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The 1920's departed as it came in, roaring. On October 29, 1929, just 63 days before the dawn of a new decade, the stock market crashed and started what is now called "The Great Depression." People lost their money, their jobs and sometimes their homes. Not only was the economy depressed but so were the people.

And their music reflected this.

An offshoot of Jazz called "The blues" came out of the back streets of cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis with a slow syncopated beat and lyrics that reflected the mood of the nation. Broadway shows like "Porgy and Bess" flourished because of their downhearted story and bluesy beat. Many of the musicians and writers who'd enjoyed prosperity during the decade before were now penniless and with the demise of the Tin Pan Alley publishing houses giving way to the phonograph and radio.

Another genre that started to flourish was the Big Band sound along with Swing music. Because musicians were so cheap, many band leaders were able to hire world class musicians for very little money and take them on tours around the country. Their music reflected the tone of the country at the time.

Here is "Brother Can you Spare a Dime." It came out in 1932, just before the election of FDR.

However after the election and FDR taking office, the tone of the nation began to change. Electrical amplification allowed singers like Bing Crosby to deliver catchy vocal performances that could be heard over the big bands of the early thirties and shifted the focus of public attention from dance band leaders to the popular singers of the day. The 1933 Repeal of Prohibition led to the opening of drinking establishments, which in the mid-thirties would make use of the recently improved technology of the jukebox to entertain and attract patrons and dramatically increase record sales. Record company executives chose which artists to record and what material was worthy of release. In many ways these men and others helped to shape the American identity by selecting which "memories" were appropriate and marketable and even influencing the generation of musical styles by integrating underground forms of expression with mainstream forms of music such as country, rhythm and blues and swing.

With the big band sound and crooners coming right into living rooms either via the radio or the phonograph, FDR's Federal Music Project or traveling musicians, the country had its choice of sounds. Woodie Guthrie was one of the first musicians paid to travel for the government through out the Northwest to promote his folk songs through the FMP. By bringing messages of hope to even the remotest parts of the country, music and musicians started to restore the economy drive that had been taken away with the stock market crash.

Songs from movies such as "Over the Rainbow" made promises of the hope of tomorrow.

However I also wanted to include a video from Duke Ellington, a black musician and band leader who was known in the United States but it wasn't until his band tour Europe, just before World War II broke out, that he really discovered how much people accepted him outside of the United States. He wasn't made to sleep in separate hotels or only eat at substandard restaurants as he was in the U.S., but was able to come and go and was celebrated as a great entertainer despite his skin color.

Other sources used:

K.C. Library
Kid's News Room
Swing Dancing
The decade following World War I was prosperous and decadent for the United States. It has been called the "Roaring 20s" because of all the money that was pouring into the pockets of the nation. For the first time more people lived in urban areas than they did prior. Electricity was in home running appliances including radios. Women took a strong roll both in the workplace and in the entertainment industry with the advent of all girl orchestras and bands.

The music of the age reflected that decadent feeling. A new forms of music came up from the farmlands of the south. Dance music, like Dixieland Jazz with a fast paced rhythm, brought couples together. Dances like the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, and the Jitterbug were all very physical dances that require a loss of the dancer's inhibitions. Jazz also took on other forms that were all styled after black music from the south. Singers such as Bessie Smith, Al Jolson and Ethel Waters were heard across the country on the new radio stations and in movie houses.

Tin Pan Alley composers were in their heyday churning out such hits as "Carolina in the Morning", "Yes, We Have No Bananas", "Baby Face" and "Ain't She Sweet." George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" was derived from classical music put to a jazz beat so that it was not only modern but danceable as well.

Two examples of the diversity of music from the 1920's are:

"Mammy" by Al Jolson, a Jewish immigrant from NYC, was done in black face so as to imitate the newly embraced group of black entertainers who were coming from the south and influencing both the music and literature of the 1920's.

Jolson was the highest paid entertainer of his time. He drew his inspiration from the back alleys of New Orleans. Since it was unheard of at the time for black people to be performers, he chose to wear black face in a mimicry of the traveling minstrel shows. When D.W. Griffen produced a movie called "The Birth of a Nation" which glorified the KKK, Jolson answered with his own movie, "The Jazz Singer." Because of his fame as a stage performer, this movie went a long way to introducing black music to a wide white audience.

Women were becoming more integrated into mainstream society. In the 1920's was the 'breakout' decade with women performers taking the spotlight.

