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Student Handout

Jazz in America Student Handout–-Lesson Plan 3-–American History Essay

Toward a More Perfect Democracy

The Declaration of Independence, issued by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, explained why the American colonists broke away from Great Britain and became a “free and independent” nation. People have rights, the Declaration stated, and form governments to protect those rights. The “right of the people” was to “throw off” a government like that of the British that failed to guard those rights. By declaring independence, American colonists in 1776 began to build a democracy in which “the people” were to rule themselves through elected representatives. Now, “the people” were king.

After 1776, the 13 colonies became 13 independent states. Voters in each state expanded democracy by adopting new state constitutions, creating new state governments, and electing their own representatives. Pennsylvania and Virginia included in their new constitutions Bills of Rights that guaranteed specific liberties in those states.

Government of “the people” did not represent all of the people at the beginning. When Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration, wrote “that all men are created equal,” he was indefinite about including African Americans, Native Americans, and women. Principles of universal liberty and democracy applied mainly to white men of European descent.

But the Declaration and the U.S. Constitution contained certain principles that acted as reference points for people who wanted to perfect democracy later on. One of the most important democratic principles that Americans valued was individual liberty. Democracy in the United States evolved and expanded in the 18th and 19th centuries as Americans who prized freedom tried to extend liberty to those who were not part of the “the people” in 1776. For women and African Americans in particular, the promise of democracy was fulfilled over time. [Link: 100 Milestone Documents: www.ourdocuments.gov/content.php?page=milestone]

Women of the revolutionary era (1754-1789) valued freedom and hoped that one day they would be able to vote and have all the rights enjoyed by men. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), nearly 20,000 women accompanied the Patriot (American revolutionaries) and Loyalist (colonists loyal to the British Crown) armies. Abigail Adams, wife of the second US president, looked forward to independence, admonishing her husband John to “remember the ladies” in the new laws the states and Congress would create. By the 1840s, women rebelled against the idea that equality was something applying only to men. The women’s rights movement reached a high point at the world's first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, and women finally got the right to vote in 1920. [Links: Abigail Adams: www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/aa2.html; Women’s suffrage: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/eleanor-suffrage/. Learn about slavery in the northern states in "Slavery in Massachusetts" http://www.slavenorth.com/massachusetts.htm.]

In the southern states, however, slavery expanded after the 1790s, and cotton agriculture spread into the new slave states of the West. Abolitionists worked tirelessly to end slavery, but they were not immediately successful. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and began the process of freeing the slaves. But the end of slavery did not come until the Civil War was over in 1865. More than 620,000 Americans lost their lives in that conflict, and four million slaves finally were free1.

Freedom for the ex-slaves was only the beginning. The Thirteenth (1865), Fourteenth (1868), and Fifteenth Amendments (1870) to the Constitution outlawed slavery and gave the freedmen citizenship and the right to vote. But full equality for African Americans did not come until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Freedom for many Americans came slowly, step by step. [For the progression from early documents of freedom to the end of slavery, see the National Archives exhibit, The Charters of Freedom: A New World is at Hand www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/charters.html.]

Questions to consider:
  1. What was the main reason the American colonies wanted to break away from English rule?
  2. What is “government of the people?”
  3. Explain why government “of the people” took so long to include all of “the people.”
  4. Why are individual rights important for a democracy in which “the people” are the rulers?
1Gary B. Nash et al, The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society, brief 4th ed. (New York: Longman, 2003), pp. 462, 470. Nash writes: “About 360,000 Union soldiers and another 258,000 Confederate soldiers died...” (p. 462). Also, Nash continues: “[N]early four million newly freed people faced the challenges of freedom” (p. 470).

Jazz in America Student Handout--Lesson Plan III--Jazz Biography 1

Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden, cornetist and bandleader (1877-1931)
Biography: www.nathanielturner.com/buddybolden2.htm

Historians of American music often credit Buddy Bolden with being one of the musicians who “invented” jazz. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1877, Bolden was at the center of the late 19th century music scene in New Orleans. Bolden created a style all his own by embellishing ragtime music and adding in blues tunes. A self-taught cornet player, Bolden performed professionally with his own band by the age of eighteen and became famous for his clear, powerful tones. Because Crescent City residents loved dancing to his music, his band had a large following in the city’s black district known as “Storyville.” Unfortunately, Bolden had a mental breakdown in 1906, and spent the remainder of his life in a mental institution. Since he played before the advent of commercial recordings, no sound copies of his music exist.

Consider the following questions as you read the biography of Buddy Bolden:
  1. List all the jobs that Buddy Bolden held. Why did many musicians need to work full-time “day” jobs in addition to their “night” jobs playing music?
  2. Like many musicians of his time, Buddy Bolden was not trained to read music. How did that affect his style?
  3. Describe the places where Bolden’s bands played. Did different audiences cause him to play different kinds of music?
  4. Buddy Bolden stopped performing at a young age, and no recordings of his music exist. Why do you think he is remembered as an important part of jazz history?

Jazz in America Student Handout--Lesson Plan III--Jazz Biography 2

Ferdinand Joseph “Jelly Roll” Morton, jazz pianist and composer (1890-1941)
Biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jelly_Roll_Morton

Ferdinand Joseph “Jelly Roll” Morton was born to creole (mixed-race) parents in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1890. “Jelly Roll” first studied guitar and trombone, but as a teenager he decided to concentrate on playing the piano. He became an experienced pianist by playing for hours on end in the less reputable parts of the Storyville district in New Orleans. Combining ragtime music, the blues, and vaudeville songs, Morton later performed as a solo artist and as part of vaudeville troupes in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and throughout the South. He returned to New York during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance, went to Washington, D.C. for several years, and finally moved to Los Angeles, where he died of heart disease at age 51. Morton brashly claimed credit for having created jazz. While that claim is disputed, he was certainly one of the first great jazz composers.

Consider the following questions as you read the biography of Jelly Roll Morton:
  1. In addition to being a great pianist, Morton constantly promoted himself. Name some ways he advertised his music and career.
  2. How did the difficulties of the Great Depression years help or hurt Morton’s career?
  3. According to the article, what were Morton’s greatest contributions to jazz?

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