Black and Tan (film)
|Black and Tan|
|Directed by||Dudley Murphy|
|Written by||Dudley Murphy|
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Tricky Sam Nanton
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Release date(s)||December 8, 1929|
|Running time||19 minutes|
Black and Tan, more fully called Black and Tan Fantasy (1929), is a musical short film written by Dudley Murphy that exhibits the ideas and thoughts of the Harlem Renaissance Movement. Duke Ellington's musical talents along with Fredi Washington's extraordinary acting potential make this movie a good example of the emergence of artistic culture found in New York for African-American artists.
Dudley Murphy’s artistic, simple, and musical film classic has a tragic plot that features the talents and famous musical prowess of Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. Throughout the film, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra play noteworthy and famous Ellington pieces such as "Black and Tan Fantasy", "Black Beauty", "The Duke Steps Out", and "Cotton Club Stomp" (uncredited)", as an artist to artist tribute for a fellow great African-American performer, Florence Mills, who died in 1927.
The film starts with a scene in which it is established that Duke Ellington’s band is struggling to book any sort of gig or venue in order to make money and save his possessions such as his piano and apartment, due to the failure of making payments. Two heavily racially stereotyped black men arrive to take possession of Duke's piano.
In the fictional story, Duke Ellington’s wife, Fredi Washington, who is a dancer, achieves fame and great acclaim way beyond the acknowledgment for the band. She walks in and offers the movers ten dollars. The movers refuse the payment so the lithe and stunning Fredi Washington offers them gin instead, and the movers are persuaded to speak nothing of this and act completely unaware of the piano.
Recently landing a dancing job at a club, Fredi offers the solution to solve all of Duke Ellington’s problems by offering a venue for him and his band to perform at, but requires herself to perform with her star presence and dancing expertise in order to land the pending contract that the club is offering.
Unfortunately the famous and deeply in love dancer has a heart condition that will become more detrimental if she continues to dance. Being warned to give up her career, Fredi boldly ignores her health issues and selflessly assures Duke that she is healthy enough to perform, which ultimately leads to her dancing herself to death to the Duke Ellington’s tune, “Black and Tan Fantasy”.
In the film there is a heavy emphasis on the music and symbolism of African American influence on jazz, the struggle and rage of the Harlem of the 1920s, and the realities of the era for the African-American people.
Some of the noteworthy compositions of Duke Ellington that are played throughout the film are “The Duke Steps Out”, which features the talents of Arthur Whetsel, who performs an aweing melodic tone with a trumpet solo (although in the actual recording, Bubber Miley performs the solo). During the main part of Fredi’s dance, “Black Beauty” is played, but rather than a sexually appealing performance there is a more profound symbolism found in her dancing. She dances as a contained artistic soul in rage wanting to exhibit her talents fully, which greatly portrays her struggle to shine and perform on film but unfortunately cannot due to her unique skin tone which therefore prevents her from solidly landing traditional Hollywood roles.
The Harlem renaissance and the Black and Tan fantasy 
The abolition of slavery and the consequences of World War I encouraged industrialization and ultimately attracted many African Americans to northern cities. There was a huge migration of emancipated African Americans that encouraged the idea of racial equality in America. The still racially conservative southern white Americans did not allow for African Americans to exercise their rights, and this also encouraged the move towards Northern cities. This gave rise to a new ambitious mass culture for African Americans. Originating from the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City, the Harlem Renaissance, also known as the "New Negro Movement", influenced not only local New Yorkers but reached to affected black artist in other parts of the world, such as those from African and Caribbean colonies living in Paris, France. This revolutionary artistic period existed from the 1920s and extended throughout the early to mid-1930s.
An eruption of African-American culture became apparent in Harlem. Many African-American plays and performances started to convey artistic complexity in human emotion and inspiration.
The first African-American newspaper was organized and established in 1917. Called The Voice, it was founded by Hubert Harrison and the Liberty League in which politics but mainly the arts was majorly emphasized, and he said that there is much art to be found even before this “renaissance”, and that this idea was an intervention by white people. Even if this were the case, The Harlem Renaissance was a huge foundation of the advancement of African Americans in America. A monumental result of the Harlem Renaissance was the Harlem Stride style of piano playing. The piano previously considered to be only for wealthy people, was now available for many of the African Americans. Among these early musicians, Duke Ellington was considered one of the most talented and competitive and laid a path for future jazz musicians. The Harlem Renaissance was the era in which the art of blacks became much more appealing and attractive to white people and white artists as well. During this era Whites acknowledged that Blacks were in fact tremendously talented artists and together merged to make musical compositions and film.
