Courtesy of The Phillips Collection
The Migration Series. The panel is titled: "During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans."
Panel No. 1 from Jacob Lawrence,
Panel No. 1 from Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series. The panel is titled: "During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans." Courtesy of The Phillips Collection
Locomotives churning across America's vast open landscape provided plenty of fuel for jazz composers in the early 20th century. Railroads symbolized freedom, escape and opportunity for countless musicians, many of whom lived a vagabond lifestyle, always in pursuit of the next gig.
During the Great Migration, millions of African-Americans packed their belongings and moved north by train in hopes of finding work. So it's only natural that train travel has historically occupied many black artists' imagination, perhaps most vividly in painter Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series, pieces of which can be seen at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Over the years, hundreds of blues, folk and jazz songs have been dedicated to the allegory of the locomotive. Here are some of my favorites.