Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In the early twentieth century jazz was a regionally based, racially defined dance music that featured solo and collective improvisation. Originating in New Orleans, jazz soon spread throughout the country as musicians left the South for better opportunities-both economic and social-elsewhere in the country. Jazz greatly increased in popularity during the 1920s. No longer a regional music dominated by African Americans, jazz in the 1920s helped define a generation torn between the Victorian society of nineteenth century America and the culture of modernity that was quickly defining the early twentieth century. Jazz and its eventual popularity represented the cultural tensions present in modern America, and the acceptance of jazz reflected the degree to which Americans rejected or accepted traditional values. This dissertation examines the historical context of this larger transformation America underwent in the 1920s and early 1930s. In general, the narrative outlines the origins of jazz in the late 19th century, its dissemination through various means after World War I, and its eventual acceptance as a uniquely American cultural expression in the last part of the 1920s. Jazz music helped define the chaotic urban culture of America in the 1920s, and cities like Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles nurtured and shaped the music of the period. These three cities-each with dynamic black communities-supported diverse jazz scenes as well as served as the center of a particular type of mass communication technology. Together, the rapid developments in recording technology, the growing popularity of radio, and the burgeoning film industry transformed jazz from a local, predominately African American music, to a nationally accepted cultural form identified as uniquely American. The transformation of American culture in the 1920s forced people into a new set of relationships-social, regional, and political-and the cultural ambivalence generated by this change framed much of the debate surrounding the popularity of jazz music. By viewing mass culture and popular taste through the lens of jazz, this study attempts a more complete view of American culture in the 1920s.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Charles J. Shindo



Included in

History Commons