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Contribution Of Bessie Smith's Music To The Harlem Renaissance

Good Essays
Chase Brock
Mr. Bastin
English 2 Honors
8 March 2017
The Contribution of Bessie Smith’s Music to the Harlem Renaissance
Songs impact many people and can be used to capture a specific moment or feeling in time. The song “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars talks about having it all and how they want wealth so badly. This song captures what a lot of people today believe about being rich and why they want it so bad. Songs about wealth is not anything new. The song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Bessie Smith, was almost an anthem for people of the time because it captured their life perfectly. It talks about having wealth and living care free but then losing it. When this song came out, the Harlem Renaissance was occurring.
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“Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out” talks about relationships in the song. She explains how most people only like you for what you have but when you lose that, then you lose your so called friends.
“Traditionally, most blacks lived” in the South, but in the twenties, lot of African Americans “moved to the cities in the North.”(Blacks Set Out). They were in search for a better life and more opportunity. A lot of them got good jobs as factory workers or even business men. In fact, “On the eve of World War II, Ford employed more than 10,000 black workers,” which was “a far larger number and a far greater representation than at any other firm in the automobile industry”, since many other companies jus gave them the “menial positions”. (Employment segregation ). Reports have proved that “African American small businessmen enjoyed a measure of success in the 1920s economy” (Consumerism). A lot of African Americans became very wealthy, including Bessie Smith. When this song had come out, it was just a few weeks before the Great Depression hit.The Great Depression hit after the the stock market fell dramatically on October 1929, “which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors” and caused unemployment to skyrocket because of “failing companies” firing workers that they could not afford to keep ( The Great Depression). Once that hit, it made the song even more relatable because everyone had
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The lyrics describe how careless everyone was. This song came out during the Prohibition era. Prohibition was the time when “the manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale or alcoholic beverages were restricted or illegal” (Prohibition in the United States). This meant that alcohol was not too easy to come by and it was also expensive. Buying bootleg liquor was very expensive which “meant that nation’s working class and poor were far more restricted during Prohibition” than the wealthier people in the middle or upper class Americans (Prohibition). Smith sings the words “Buying bootleg liquor, champagne and wine”. This means two things: that the wealthy people were living very recklessly since that would have been illegal, and that they were not wise with their money. They just wanted a good time. The lyrics “ once I lived the life of a millionaire, spending my money, I didn't care,” directly contribute to the statement that they were careless (Bessie Smith). The people's carelessness made a contribution to why a lot of them began to lose their wealth. The words, “then I began to fall so low,” states that people were starting to lose what they
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