King & Carter Jazzing Orchestra, 1921, Houston; photo by Robert Runyan (University of Texas at Austin)
The Jazz Age was the term coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald to describe the flamboyant anything-goes culture that characterized the 1920s. Jazz music, with its improvisation, syncopation, and strong rhythm, was both the soundtrack to and a metaphor for an era that cast off of old social conventions in favor of new ideas of all kinds. Although the Jazz Age ended with the outset of the Great Depression in 1929, the period’s influence—like the music that inspired its name—lives on in American popular culture.
Historian and scholar Michele L. Simms-Burton, a former professor of African-American studies at Howard University, leads a day that examines the origins, nature, and legacy of the 1920s—underscored by period jazz recordings of the era’s musical innovators.
10 a.m. The Aftermath of War
World War I set the stage for urbanization and rapid industrialization, as well as cultural and social shifts that had a continuing influence on what it meant to be an American.
10:30 a.m. New Leisure, New Creativity
The 1920s ushered in an unprecedented prosperity, permitting certain segments Americans to experience leisure time that manifested itself in activities such as attending cultural events and traveling. Artists, writers, and composers also found new energies in the decade’s freedoms, creating some of the 20th-century’s most influential movements and works.
11 a.m. The Rise of the Movie Star
As films transitioned from silent to the talkies, new definitions of fame led to the birth of the iconic movie star.
11:30 a.m. Economic Prosperity and Social Mobility
Rigid boundaries between social classes begin to rupture as a result of the economic prosperity. Who are the new burgeoning wealthy and middle classes? Which populations are mobile and which are not?
12:15 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own.)
1 p.m. Modernism and the New Negro
In a search for meaning and identity after the devastation of World War I, American artists, writers, and intellectuals break away from the past and create new movements.
1:45 p.m. Voters and Flappers
In August 1920, the 19th amendment to the Constitution is ratified, granting women the right to vote. The suffrage movement sparks a new liberation that permeates many aspects of women’s lives.
2:30 p.m. Prohibition and Gangsters
In response to the 18th amendment that prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, an underground culture of bootleggers and speakeasies blossomed, creating a network of powerful and wealthy gangsters and new kinds of organized crime.
3:15 p.m. The Day the Bubble Burst
On October 29, 1929, Wall Street crashed and the party came to a screeching halt, signaling the end of an era. More than money was lost on Black Tuesday.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)