Sonny Blues is a short story that was written by a playwright James Baldwin. Sonny Blues was set in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance period. Harlem Renaissance was the period during which a social, cultural and artistic explosion took place in Harlem in New York. This period was around the end of the First World War and middle of 1930s. During the period of Harlem Renaissance was a cultural centre that attracted black artists, writers, poets, musicians, scholars and photographers. Most of these Blacks had escaped from the oppressive caste system of the South and they were looking for a place where they could express their talents freely (Bloom, 47). Sonny Blues is the story of Sonny who is a young musician doing Jazz music in Harlem. In the story the young musician gets addicted to heroin and is later arrested for the sale and use of drugs. After serving his jail term and is released from prison he goes back to his childhood neighborhood where he moves in with his brother. This paper will focus on the story of Sonny Blues and the music during the period of Harlem Renaissance.
During the Renaissance period in Harlem worldwide artists had made New York a cultural capital. During this time, artists such as musician Charlie Parker, writer Jack Kerouac and painter Jackson Pollack had converged in New York. Artists were able to learn and borrow new subject matter and styles from each other. Most of the artists had their works based on what they believed was the unique culture of America after the e...
nd of the First World War (Harris-Lopez, 52). Sonny the young musician wants to get past the traditional ways of music to the contemporary conventions. This was the same idea that was in the minds of most of the postwar who expressed new radical ideas of artistic liberty and freedom. Some of the artists whose work achieved recognition include Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. The Harlem Renaissance was more than an artistic movement since it involved racial pride and was fueled by the demand of political and civil rights of the Blacks.
It is at this period of Harlem Renaissance that many African American soldiers were coming back home since the War had ended. They didn’t go the south but rather headed towards north in places like Harlem. In these communities they found large urban slums and housing projects that had just been constructed rather than equal rights and jobs. This is the same fate for Sonny the young musician and his brother who had also served in the War after their return home, where they found a totally different life in America. In the south, civil rights movements had begun over a decade ago and their influence was quickly spreading thorough out the country to millions of African Americans. This led to the agitation of for equal rights by the African Americans (Jones, 34). After the return of the African American soldiers, very many homes had been demolished in Harlem to give way for the construction of housing projects.
As Sonny puts it, Harlem was at the critical point o
exploding. Sonny’s Blues story is an illustration of the frustration of American life in the Renaissance as well as the ultimate transformation of the frustration into an artistic and political movement.
Sonny’s Blues main topic is music in the Harlem Renaissance. It shows how music in the Harlem Renaissance began broadening up giving rise to expression through music. This expression music was characterized one singer responding to what the other singer said. This type of “Blues” was the new jazz that was known as Bepop. On a general look, Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance was filled with beautiful art works which depicted the history and culture of the period (Bloom, 60). Songs were fueled by the enthusiasm and passion that musicians had for music and the songs were filled with both sadness and happiness and love. Composers of jazz and blues such as Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll created beats and lyrics depicted the excitement of the period. This led to some people even saying that Harlem had been reborn.
Despite the excitement and beauty that was visible to everyone, Harlem was filled with underlying hard times and grief. This was due to the rising rate of crime drug use sale, however, jazz and blues allowed people to have a few hours of enjoyment and excitement each week when they could just let loose of the hard times. The trumpet was so loud that it would literally awake the dead and hence it was irresistible to stand up and dance. The piano was so smooth that it aroused one to stand up and want to their hearts out. The heavy beat of the drums lured the people of Harlem to dance the night away (Harris-Lopez, 71). These perfect combinations made it easy for the people of Harlem to fall in love with this genre of music (jazz and blues).
During the Harlem Renaissance period, jazz was a controversial music in a way since at this period it was new and its expression of ideas was completely new. Jazz set itself apart from other types of music that one sings to a rhythm.
For jazz one had to have a good mastery of their musical instrument, be it a piano or a trumpet. This was to ensure that one was able to create an efficient rhythm to what they wanted to say. Jazz also had a twist since one had to know what to say and be confident so as to say it like it is suppose to be said without messing it. People were attracted to the new form of jazz (bepop) since it was new and it was a creative way of expression. On the part of the artist, it let loose the reins hence no restrictions on how they wanted to sing(Jones, 66). Charlie Parker was one of the famous artists during the Harlem Renaissance who first used bepop to express himself. His expression through this genre of music influenced many more people to become bepop artists such as Sonny.
After Sonny is arrested for use and sale of heroine, his mother dies while he is in prison. Arrangements are made