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The history of jazz in Charleston

Calling all music lovers.

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Visit Forte Jazz Lounge, inspired by New York-style jazz clubs.

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Lend an ear, music lovers. We’re diving into the Holy City’s jazz scene — then and now. Keep reading for a brief local history and where to enjoy the music today, and all that jazz. 🎺

How it started

Charleston’s jazz scene began around the mid to late 1800s, influenced by the Gullah Geechee community. Jenkins Orphanage Band, created by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, played a large part in the local and national jazz scene.

The band went on to play at the inaugural parades of Presidents Roosevelt and President Taft and perform for the Queen of England. The group produced artists such as Cat Anderson and Freddie Green.

Many additional jazz musicians came from the Holy City, including Chris Smith, Bertha Hill, and Charlton Singleton. You may recognize songs like “The Charleston” and “Charleston Rag” that were born of this genre.

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Jenkins Orphanage Band began in the 1890s.

Edward Elcha, Percy Tappin, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Where to enjoy it

  • Forte Jazz Lounge: Inspired by New York-style jazz clubs, this King Street lounge offers performances by local musicians, touring acts, and Grammy winners.
  • The Commodore: Visit this vintage jazz club on Meeting Street that started in the 1980s featuring artists from across the nation.
  • Charleston Jazz Orchestra: This group of jazz musicians is set to perform throughout the year in 2023 at Charleston Music Hall.
  • Charleston Jazz Festival: This celebration of Charleston’s jazz heritage featuring international and local acts is scheduled for April 20-23 in 2023.
  • Charleston Jazz Academy: Interested in learning a jazz instrument? All ages can take classes with professional musicians and educators.

Enjoy the music, y’all.