Written for the musical by George and Ira Gershwin, "Oh Kay", staring Gertrude Lawrence, "Someone to Watch Over Me", was the breakout hit. It was the story of a bootlegger and his flapper girlfriend. These type of quickly written musicals for the theater offered both social commentary and entertainment for a group of urban sophisticates who just couldn't get enough.

Side note: While researching for this era, I was reading about how the "older" generation was so against the Jazz genre because of what it represented. I couldn't help but notice a comparison between when Rap and Hip Hop first came out and when it went mainstream. My parents, both fans of Jamaican Dance Hall style music which is the predecessor to Rap, really were supportive of the genre but I remember that some of my friend's parents forbid having music by artists like "Biggie Smalls" and "Snoop Dogg." I'm sure they would think nothing of having a Jazz song played.

Other sources used for this article:

Kid's News Room
Great Gatsby Website

American History Project

The posts below this one, tagged as "Nat Turner" are a fictionalized account of a journal entry of someone who participated in what is know as the "Nat Turner Rebellion" or "The Southampton Insurrection."

I did take creative license in writing these entries as if I was a slave named "Big Sam" and a blacksmith on the plantation of Joseph Travis. This is in no way to be construed as an insult to those whose ancestors descended from slaves in the United States. My father is Jamaican, where slavery was formally abolished in 1838. This was after many rebellions and with the help of the Arawak Indians, indigenous inhabitants of Jamaica and through inter-marriage have maintained their community called Maroontown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. My mother who is 1/4 Lakota Souix, 1/4 Italian and 1/2 some European mixture is okay with me referring to the slave owners as "white people", so if I offended anyone else, deal with my mom.

A bit of background on Nat Turner:

Nathaniel Turner was born on October 2, 1800 by a recently arrived African slave given the Americanized name Nancy and her master, Benjamin Turner. He was raised by foster parents, Harriet and Tom who recognize his talents early on. He is reading by the age of 5 even though he's never been taught. He was very religious and could recall events in detail that happened before he was born.

He ran away from his master, Samuel Turner, the white son of his father, Benjamin. However he returns because of his belief that he is breaking biblical law. He has a series of visions and conducts meetings for other slaves and some white followers who believe he is indeed a prophet.

In one of his visions he believes he is commanded by Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit to kill the sinners aka the slave owners. He starts working toward this goal and seeing signs given by God to him via solar eclipses and other skyward signs.

This culminates on August 21, 1831, when he and his followers gather and start killing the plantation owners. This massacre continues through the next day until they are confronted by the Virginia militia. The group scatters but the remaining plantation owners take this opportunity to systematically murder those slaves who they felt to be a threat to them. As far as the Carolinas, plantation owners fearing their own slaves were set to rebel against them, arrested, convicted then murdered innocent slaves. A total of 55 white people died at the hands of Nat Turner and his followers, but probably three to five times that amount of slaves and free black people died as a result of this retaliation.

After hiding for 70 days, Nat Turner is caught on October 30, 1831 and taken to jail in Jerusalem, the county seat. He is beaten and his confession was taken by physician Thomas R. Gray, was taken while he was imprisoned in the County Jail. On November 5, Nat Turner was tried in the Southampton County Court and sentenced to execution. He was hanged, and then skinned, on November 11. Local plantation owners along with several doctors cut up pieces of Nat Turner's body and spread them out across the county.

"The Confession of Nat Turner" was published in December of 1831 but has over time been disputed as a true confession. It is recognized that Thomas Gray probably embellished some of the story.

I used the following sources for my information:

1830-1831 Calendar
PBS: Africans in America
Wiki: Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion
Southampton County History
Nat Turner Time line

My Last Post

Nov 7, 1831:

I have survived to now but am in jail having been found guilty and sentenced to death. I'm writing this and going to hid it in the mortar of some loose bricks here in my jail cell. Using some charcoal bits and writing on the flax sheets they have put in our cell.

We hid mostly in caves or were hidden by other slaves who survived the backlash of the plantation owners. Untold numbers of innocent slaves were killed because of our actions.

In court a couple of days ago they said we'd killed 55 white people all together but they didn't say how many they killed themselves in the name of revenge. Dr. Gray said that Nat confessed to him and that he'll publish his findings in a few months. They are going to hang us on the 11th. Henry, Hank and Nelson were all killed by the militia. I was hidden in a root cellar for a few weeks. It was hard coming out in the sunlight as my eyes weren't seeing right. I was down there with Nat and another couple of escaped slaves. Nat kept saying that his biggest fear was people wouldn't understand why we did this.

