This year New York City is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, a period of cultural change and remarkable creativity that took place in an uptown Manhattan neighborhood during the 1920s. It was a time when Harlem’s African American writers, artists and musicians—the likes of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Claude Mackay; Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong—challenged the status quo in music, fiction and fine arts. The cultural movement sparked pride, defied stereotypes and turned the neighborhood into a hotbed of art and activism.
A host of events, including jazz, dance and chorus performances, will mark the centennial. You can also observe the movement’s lasting impact any day of the year with a visit to Harlem—just take the A train (as the Duke Ellington Orchestra song urges) to 125th Street and check out some of neighborhood’s historic sites and vibrant cultural institutions. Read on for info on where to go.
The former vaudeville theater hosted a slew of African American jazz musicians in the 1920s and ’30s, including a young Billie Holiday, who sang in the upstairs room at this hopping nightspot. The current incarnation showcases events, concerts and even dancing on some nights.
Before turning into one of the country’s most famous venues for black performers, this landmark theater was a burlesque club that refused to admit African American patrons. Many have graced its stage, including Harlem Renaissance luminaries such as Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington. Today, it’s still “Showtime at the Apollo,” and you can see many of today’s hottest acts in concert or hit Amateur Night.
Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington made their mark at this uptown nightclub during an era of segregation (there was a whites-only entrance policy during the club’s initial Harlem stay). Though not the original building or location of the famed venue, this space on the neighborhood’s west side still focuses on the jazz beat that made Harlem swing in the 1920s and early ’30s.
This local theater company got its start in the 1970s, though it harks back to Harlem’s rich performing arts past through a mix of dance, drama, jazz and experimental performances.
Known as the birthplace of bebop, this music club opened in Harlem in 1938 and featured star turns by musical giants such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. Today’s incarnation (the original was destroyed by a fire) hosts jazz performances and serves modern steakhouse cuisine.
National Jazz Museum in Harlem
Founded in 1997, this organization has a two-pronged purpose: to tell the history of jazz and to keep this musical art form alive and present in the community today. In addition to exploring the collection, you can attend lectures and witness jam sessions.
A go-to on the Harlem food scene since 1962, this classic restaurant is renowned for Southern dishes like smothered chicken, fried catfish and collard greens. It serves as a center of neighborhood social life.
Visit the official Harlem Renaissance 100 website for details on the centennial celebration and all upcoming events.