From 1920 until about 1930 an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among African Americans occurred in all literary discussions in the lower Manhattan and upper Manhattan sections of New York City, this African American cultural movement became known as "The Negro Movement" and later as the Harlem Renaissance. More than a literary movement and more than a social revolt against racism, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of African Americans and redefined African American expression. African Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage and to become "The New Negro," term coined in 1925 by sociologist and critic Alain LeRoy Locke.
One of the factors contributing to the rise of the Harlem Renaissance was the great migration of African Americans to northern cities, such as, New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., between 1919 and 1926. In his influential book The New Negro (1925), Locke described the northward migration of African Americans as "something like a spiritual emancipation." Black urban migration, combined with trends in American society as a whole toward experimentation during the 1920s, and the rise of radical African American intellectuals, including, Locke, Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and W.E.B. Du Bois, editor of The Crisis magazine, all contributed to the particular styles and unprecedented success of black artists during the Harlem Renaissance period. Some major figures that played a very important part in the Harlem Renaissance are Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, and Jacob Lawrence.
The future "Lady Day" first heard the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith on a Victrola at Alice Dean's, the Baltimore "house of ill repute" where she ran errands and scrubbed floors as a young girl. She made her singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs (borrowing her professional name from screen star Billie Dove), then toured with Count Basie and Artie Shaw before going solo.