Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)

First Advisor

John Gunther

Second Advisor

Thomas Riis

Third Advisor

Brad Goode

Fourth Advisor

Adam Bradley

Fifth Advisor

John S. Davis


As a musical form that is inextricably linked with the story of race in America, jazz has had a long-standing connection to American politics. While the most obvious period of these connections according to the common narrative of jazz history is the Civil Rights era, there are other periods in which jazz and politics have told an equally compelling story. Overlooked by many jazz historians, the important role of radical politics in the jazz of the 1930s and 1940s creates an impressive precursor to the jazz of the 1950s and 1960s in terms of activism, and should be considered a pre-Civil Rights era in jazz and African American political culture.

By examining case studies of Duke Ellington, Hazel Scott, Billie Holiday and Barney Josephson’s Café Society, a clearly established community where jazz and radical politics were in constant contact and shared a common ideology centered about civil rights, this document seeks to define a new interpretation of jazz as an agent of social change in concert with the radical politics of Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s.

More than just a socio-political survey, this paper addresses how the aesthetic approaches of these artists may have encouraged their understanding of and alignment with socially progressive thinking and political activity.