JW Johnson photograph

Signed photograph of James Weldon Johnson, n.d.

James Weldon Johnson (1871 - 1938), one of the Harlem Renaissance’s most celebrated contributors, had already established himself as a novelist and poet when the movement began attracting national attention in the early 1920s. Johnson published his first novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man in 1912. In addition to his literary works, he composed numerous popular songs with his brother, J. Rosamond, including "Lift Every Voice and Sing", which came to be known as the black national anthem.

J.W. Johnson & J. Rosamond, "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

Black Manhattan, JW Johnson

James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan, 1930.

In 1930 Johnson published Black Manhattan, a history of New York City, in which he described the jazz scene in Harlem:

"The night-clubs also constitute the stage for a number of crack Negro bands. Duke Ellington's is one of the most famous jazz bands in the country. Fletcher Henderson is another, which, however, generally plays in a downtown club. There are hundreds of musicians and hundreds of performers connected with the night-clubs of Harlem. The waiters, cooks, coat-room girls, doormen and others make up several more hundreds. It has been estimated that there are something like two thousand Negroes e mployed in these clubs."