Black Music, Black Identity
For a short while, many Americans, both blacks and whites, considered jazz to be a form of white dance music. The first jazz recordings were performed by white musicians, and numerous African Americans first learned about jazz from recordings of white groups like the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. By the mid-1920s, however, most Americans had learned that jazz came from African-American culture and accepted the fact with equanimity.
But they were not prepared to give it back. Jazz had been thoroughly assimilated into the American fabric. While Jews played Jewish music, Cajuns played Cajun music, Italians played Italian music, and Mexicans played Mexican music, jazz was music for the taking. Jazz became paradoxically both a music shared by all Americans yet still, somehow, intrinsically African-American. The ambiguity was not lost on the Harlem Renaissance writer Joel Augustus Rogers. In Jazz at Home," Rogers, who gained fame as the author of several books, including The World's Greatest Men of African Descent, concluded that it was "difficult to say whether jazz is more characteristic of the Negro or of contemporary America."1
Both whites and blacks made a distinction between jazz and the bluesbased music of the rural South and Northern black ghettoes that record la