Youth and Beauty: Mood Music

Fascinating rhythm, oh won’t you stop picking on me? The rollicking, roiling, wonderfully cacophonous variety of works in Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties sent me diving deep into my record collection – I just had to hear what was going on at the time these paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs were being made. And the opportunity to put together a playlist for the pure enjoyment of it all was just impossible to resist.
Aaron Douglas. Charleston. 1928.
Aaron Douglas, "Charleston," c. 1928, gouache and pencil on paper board, North Carolina Museum of Art

So many giants of American music come to full flower here – George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Jelly Roll Morton, and a young Bing Crosby (hear him with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra), to name just a few. So many popular songs of the time still sound fresh a!

nd familiar to us even now – “Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye,” “Carolina in the Morning,” and “Ain’t We Got Fun?” And of course it’s the Jazz Age, which meant endless dancing and swinging.

All of this music is quite well known, and we never get tired of it. But equally compelling are the musics happening beyond the footlights. See (hear) some of the earliest rumblings of a classical music that is truly groundbreaking, and truly American – Aaron Copland of course, but also Carl Ruggles, and Henry Cowell. In this period lie the roots of boogie woogie – hear Clarence “Pine Top” Smith, Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport, and Henry Brown, among others.

This exhibition feels like standing in the middle of Grand Central Station at rush hour. Everyone is passing through, and we see (and hear) America in all its glory.

-- Tom Welsh


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