There was an emergence of racial pride for African Americans during the era. It was no single event that made this renaissance possible, but a general racial group struggle. The large collection of modernism, new forms of music, poetry, and cultural elements and style gave African Americans a solid foundation and source of pride. It wasn’t just the performers themselves that realized their extraordinary talents but the white people in all of America grew a profound respect that they never knew for this new idea of the African Americans.
This film can be seen as a prime example of the coalescence of White and Black artists to come together and make art. The white director Dudley Murphy used Duke Ellington as his star as he performed his Jazz musical masterpieces in the film and starred as the main character in love and struggle. This was all the process in the representation of the idea of a new black person. The Harlem Renaissance existed of black individuals that expressed their talents through art and proved that they were certainly not to be looked down upon but praised for their musical and artistic prowess ultimately uplifting the race to be seen as equal to white people.
Black and Tan focuses on these struggles and realities that African Americans were undergoing and overcoming. The artistic symbolism portrayed by Fredi Washington throughout the film should not be easily ignored. Even though she will suffer from an ultimate death if she continues to dance, the dancer does not care because of the love for her husband to survive and flourish in society and ultimately embrace the artistic talents that they all have. She represents the struggle of African Americans and the willingness to pursue further respect and acclaim as artistic individuals rather than an inferior black race. Through all the pain and struggle the main character in the film emerges victorious even though there is a death of the loved one, the one who sacrificed her life shows the importance of persisting and showing that they had talent and achieves an intangible but powerful idea and image of the African American.
The Harlem Renaissance relied on the support and patronage of white aristocrats to fuel the artistic movement. Artists were required to display their talents through the common perception and black exploitation of the era to gain support and enhance the economy of The Harlem Renaissance movement. A great example of this would be Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. This enabled African Americans to gain the support of many white individuals and drove their success through art in a good direction. The Harlem Renaissance had lasting effects in terms of being the foundation for the post-World War II era of the Civil Rights Movement. Most importantly, what emerged from the Harlem Renaissance was the mutual understanding between all Americans of a new intellectual, artistic, and more equal African American.
Director and cast 
Dudley Murphy 
Dudley Murphy’s father came from old New England and an Irish background, while his mother was from the South of the US. His parents were also artists, who met in Paris in the 1890s while studying at the Academie Julian. During the 1890s, American artists were virtually required to have European training and influence in their works. Dudley Bowles Murphy was born in 1897 in Winchester, Massachusetts, on the northwestern edge of greater Boston. After working as a journalist, Dudley Murphy started to create films in the early 1920s. Murphy is best known for his pieces, "St. Louis Blues” (1929) with Bessie Smith, “Black and Tan Fantasy” (1929) with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, “Confessions of a Co-Ed” (1931), “The Sport Parade” (1932) with Joel McCrea, and “The Emperor Jones” (1933), with Paul Robeson.
The transformation of the view towards African Americans is very prevalent in his works. The willingness to cooperate and work together with African American actors, performers and artists shows the strength and talent that they had on white people, as Dudley Murphy was a well-known director who acknowledged and recognized the talents of the black individuals.
Duke Ellington 
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in April 29, 1899 and died May 24, 1974). Throughout his world-renowned musical career he composed over 1,000 pieces ranging in variety of genre from jazz and classical music, to popular music and film scores. Many jazz fanatics and American music whizzes consider Duke Ellington as an aggrandizer of jazz to a respectable art form by making it become on par and exceed other conventional categories and standard genres of music. He was also known for his unique use of an orchestra in his music. Black and Tan shows a demonstration of his musical genius in the incorporation of an orchestra in his jazz pieces throughout the film. The film was the first film appearance for Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.
Duke Ellington had propinquity for keeping things new and becoming far from familiar. In Black and Tan the actual music piece “Black and Tan Fantasy” is very different than other traditional recordings of the song. It is the only rendition and version that exhibits a solo by Barney Bigard using the clarinet as the melodic instrument during the song. And to further portray the sadness of the Fredi’s death, Duke Ellington uses elements of the Gospel musical genre from pieces such as, “Cotton Club Stomp”, “Hot Feet”, and “Same Train”.
Duke Ellington was a significant figure and played a monumental role during the Harlem Renaissance. Being one of the most successful African American musicians and actors of this era, Duke was viewed as a definite sense of pride and role model for Young African Americans and the whole Harlem Renaissance movement.
