African American Artists during the Twentieth Century
Aaron Douglas, Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers (1934). Courtesy of Schomburg Center / Art Resource, NY
Aaron Douglas's Song of the Towers was created for the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) in 1934 under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. As one section of a four-part mural titled Aspects of Negro Life, which focused on the history of people of African descent in the United States from enslavement through the Great Migration, Song of the Towers celebrates the fluorescence of jazz and the increasing urbanism of African Americans during the first third of the twentieth century. In the composition, the figure of a saxophonist stands atop a great cog, recalling the machinery of the industrialized North, while playing his horn with one hand. The shoulder pads of his suit indicate his contemporary clothing while the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty can be made out in the far background, between the high rise buildings that flank the musician, firmly placing him in New York City.