• English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch compete for control of the Atlantic slave trade


  • New Orleans is founded and is dominated by a French population


  • Here, Creoles (racially-mixed children of French slave owners and enslaved African women) co-exist with whites and slaves


  • Creoles receive more privileges than black children and are often educated in the finest schools and trained as musicians


  • Enslaved Africans make up 20% of the population in the British colonies in North America, the majority of which were in the southern colonies


  • At the same time, a small population of free blacks exists in Maryland


  • Spanish invaders take over New Orleans


  • Creoles lose social and economic status, and many of them become traveling musicians


  • Their descendants became the primary inventors of early jazz


  • First laws prohibiting slavery are passed in Connecticut and Rhode Island


  • British slave ships bring as many as 50,000 Africans to the New World each year by this time


  • Britain abolishes their slave trade


  • Still, an estimated 600,000 Africans had been sold into slavery in North American at this time


  • The United States citizen is prohibited from exporting slaves, but the slave trade continues within the country


  • Minstrel shows, in which white actors in cork face paint ridicule African Americans, become popular


  • By this year, it’s estimated that more than 10 million Africans had been captured and transported to the Americas, ravaging Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria


  • Frederick Douglass confers with Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of African soldiers fighting for the Union in the Civil War


  • Lincoln declares in his Emancipation Proclamation that all slaves are now free


  • Black freedmen are able to cast votes in a federal election by the passing of the 15th Amendment


  • The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University go on tour through the US and Europe, performing traditional work songs and spirituals and providing white audiences in both continents with their very first exposure to the lives and music of black musicians


  • The earliest forms of jazz begin to emerge in New Orleans as Creole musicians combine elements of West African work songs, slave spirituals, minstrel and vaudeville shows, and rural blues expression with European brass band instruments and harmonies


  •  The United States enters World War I


  • Colonel William Hayward, a white officer, recruits James Reese Europe, a widely-acclaimed band leader from Harlem, as an officer and regimental bandleader


  • Europe recruits 60 African American and Caribbean musicians for his band and writes jazz arrangements of the music


  • The Volstead Act is passed in 1920 and prohibits the sale of alcohol


  • Fashionable nightspots in Harlem still distribute liquor and people of all races flock to the clubs and hear legendary bandleaders such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington


  • Phonographs and radios are all the rage, and blues singers are recorded for the first time, including Bessie Smith


  • The stock market crashes, causing the Great Depression


  • Benny Goodman forms a racially-integrated band in the form of a jazz quartet, and they perform in Carnegie Hall


  • By this time, an estimated 1,750,000 African Americans left the South as part of the Great Migration – a movement where they migrated to the northern industrial cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York


  • World War II puts a stop to the recording industry, but jazz music is still transmitted over the radio


  • Bebop is a new musical revolution


  • Long playing records (LPs) are invented


  • Miles David records Birth of the Cool, opening the door for Hard Bop musicians


  • The Newport Jazz Festival is born


  • The Vietnam war intensifies


  • The Civil Rights Movement picks up steam, and jazz is the music of the movement


  • Duke Ellington receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Richard Nixon


  • African American leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X discuss freedom and move the country to action


  • United States citizens openly protest the Vietnam War


  • Wynton Marsalis is the first musician to receive a Grammy for a classical performance and a Grammy for a jazz performance in the same year


  • Ella Fitzgerald receives the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan

Into the 21st Century!

Today, jazz is still evolving as a celebrated and revered art form.  The rhythms of African American music lie beneath modern forms like rap and hip hop, and hip hop is influencing new jazz in return.  It’s clear that jazz musicians continue to simultaneously look back and forward while managing to see what’s going on right in front of them.  Since jazz is America’s own music, the history of jazz is our history.  As always, the unique language of jazz melds histories, traditions, improvisation, and experimentation in order to express the most fundamental conditions of the human experience.  It is an art form known around the world as an American gift and legacy.