Jazz Timeline & Discography

The Sound that Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Walker Books, 2000

Carter G. Woodson Award, National Council for the Social Studies

NAACP Image Award finalist


Kumbaya – African folk song (HSS, SI, SZ)

Drums of Passion – Babatunde Olatunji (Sony/Columbia, Audio CD)


Some spirituals spoke of freedom and contained coded messages about planned escapes.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (HSS, SZ)

Go Down Moses (HSS, SZ)

Slave children played with discarded objects and homemade toys: rocks, sticks and rag dolls. Similarly, slaves were not allowed to have drums. Instead, they kept rhythm with their hands, feet, sticks, spoons or bones.

Hambone (HSS, SI)


After Emancipation, most African Americans worked in agriculture. However, were domestics or laborers. When tasks required coordinated muscle. Work songs set the rhythm and pace for tasks, such as laying railroaad tracks and pulling in fishing nets. The Fisk Jubilee Singers toured the U.S. and Europe, singing spirituals to raise funds for the historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.

Take This Hammer (HSS)

Lining the Track – Dan Smith (GB)

Jim Crow

Segregation laws spread. The NAACP was founded in 1909. Most African Americans were too consumed by poverty to focus on social activism. The blues gave voice to misery. Ragtime music provided a lighthearted diversion.

The Boll Weevil – Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Leadbelly (HSS/GB)

The Entertainer – Scott Joplin (SJ)

Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing – James Weldon Johnson, 1900, known as Negro National Anthem (HSS, SZ)

The Great Migration

Jazz was born in New Orleans, but it grew up in Harlem. From 1910 to 1940, nearly 5.6 million African Americans left the South and moved to the North and West in pursuit of higher factory wages. Many migrants flocked to Harlem, New York and Chicago, Illinois. Racism persisted and the NAACP waged a campaign against lynching. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” mourned lynchings.

West End Blues – Louis Armstrong (LH)

Bound No’th Blues – Langston Hughes (DK)

The A Train – Duke Ellington (DE)

Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday (BH)

World War II

African Americans not only faced segregation as civilians but discrimination in the military as well. Blacks were trained separately, served in segregated units and were often assigned to do menial tasks. The Tuskegee Airmen were an experiment to test whether African Americans were suited to be combat pilots. The black troops even had their own pin-up girl, singer and actress Lena Horne.

Stormy Weather – Lena Horne (LH)

If You Canít Smile and Say Yes – Nat King Cole (NKC) Mentions wartime rationing.

Civil Rights Movement

In the 1950s, leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. mobilized mass protests to press for racial equality.

As nonviolent protesters marched or picketed, they sometimes sang freedom songs. In 1965, racists bombed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. John Coltrane responded with the song “Alabama.” By the late 1960s and 1970s, African Americans felt a heightened sense of racial pride.

Young African Americans wore Afro/natural hairstyles, donned African-inspired dashikis and adopted African names.

We Shall Overcome – SZ

Say It Loud – James Brown, 1968 (HSS/JB)


1980s and Beyond

After integration, the black middle class grew. However, inner cities suffered from poverty, gang violence and illegal drugs. Rap music gave voice to outrage.

Every Ghetto, Every City – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Sony/Columbia, Audio CD)


Key to Listed Resources

BH – Billie Holiday – Golden Hits, Masters; 1996 (Audio CD)

DE – Duke Ellington, Take the “A” Train; Prime Cuts, 1997 (Audio CD)

DK – Hughes, Langston, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems. New York: Scholastic.

GB – Good Morning Blues, Biograph Records, 1990 (Audio CD)

HSS – Hudson, Wade and Cheryl, How Sweet the Sound: African-American Songs for Children. New York: Scholastic, 1995. Song lyrics and sheet music.

JB – James Brown, Say It Loud: I’m Black And I’m Proud; Uni/A&M, 1996 (Audio CD)

JC -Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: John Coltrane; Uni/Verve, 2000 (Audio CD)

LA – Louis Armstrong, West End Blues; Music Club, 2000 (Audio CD)

LH- RCA Victor: Greatest Hits, Lena Horne; BMG/RCA Victor, 2000 (Audio CD)

NKC – The Best of the Nat King Cole Trio: The Vocal Classics (1942-46), Capitol Records, 1995.

SI – Mattox, Cheryl Warren, Shake It to the One That You Love the Best. Nashville, TN: JTG of Nashville, 1989. Songbook and cassette tape.

SJ – Scott Joplin: Piano Rags – Joshua Rifkin, pianist; WEA/Atlantic/Nonesuch (Audio CD)

SZ – Songs of Zion. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1981. Hymnal of African-American songs.


Other Resources

The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music; BMG/Buddha Records, 2001 (5-CD set with hardcover book compiled by Harry Belafonte)

Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns; PBS, 2000 (VHS/DVD)

The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, 1995 (Audio CD boxed set)

PBS – Jazz Kids (interactive activities)

Ken Burns’ JAZZ Classroom (lesson plans)

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