Arvada Center Blog

Get to know Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical!

Posted by Sarah Kolb on March 18th 2019 to Center News

A funny and heartfelt look at love, Trav’lin rediscovers the music of Harlem Renaissance songwriter J.C. Johnson. His songs were recorded by legendary jazz and blues artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. Keep reading to learn more about Johnson, the time period this musical takes place in, and the men who adapted these tunes for the musical theatre stage.

 

  • It’s the 100th year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance! The 100th year anniversary celebration started Fall of 2018 and goes on until 2020. Generally considered to have spanned from 1918 to the mid-1930s, the Harlem Renaissance’s unique cultural expressions of literature, art, music and culinary arts spread rapidly across the country.

 

  • As World War I slowed the immigration of workers from Europe, the war effort demanded unskilled industrial labor workers, giving rise to a working class of African-Americans and a new mass culture.

 

  • Co-bookwriter Gary Holmes met J.C. Johnson when he was ten years old and got to attend many living room concerts that J.C. held with fellow musician friends. Gary has dedicated his life to preserving and promoting J.C. Johnson’s music and legacy.

 

  • Most of J.C.’s over 500 songs were about love, so it is fitting that Trav’lin would follow the story of three couples from three different generations striving to hold onto each other in a complicated time.

 

  • Character Billie is based off Pig Foot Mary (real name Lillian Harris Dean), a Harlem street cart entrepreneur and cook from the Mississippi Delta who turned her successful cart into a famous Harlem restaurant and brought her Southern-inspired Harlem cuisine (pigs feet, fried chicken, chitlins) to national attention.

 

  • The characters of Billie and Ella are named after Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but the characters are not meant to be the real people; they are combinations of fictional and famous Harlem characters.

 

  • The Harlem stride style of piano playing was invented and changed the sound of jazz forever. Previously, jazz had been about brass instruments, but the addition of the piano changed the sound and mood of the music forever.

 

Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical runs in the Arvada Center Main Stage Theatre from April 9 – 28, 2019

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