Fredi Washington 
Fredericka Carolyn “Fredi” Washington was a very accomplished actress during the Harlem Renaissance. She faced racism and was frustrated at the limitation of her artistic talent. Because of ignorant Hollywood standards, she pursued activism and journalism throughout her life. Along with Duke Ellington’s first movie role in Black and Tan Fantasy (1929), Fredi Washington also made her movie debut in a short film directed by Dudley Murphy. Her life outside the film is greatly praised as she took pride in her race and tried to overcome the limitations imposed by discrimination against African Americans. She experienced many obstacles in her acting career when she was told that she was "too light skinned and elegant to play stereotypical maid roles, and also because the directors would not see her as capable of fitting more dramatic and romantic roles with acclaimed white male actors." At the time the traditional Hollywood romance did not feature the African American image.
Outside of the film many of the movie promoters and Hollywood promoters told her that if she hid the fact that she shared a black identity she would become as famous as largely acclaimed white Hollywood movie stars in America. Fredi Washington refused this outrageous idea and her frustrations led her to join and involve herself as one of the founders and establishers of the Negro Actors' Guild. The example of her talent and beauty also enlightened Hollywood with the idea that African Americans should obtain more dramatic roles in America. Her most famous and well-known role is that of Peola, a woman who turns her back on her heritage in order to conform to society, in the movie Imitation of Life (1934). Unfortunately her role in this movie was taken too seriously and assumed to be her real identity. Sadly the image that she portrays in the movie was the farthest thing from what she actually thought. The environment and people with whom she associated perceived her identity through the role of Peola, and looked down upon her frequently.
Duke Ellington's Orchestra and the Cotton Club 
The Duke Ellington Orchestra is commonly viewed as one of the greatest Jazz groups of all time. Over the course of fifty years they managed to compose and perform the greatest American Jazz classics known today. Originating in New York City, the band cycled through many names such as "The Washingtonians", the "Kentucky Club Orchestra", and "Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra". Not until after the 1930s was this band officially named "Duke Ellington and His Orchestra".
During the Harlem Renaissance, a night club called the Cotton Club was the most famous nightlife venue during the whole era. The racially segregated cotton club served as a prime venue for all artistic forms revolving around the stereotyped black identity. Even in the center of Harlem there was a fine line between white and black performances. In front of all white audiences, African Americans were only allowed to exhibit "jungle music" and their forms of art were exploited. Duke Ellington acted as a composer and musician and took over in the early years of the Cotton Club and was pressured to create music that would become revolutionary during that time period. Instead Duke Ellington embraced the concept of black stereotype viewed upon by white Americans, and created phenomenal recordings and music for white audiences to hear and enjoy. Their success came from the ability for Duke Ellington to adapt and aggrandize any style of music ranging from jazz to the "jungle" music performed for white audiences at the Cotton Club. Rising as a band leader he formulated one of the most talented groups and orchestras that played at the Cotton Club. Duke Ellington and His Orchestra were a huge success and brought the name of the Cotton Club to renowned fame during the Harlem Renaissance.
Because of his contributions and leadership, it became the most popular club in Harlem during the 1930s. Duke Ellington and His Orchestra played here for a residency of about four years and created revolutionary music that is still revered today. The most memorable performances and sounds include the new style of "jungle" music created by the musicians of the orchestra. Trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton and trumpeter Bubby Miley, created a growl technique derived from brass playing. Other notable musicians in the orchestra were Johnny Hodges, who played the alto saxophone and was famous for his more than sensual tone. Another notable musician was the baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, who was widely acclaimed for his ability to mix and match scales with tremendous speed and agility. And last but not least the clarinetist Barney Bigard. The fame of this band not only tore through Harlem and New York, but the talents of these individuals swept the nation and led to international acclaim after recording of the Cotton Club were radio-broadcasted around the world.
Notable orchestra members in the film 
- Arthur Whetsol - primary member and jazz trumpeter. He performed in all of the musical compositions featured in the film.
- Barney Bigard - a jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist.
- Wellman Braud - the bassist.
- Tricky Sam Nanton - trombonist known for his revolutionary use of the "wah wah" in the swing genre of music.
- Paghat the Ratgirl. "Black & Tan". Retrieved 15 November 2012. Text "publisherWild Realm " ignored (help)
- "Movie Reviews, Black and Tan 1929". The New York Times. 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
- Huggins, Nathan Irvin (1973). Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195016659.
- Delson, Susan (2006). Dudley Murphy: Hollywood Wild Card. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816646548.
- Bogle, Donald (1988). Blacks in American Films and Television: an Encyclopedia. Fireside. ISBN 9780671675387.
- "Duke Ellington and His Orchestra". The Red Hot Jazz Archive. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
- "The Duke Ellington Orchestra". Dukeellington.com. Retrieved 15 November 2012.