The Harlem Renaissance Movement and its Music

Harlem Renaissance lesson plans can bring the music, poetry, and literature of this time period alive.

By Barbara Moseley

Harlem Renaissance Lesson Plans

After World War I, the landscape of America changed in many ways. There was a focus on leisure activities, music, and art. A population of artists whose voices hadn't been heard before came to the forefront. Writers, such as Langston Hughes, and singers, such as Lena Horne got widespread acclaim. It was a time in which artists, dancers, musicians, poets, and writers felt free to express themselves, grow, and share ideas. The Harlem Renaissance had begun. 

In Harlem, a middle class grew quickly because real estate became available to African Americans, and they started to move from the south to the north. This movement is called The Great Migration. Church groups and African American realtors were able to buy property, including the famous Apollo Theater and The Cotton Club during this time. As the news spread this famous neighborhood in New York became a mecca for artists, craftsmen, and anyone looking to start fresh and leave the South with its Jim Crow laws.  Musicians were able to cultivate their skills, and Jazz, Ragtime and the boogie-woogie or rhythm and blues emerged. The music of the south came to the North as America discovered Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Dizzy Gillespie, W.C. Handy, John Coltrane, Marian Anderson, Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington and many more. 

For a class project, here are a series of questions you can use to begin a discussion, or use for writing topics.  Listen to various artist, then see how many instruments you can pick out. Which instrument is most popular?  How is the music different from the previous era?  How does it make you feel?  What do Dizzy Gillespie's cheeks look like?  These are all important questions that can make listening more active.  For a writing project, create lyrics to an instrumental and see if anyone wrote about a similar theme.   

Harlem Renaissance Lesson Plans:

Inside the Harlem Renaissance:  In this lesson high school students study where, when, and why the Harlem Renaissance took place, and who was associated with the experience. They identify important facts, interesting people, and events in this lesson.   

Fulfilling Dreams: The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissances:  In this lesson kindergarten through sixth grade students examine the events of the Harlem Renaissance. Using art, music and literature from the time period, they discover the hopes and dreams of the authors and composers.

Harlem Renaissance: In this lesson high school students are introduced to African American art and music.

A Renaissance of Jazz and Poetry:  In this lesson eighth through twelfth grade students read selected poems and listen to jazz had its roots in the Harlem Renaissance. They discuss the similarities and differences of themes.

Heroes of Harlem:  In this lesson sixth through eleventh grade students explore the artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Their research culminates in a Harlem Renaissance Fair celebrating the movement's cultural and artistic contributions to society.

Discussion Question:

What are your favorite Harlem Renaissance lessons?

Music Guide

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Barbara Moseley