Date of Award

August 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Robert Smith

Committee Members

Jasmine Alinder, Michael Gordon


African American, Community, Jazz, Migration, Milwaukee, Urban Renewal


This study looks at the history of jazz in Milwaukee between 1950 and 1970. During this period Milwaukee experienced a series of shifts that included a large migration of African Americans, urban renewal and expressway projects, and the early stages of deindustrialization. These changes had an impact on the jazz musicians, audience, and venues in Milwaukee such that the history of jazz during this period reflects the social, economic, and physical landscape of the city in transition.

This thesis fills two gaps in the scholarship on Milwaukee. First, it describes the history of jazz in Milwaukee in a more comprehensive way than has been done before. Though the primary focus is 1950 to 1970, it touches on the roots of jazz in the city during the first half of the twentieth century as well as the trajectory of jazz over the last forty years. Second, this research builds on the scholarship on the African American experience in Milwaukee by looking at the interaction of culture and community in the twentieth century.

Ultimately this thesis does two important things. First it details the impact of migration, physical movement, and community fluidity on Milwaukee's jazz culture, especially its jazz clubs and musicians. Second it provides a framework to explain how the jazz community was impacted by African American migration, urban renewal, and deindustrialization. In this way this thesis provides a model that explains the movement of jazz out of the African American community in Milwaukee, a movement reflected in cities throughout the United States.

This model demonstrates that in Milwaukee, the expansion of the African American residential district due to migration, the spatial dislocation created by urban renewal, the economic downturn beginning in the late 1950s, and changing tastes in entertainment, meant that the African American community and jazz community had to undergo a process of cultural renegotiation. In the end the economic, geographical, and social changes wrought by these shifts meant that the make up of the jazz community was forever altered. The jazz community survived, but it became smaller, middle class, and predominately populated by white musicians and audience members.