African-American Art & Identity in the 1920s
2 class periods
High School US History
Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
Common Core Standards Addressed:
Amy J. Arnsten (2004)
When the song “Black and Blue” made its debut within a “colored” musical revue called Hot Chocolates, it was sung by Edith Wilson, a black singer who sang it on stage draped entirely in white. Perhaps the stark contrast of the setting communicated the sentiment of the text with such impact that the audience, somewhat startled, responded initially with nervous laughter. However, they became more serious once they comprehended the song’s meaning.
The song, “Brown” was performed in the musical Rang Tang, identified in the Internet Broadway Database (ibdb.com) as an “original, musical, revue.” The show apparently opened July 12, 1927 at the Royale Theatre and the Majestic Theatre in September, 1927. Closing dates for both are unknown. Total performances are listed as 119. It was produced by Merrs. Walker & Kavanaugh, book by Kaj Gynt, Lyrics by Jo Trent (female). The show was directed by Charles Davis and Miller and Lyles. The Opening Night Cast included May Barnes, George Battles, Inez Draw, Josephine Hall, Daniel Haynes, Crawford Jackson, Josephine Jackson, Zeidee Jackson, A. Lyles, Lavinia Mack, Marie Mahood, F.E. Miller, Eveyln Preer, Le’etta Revells, James Strange, Edwarde Thompson, and Lillian Westmoreland.
What images come to mind with the word Harlem?
Are there particular moods, feelings, or ideas associated with color?
Song(s) used in lesson:
"(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue," by Fats Waller, Andy Razaf, Harry Brooks, 1929. Voices Across Time 6.30.
“Brown” by Jo Trent from the musical Rang Tang.
“Dream Variation” by Langston Hughes.
“The Lynching” by Claude McKay. http://www.poetry-archive.com/m/the_lynching.html
“My Race” by Helene Johnson. http://www.ctadams.com/helenejohnson9.html
“The White Ones” by Langston Hughes.
“America” by Claude McKay
“From the Dark Tower” by Countee Cullern. http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~wilker/harlem/flamefrom.htm
“Into Bondage” by Aaron Douglas. http://www.iniva.org/harlem/aaron.html
“The Janitor who Paints” by Palmer Hayden
“Blues” by Archibald Motley, Jr. http://www.iniva.org/harlem/motley.html
“Café” by William H. Johnson http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/art/pages/galjohnson2.htm
“African Fantasy” by Winold Reiss http://americanart.si.edu/index3.cfm
“A Negro Speaks of Rivers” (illustration for Langston Hughes’s poem) by Aaron Douglas http://eev.liu.edu/eevillage/HeckscherWOE/exhibit9.htm
Children in the Silent Protest Parade
Augusta Fells Savage
Song discussion questions and activities:
"(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue"
The poster will be evaluated on the following criteria, along with a description of expectations for each:
1. Analysis & Connections
3. Visual Appeal
The ‘New Negro’ of the Harlem Renaissance
Together with your small group you will analyze two songs of 1927: "(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue" and "Brown." After identifying key aspects of the sense of black identity conveyed in those works review the six poems, six pieces of art, and six images. Select one poem, one piece of art, one image to accompany each song. Arrange the songs and accompanying cultural artifacts on a poster, along with a brief explanation of connection.
Activity in Detail:
1. In your groups look at each poem in turn. Discuss the following questions and individually make note of your discussion.
"(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue"
2. Write a short statement describing the sense of African American identity conveyed in this work.
3. Review the packet of resources. Select one (1) piece of artwork, one (1) poem and one (1) picture to accompany each poem.
4. For each selection write out three (3) reasons why this selection is an appropriate accompaniment to the song, demonstrating an analytical understanding of the song lyrics and the selection.
5. Put it all together on a poster. The poster will be in two parts, corresponding to the two songs. Each part must include the lyrics, statement based on the lyrics, artwork & explanation, poem & explanation, picture & explanation. Follow these guidelines for creating the poster:
In addition, the poster may have the following:
Extending the Lesson
“Black and Blue” available at
“Brown” available at
Copyright 2011-2012 Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh Library System