Harlem Renaissance and Fletcher Henderson

Updated June 14, 2021

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Harlem Renaissance and Fletcher Henderson essay

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The Harlem Renaissance was an important part of the creation of the modern age and helped develop what we have today. The Harlem Renaissance took place between 1918 through 1937 in New York City and was a time where African American culture was starting to become popular. The Harlem Renaissance created more jobs for African Americans in trouble because of racism. There were many things that were part of the Harlem Renaissance like sports, artists, and writers, but music was a big way of showing the African American culture to America. Most of the Harlem Renaissance was about equal rights in America and the ending of racism.

Fletcher Henderson was an impactful musician to the Harlem Renaissance. He made the swing era possible with his inspiration coming from many other musicians. Many other bands were inspired by his type of music and it became the most popular style of music at that time. With his talent in music, Henderson helped equality become a concept in the 20s by including members from different races.

Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., his birth name was James Fletcher Henderson, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia on December 18, 1897. He was taught classical piano by his mother at a very young age of six years old. His brother, Horace, recalled he would be locked in a room and would practice because of their strict parents. In high school, Henderson was at the level of a professional pianist. Henderson studied chemistry at the Atlanta University. At the university, he didn’t focus on music and more on studies and baseball. When he was trying to find a job, he couldn’t because people wouldn’t employ him because of racism.

Henderson found a job at Black Swan Studios, an African-American record company, and wrote songs for Ethel Waters. Henderson went on tour with Waters as the leader of the Black Swan Troubadours. While on the tour, Waters gave pieces of music to Henderson and he learned the type of music well. Henderson learned the type of music called the blues, which his music is inspired by. Henderson listened to James P. Johnson a pianist and composer who inspired Henderson. After this, Henderson became an accompanist to many singers.

Later, Henderson went to create his own band called the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra with Don Redman, a saxophonist. Henderson’s band included trumpeters, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge, and saxophonists, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. Henderson’s band was made up of African Americans and white people. His style of music was a mix of African-American and European styles and was very loose. Henderson’s orchestra became very popular and everyone was playing his music. His band played the call and response style of music. In 1924, they played at the Roseland’s ballroom. Henderson wasn’t good at money, so their band was very poor. The result of the money loss, many band members left the group for bands with good pay.

Finally, after his orchestra disbanded, Henderson sold his arrangements to Benny Goodman. While Henderson arranged for Goodman, Goodman got credit for the big hits with Henderson’s music that he created. Henderson was used to make popular songs and didn’t get any recognition for his songs. Henderson toured with Waters again for a short time then, he made a new band in 1950 and played at a cafe in New York. Unfortunately, Henderson got a stroke and retired at the age of fifty-three because he became paralyzed and couldn’t play the piano. Fletcher Henderson died two years later on December 29, 1952, in New York City, New York at the age of fifty-five.

Henderson’s contributions to the Harlem Renaissance were very great. He started an era of music where musicians still play it to this day. He started the swing and jazz era. Without him, our modern music would have been changed and possibly way more different. Henderson will be remembered as the creator of the beginning of a new way of culture and a man who wanted everyone to be equal and together as one.


  1. ‘Henderson, Fletcher.’ The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Feb. 2019 .
  2. “Fletcher Henderson: ‘Architect of Swing’.” NPR, NPR, 19 Dec. 2007, www.npr.org/2007/12/19/17370123/fletcher-henderson-architect-of-swing.
  3. Biography.com Editors. “Fletcher Henderson Biography.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/people/fletcher-henderson-9334611.
  4. ‘Fletcher Henderson.’ Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 26, Gale, 2006. Research in Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1631008695/MSIC?u=j079907049&sid=MSIC&xid=8811656d. Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.
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