negro choral singing…out of the vocal slur and quaver between the flat and the natural came the whole jazz cadenza…

The revolutionary aspects of jazz, on the other hand, were technical: the agility of the music, the variability of tone over a broader range, the odd intervals, the variety of instrumental combinations and their myriad effects.

Already in the early-1930s, Locke sees jazz reflecting and complicating the perennial problems of race, modernism, and commercialization. In spite of its racial origin, jazz had become ‘one great interracial collaboration, in which the important matter is the artistic quality of the product and not the color of the artists.’ The ‘common enemy,’ he says, is ‘the ever-present danger of commercialization.’ Having left behind ‘its humble sources in the delta, the levee, the Memphis dive and barrel-house saloon,’ jazz was embraced as a symbol of hectic times, ‘an escape from the tensions and monotonies of a machine-ridden, extroverted form of civilization.’ After a Golden Age between 1922 and 1928, though, says Locke, jazz has become artificial and decadent. The vogue for sentimental song and dance has ‘spawned a plague, profitable but profligate, that has done more moral harm than artistic good.’ A cult of primitivism built up around jazz and warped the autochthonous emotional elements into a popular craze, and this ersatz concoction (‘public taste is a notoriously poor judge of quality’) spoiled the ‘organic trinity’ of rhythm, harmony and creative improvisation that made jazz unique. The Negro, finding his way into the mainstream of the culture at last, has both gained and lost.

The Negro, strictly speaking, never had a jazz age; he was born that way, as far as the original jazz response went. But as a modern and particularly as an American also, he became subject to the infections, spiritual and moral, of the jazz age. The erotic side of jazz, in terms of which it is often condemned, is admittedly there. But there is a vast difference between its first healthy and earthy expression in the original peasant paganism out of which it arose and its hectic, artificial and sometimes morally vicious counterpart which was the outcome of the vogue of artificial and commercialized jazz entertainment. The one is primitively erotic; the other, decadently neurotic.

Ten years after he promoted the New Negro, Locke sounds pessimistic about the future of black music. He shares with the ‘hot jazz’ aficionados a lament for the passing of a Golden Age, but his concerns emanate from an understanding of the music’s deep roots in the black American experience. For Locke, the decadence in jazz was a psychological blow to the Negro. If he had seen the future, he would have been reassured: black music in general, and jazz in particular, was nowhere near exhaustion. Benny Goodman probably wasn’t going to make him feel any better, but maybe Thelonious Monk would.
… (mais)
JazzBookJournal | May 24, 2023 |
The true spirit of jazz is a joyous revolt from convention, custom, authority, boredom, even sorrow—
from everything that would confine the soul of man and hinder its riding free on the air
. —J.A. Rogers

The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), edited by Alain Locke, is a splendid anthology of fiction, poetry and essays, presented as evidence of the flowering of Negro arts and letters in the early 20th century—what came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. Even among black writers, though, there was no consensus around the notion of ‘renaissance’: James Weldon Johnson insisted that no re-birth was necessary, since Negro creativity never ceased, and Ishmael Reed has a character in his novel Mumbo Jumbo ask, “New Negro? What’s wrong with the old one?” Other commentators argued that the anthology presented an incomplete picture of Black thought at the time. The book is nonetheless an extraordinary literary compilation and invaluable historical document; of particular interest for the jazz bibliography is the essay by J.A. Rogers, “Jazz at Home.”

In a book celebrating the creative achievements of black Americans, Rogers’ essay on jazz strikes an ambivalent chord. On the one hand, he affirms the origins of jazz in the deep, specifically American folk traditions of Negroes, among the itinerant piano players wandering up and down the Mississippi (‘from saloon to saloon, from dive to dive’) and in the sound of the improvised bands at Negro dances in the South. As the music migrated with blacks around the country, it absorbed and reflected and became emblematic of the ‘nervous motion’ and ‘boisterous good nature’ of the American spirit. On the other hand, he wishes for jazz to transcend ‘the vulgarities and crudities of its lowly origins.’ He trusts the self-control of the bohemian Negro intellectual to protect himself from the dangers of the saloon and cabaret, but frets that ‘the morally anarchic spirit of jazz’ could lead the plain folks seeking ‘recreation and respite’ into ‘vice and vulgarizations’ (clearly, alliteration was one of Rogers’ favorite devices). Jazz, for all its power to rejuvenate civilization, must be ‘lifted and diverted into nobler channels,’ lest it remain a ‘poison for the weak.’ In an unfortunate turn, Rogers lauds the ‘white orchestras of Paul Whiteman and Vincent Lopez…now demonstrating the finer possibilities of jazz music.’ In trying to erase the nitty-gritty folk-soul of jazz, Rogers belies the racial pride that animates The New Negro, presenting instead the kind of elitist white-wishing that LeRoi Jones punctured in Blues People and Ishmael Reed parodied in Mumbo Jumbo.
… (mais)
JazzBookJournal | 4 outras críticas | May 24, 2023 |
Esta crítica foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Críticos do LibraryThing.
It took a long time for me to get through this book, and not because it wasn't important or compelling, but because each piece caused me to do a lot of thinking about the topic, do additional research and sometimes confront some feelings or biases I had about the text. I wouldn't recommend trying to read this book all the way through unless you're much more familiar with the subject matter than I was when I began reading. I do recommend taking your time with this text and really ingesting all of it.… (mais)
EmScape | 4 outras críticas | Jul 19, 2022 |
Esta crítica foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Críticos do LibraryThing.
This is a difficult book to review in that it contains multiple genres. The fiction and poetry hold up well, coming from the likes of Toomer, Hughes, Cullen, and Hurston. The non-fiction is more of a mixed bag. It is hard (for me at least) to read them without anachronism. Not only is some of the language dated (including the title, of course), but it is hard to fail to see where a certain optimism was misplaced, or a way of looking at things firmly of its era. On the other hand, it is interesting to see the ways black writers were thinking about black life in an era before Martin Luther King and the civil rights era.… (mais)
1 vote
wrmjr66 | 4 outras críticas | Jun 25, 2022 |


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