The Jazz Age was a cultural movement that took place in America during the 1920's (also known as "the Roaring Twenties") from which both jazz music and dance emerged. This movement coincided with both the equally phenomenal introduction of mainstream radio and the conclusion of World War I. Although the era ended as the Great Depression victimized America in the 1930's, jazz has lived on in American pop culture.
The birth of jazz music is often accredited to African Americans, though it soon expanded to America's white middle class. Jazz, therefore, was characterized by a meshing of African American traditions and ideals with white middle class society. Cities like New York and Chicago were hotbeds for jazz, especially for black artists. African American jazz was played more frequently on urban radio stations than on its suburban counterparts. The youth of the 1920's was influenced by jazz to rebel against the traditional culture of previous generations. This youth rebellion went hand-in-hand with fads such as bold fashion statements (flappers) and new radio concerts. As jazz flourished, American elites, who preferred classical music and sought to expand its popularity, hoped that jazz wouldn't become mainstream.
As the 1920's wore on, jazz, despite competition from classical music, rose in popularity and helped to generate a cultural shift (Figure 2). Dances like the Charleston, developed by blacks, instantly became popular among younger demographics. With the introduction of large-scale radio broadcasts in 1922, Americans were able to experience different styles of music without physically visiting a jazz club. Through its broadcasts and concerts, the radio provided Americans with a trendy new avenue for essentially exploring the world from the comfort of their living room. The most popular type of radio show was a "potter palm," an amateur concert and big-band jazz performance broadcast from cities like New York and Chicago. Due to the racial prejudice prevalent at most radio stations, white American jazz artists received much more air time than black jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and Joe "King" Oliver. Big-band jazz, like that of James Reese in Europe and Fletcher Henderson in New York, was also popular on the radio. This style represented African Americans in the predominantly white cultural scene.
The surfacing of flapper women also began to captivate society during the Jazz Age, a time in which many more opportunities became available for women. At the end of the First World War, many more possibilities existed for women in the work force, in their social lives and especially in the entertainment industry. Several famous female musicians emerged during the 1920's, including Bessie Smith, who garnered attention not only because she was a great singer, but also because she was a black woman. It was not until the 1930's and 40's, however, that female jazz singers such as Smith and Billie Holiday were truly recognized and respected as successful artists throughout the music industry. Their persistence paved the way for many more female artists to come.