The Harlem Renaissance: John Birks Gillespie and Selma Burke

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  • Topic: Dizzy Gillespie, Jazz, Duke Ellington
  • Pages : 3 (1092 words )
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  • Published : April 18, 2011
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The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great accomplishments among African Americans. Mary works of art, poetry, and music during this time became notable even to today. Two very inspiring people of this time period were John Birks Gillespie and Selma Burke.

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was born on October 21, 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina. He was the youngest of nine children. His father, James Gillespie, was a bricklayer and a musician on the side. His mother, Lottie Powe Gillespie, was a house wife and a full time mother. By the age of 12, Gillespie had experience in playing the piano and hoped to someday join the school band. He first started playing the trombone but switched to the trumpet because he liked the sound better. His family struggled with poverty after his father died when he was ten. This prevented him from getting his own instrument. Although, through his struggles, he still managed to be a very skilled trumpet player but only in one key. He earned a scholarship to Laurinburg Tech in North Carolina. He studied theory and harmony and decided that music would be his profession.

While Gillespie was with the Frankie Fairfax band, the band leader, Fats Palmer, jokingly gave “Dizzy” his name. Gillespie played in several musical groups including the Teddy Hill Orchestra (1937), the Cab Calloway Band (1939), and the Earl Hines Band (1941). He had many distinctive characteristics about himself that became his trademarks. His most popular trademarks were his ballooning cheeks, upturned horn, and fun personality. To earn more money, he wrote arrangements for other bands. Including one of his first arrangements, “Pickin’ the Cabbage”, written for Cab Calloway.

In the 1930s, with the help of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Kenny Clarke, Gillespie created a new genre of music called “bebop”. At first, many musicians did not take to the new form of music. But after playing with popular musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and many...
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