Journal of Romance studies

Black Montmartre: American jazz and music hall in Paris in the interwar years

Journal of Romance studies (2005), 5, (3), 25–31.

Abstract

This article explores the influx of black American musicians and music-hall performers into Paris in the years immediately following the First World War. By 1914, Montmartre had established itself as the capital’s major pleasure and entertainment centre, with a prominent artistic community. During the war the artists gravitated to Montparnasse, many of the artistic cabarets closed and the music halls encountered severe financial difficulty. In the last year of the war, however, black American jazz bands became extremely popular and many of the players remained in France after 1918, joined by their colleagues from the United States. These bands, often suited to relatively small-scale intimate spaces, rapidly colonized the premises in Lower Montmartre previously occupied by the artistic cabarets, whilst the new, and allied, vogue for black American dance and spectacle rejuvenated the Montmartre music halls. This article discusses the rise and fall of a black American artistic community in Montmartre in the interwar years, reinforced by figures from the Harlem Renaissance, and its impact on the Parisian imaginary, particularly through popular artists such as Paul Colin.

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Author details

Hewitt, Nicholas