Finally after being on the run for more than 70 days, we were exhausted. The militia caught up with us and arrested us. We were beaten and throw into jail. Our trial lasted just a few hours.
We are scheduled to be hanged in 4 days.

I have no regrets other than those I've stated in previous writings. Master Travis always treated me well.

I hope whoever finds this will understand that we only did what God, through our prophet, Nat Turner, wanted us to do.

Big Sam

SourcesPBS: Africans in America
Wiki: Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion
Nat Turner Time line

Hiding in the Swamp

August 24, 1831:

As promised I would try to recap the past days activities. I'll leave them rolled up in the reeds along the banks of the Nottoway River near Jerusalem.

Long about 2am, when the moon was high, about 10 of us, lead by Nat went to the Travis family house and killed all of them while they slept. We then met up with several others, including Jim's cousin who'd come down from Philadelphia and was on horseback. We passed out some more knives, hatchets and other weaponry so as not to call attention to ourselves. Some even took up knives they'd taken from the houses. We had about 40-45 of us. We marched from house to house, killing all the members who were slave owners. We did spare the share croppers, because as Nat said, they weren't breaking God's law by owning slaves. By the time we'd reached the 3rd plantation our numbers had grown to over 70.

Around noon yesterday, Nat started pushing us towards Jerusalem. By this time word had gotten out and we were confronted by a group of white people. We scattered through the fields and swamps so they couldn't catch us. Some got trapped and were killed on the spot. Sadly we heard that those who didn't participate were being killed by their white masters who were afraid they were going to turn against them. This isn't a black or white fight, it is a fight of good vs. evil. All they had to do is release their slaves and renounce slavery. They didn't have to kill them.

Rumors were flying that there were over 1000 of us, but at best there were 70 or so. As the militia approached, I grabbed Jim and his cousin from Philadelphia who'd lost his horse a few hours before. We ran down and hid in some caves by the river. We are supposed to regroup tomorrow and continue on this quest of God's work.

I hope whoever finds this understands why we are doing this and not judge us. I have lost the light so I must end this.

PBS: Africans in America
Wiki: Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion
Southampton County History
Nat Turner Time line

Probably my last entry

August 21. 1831:

Tonight we all dined together tonight and agreed to meet at 1:30am to start our journey. Despite my plea to spare the Travis family, it was decided they were the 1st to be killed. I am sure I won't be able to write here again but I will try to document the next few days and hid them in the reeds down by the river front so anyone who finds this can follow our path.

God is with us and we will be victorious!!

The Time has Come

August 13, 1831:

It is now upon us. If there was any doubt as to what our mission was before, it is now crystallized and we are committed. Today the sun was gone again. This is the sign we've all been waiting for. Tonight word went out that everyone who was to participate was to come to the Barnes Methodist Church tomorrow and wear red bandannas. This will be the final preparation before we begin. I know that there were some with doubts. I was one of them but now I am committed that this is what God wants us to do.

We are to be free. We are human and we should not be enslaved to anyone.

Nat Turner Time Line

Night Is On us

July 3, 1831:

Today was supposed to be our last meeting before we fulfill Nat's vision of freeing all the slaves as told to him by God and Jesus. However Nat has been ill and doesn't think tomorrow will be a good day. This gives us a little more time however to prepare. I know that Jim from the plantation next to us, got word to his cousin in Philadelphia who is a free man and will come down to help so that will be more of us. Right now we have about 75 in our group who are willing to carry this out.

Even though Nat is sick, he still wants to go through with it soon and says that he is sure God will send him a sign for when the time is right.

Meanwhile I've made a few knives that I've hidden in the hay loft. No one ever comes up there. This will give me time to make some more but I have to be careful since running the forge causes smoke to come up and the sound of the hammer against the anvil is very loud at night. I don't want to alarm any of my fellow slaves that aren't involved in this plan nor do I want to wake up the Travis' in the main house. Most times I wait until there is a thunder storm at night so I can pound the anvil during the thunder and the rain masks the smoke. We must be very very careful.

