Zora Neale Hurston
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Hurston made these recordings of African-American folk songs when she worked for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Her work included songs like "Dat Old Black Gal" and "Mama Don't Want No Peas No Rice." This website lets you play them directly from your computer.
This page from NPR has recordings of folk music from the 1930s South, sung by Hurston and the women she interviewed. Hurston and her fellow researchers recorded children's songs, spirituals and folk music during their research on a massive portable recorder.
Hurston received a Guggenheim fellowship in the 1930s to study the West Indian practices of obeah, also known as voodoo. Listen to these tracks of the music of Haitian voodoo (a practice in some ways similar to Jamaica's obeah) to get a sense of the world she wrote about.
Hurston arrived in Harlem in January 1925 with, as she later put it, "no job, no friends and a lot of hope."_CITATION24_ She went on to become one of the most influential literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance. And what would the Harlem Renaissance be without its music?
When describing how she felt in Harlem jazz clubs, Hurston wrote, "I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai [spear] above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww!"_CITATION25_ Like Zora Neale Hurston, Duke Ellington is an icon of the Harlem Renaissance. Listen to Ellington's tracks and see if you don't have the same response.
At the same time that Hurston was breaking boundaries as a researcher and writer, Marian Anderson was defying another type of convention. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the African-American singer to perform before an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. A political uproar ensued, resulting in Anderson's famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.