In the early nineteen sixties, at the height of civil rights activism, a young protester asked Duke Ellington what he was doing for the Civil Rights movement.  He said “I did my piece twenty years ago when I wrote Jump for Joy”.

“Jump For Joy” was an all black musical revue.  It opened in Los Angeles in 1941. Ellington’s goal: to destroy stereotypical depictions of African-Americans in the theater.  In his words,  “There was no crying, no moaning, but entertaining, and with social demands as a potent spice.” Here he is with his Famous Orchestra, from 1941.

The revue ran for one hundred and twenty-two performances.  Ellington later called it “…the hippest thing we ever did.”

Turns out both Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles had something to do with “Jump for Joy”. In fact the production attracted attention from a list of notable creatives.

From Duke Ellington’s America by Harvey Cohen (University of Chicago Press):

“Newspaper readers also realized something unusual was brewing when they read about how both black and white celebrities collaborated on and financed Jump for Joy including Hollywood stars John Garfield and Mickey Rooney and the Broadway producer Sid Kuller. Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles offered to direct. Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen visited and Langston Hughes contributed a lyric for a song in the production.”