Wiki: Nat Turner Slave Rebellion
History.org: Blacksmith Tools

Winter has Come

February 13, 1831:

It's been so long since I've had a few extra minutes to write. Things are changing so rapidly here. Back last fall I started sneaking into Nat Turner's Sunday services. What he is saying is starting to make sense. He's also been coming out to see me in barn where I do my smithing. Under cover of night, he sometimes brings Old Henry, Hank and Nelson with him. We all talk into the early morning hours. I have come to believe that Nat is our Prophet and will find a way to set us free. He told us one night about a vision he'd had back in 1828, he heard a loud noise and then he saw Christ and was commanded to start a Holy war, where we slaves rose up and killed the serpent which Nat says represents the evil slave masters. Master Travis treats us well, but I dread the day when young Master Putnam comes of age. He will be as mean as his father was.

Late last night Nat and the rest came to barn. Nat said the final sign had come and we need to start to prepare. Yesterday the light from the sun went out for about 10 minutes and Nat said that this was the sign he was waiting for. He told us his plan was to try to gather as many as possible and then wait for the signal from God when to strike. His vision told him to kill all the white people, including women and children. We have to be very very careful about this. Me being a smithy, I think I can help by making a few weapons we can use. Hank is a footman on the carriage and will try to spread the word to other plantations so we can all be ready. Nat says July 4th should be the day, because all the white people will be busy with the celebrations and won't pay any attention to what we are doing.

I am very afeared but I know I need to be free. I hope my children will understand this.

Nat Turner Time Line
PBS: Nat Turner Rebellion
Wiki: Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion

Long Hot Summer

August 3, 1830. It's been a long hot summer here in Southhampton County. Long about May, young Master Putnam found my old scratchings and took them to Master Travis. He told me I couldn't cavort with the likes of Nat Turner so I've been laying low but others have been keeping me informed about what's been going on. Old Henry who works in the kitchen started telling me about the visions that Nat had revealed to him, Hank and Nelson.

Seems the 1st ones came neigh on 5 years ago, back in '25. His first vision was of two spirits battling each other, one black and one white. Now this could be evil vs. good rather than race vs. race because after all we are all mixed up. Nat's father was his owner, Samuel Turner and his mom was just off the boat from Africa. Probably no more than 17 or 18. She was so disgusted by the birth of her son, she tried to kill him since he reminded her of her rape. Nat was sent to live with a couple. A Master's got to protect his property. So they say.

His second vision came not too long after that where the Holy Spirit lead him to a vision of Christ. He said that he was now called to preach by Christ himself.

Maybe I shouldn't be writing all this down in case I get caught again. I think I'll be punished more than just banned to the barn. I also think that my children need to know what is going on with their daddy and hopefully they will be able to read and write.

Then next two visions were of blood. Blood washing over corn in the field. So graphic was Old Henry's description of these visions of Nat's, that I didn't eat for 3 days afeared that there was blood in my porridge and bread. Old Henry said Nat told them this was a result of the battle of good vs. evil spirits.

The 5th vision was the strangest of all. Apparently there were some witnesses too. Nat was being baptized in the river so he could preach. Suddenly a dove flew down and landed on his chest. Nat told them he heard the voice of God saying "this is my beloved son." No one else but Nat heard it, but they saw the dove land on his chest.

I think I'll try to go to another brush arbor meeting in the next few weeks. I feels a need to connect with others.

Nat Turner Timeline

Life Goes On

March 30, 1830: 

It's spring here in South Hampton county.  I've been so busy tending the horses and trying to keep little Master Putnam from getting himself kicked, that I haven't had time to scratch in my journal.  That and I had to find a new hiding place for it, since no one seems to know that I can read and write and I don't want to get caught.  White people really take offense when they think we slaves are communicating. 

Master Travis took me with him to Cross Keys to buy some new stock.  While I was seeing about it, one of the stable boys was asking me if I knew this man Nat Turner.  I told him we had the same owner.  He said he'd heard he was a great visionary and was going to set all the slaves free.  I told him not to talk about that because you never knew who could be listening.  It set me to thinking that if Nat Turner's message was all the way in Cross Keys, more than 10 miles from  Jerusalem, the closest town near us, then somewhere, some how white people are going to find out. 

This is worrisome because I don't want any trouble for me and my family.  I need to find out more about these visions.  Since that first meeting I went to, we haven't had any time to go back with getting all the horses shoed and ready for planting season, but maybe I can sneak away and ask around. 

It's very late and I need some sleep.