The Orion

Harlem Renaissance revived by rent party

Ashiah Scharaga

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Julie Atlas shows off her 1920s fashion at the Rent Party costume contest Thursday night.Photo credit: Shannon Miller


The door reads “New York Times: Editor-In-Chief.” When you cross the threshold, a luscious jazz melody that sounds both familiar and foreign fills your ears and the New York skyline catches your eye.

Welcome to Chico State’s ninth annual Harlem Renaissance Rent Party on the stage of Harlen Adams Theatre. Attendees dressed in sophisticated 1920s and ’30s garb listened to live and vinyl jazz music, watched a live art demonstration, played card games and ate authentic Southern cuisine provided by Associate Students Dining Services on Thursday night.

The event was hosted by Chico State’s Black Faculty and Staff Association in conjunction with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center and the School of the Arts to celebrate Black History Month.

Rent parties originated in the 1920s and ’30s in Harlem, N.Y. during the Harlem Renaissance period. Residents would host parties and use the proceeds to pay rent.

All proceeds from Chico State’s Rent Parties go to a different local organization each year. All proceeds from this party, which suggested a donation of $5 to enter, went to
Chapman Elementary School.

Tracy Butts, English professor and a chairwoman of BFSA, brought the Harlem Renaissance Rent Party to Chico State when she started working here, she said. From the first party in Selvester’s Cafe-by-the-Creek, the event grew and took on a life of its own.

“I think it’s a good way to celebrate an era in American history and African-American history,” Butts said. “And it’s a lovely social event whereby people get to dress up in costumes and have some fun. And it’s a good cause.”

Julie Atlas, who has lived in Chico for eight years, had never been to a Chico State event, she said. She donned a silver sequin headband with a white flower, sparkling black Ugg boots, a white boa, silver and black beaded necklaces and a black sequin dress.

“I love the food, I think the art is beautiful, the people have put on awesome costumes to make us feel like we’re in the 1920’s and I’m happy to be here and participating,” Atlas said.

Cesar Torres, a first-year pre-business administration major, also experienced the party for the first time. He said that the event was more than he expected and he stayed longer than he planned.

“People who are dressed up actually make me feel like we’re in the ’20s,” he said. “It makes me want to dress up.”

Some people who dressed up came as famous figures from the era, as encouraged by the School of the Arts. Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas impersonators made appearances.

Desiree Stevens, a junior sociology major and transfer student, arrived as Lena Horne, civil rights activist, dancer, singer and actress.

She donned a black flapper dress and headband with a red and black feather. Later, Stevens sang “Diga Diga Doo” a cappella while the audience clapped in rhythm.

Stevens had never been to the event before, she said. People were really receptive to her singing and she thought it was fun that people were so in character.

“It was really great to be able to interact with people who support black history and celebrate black culture,” she said.

The event also featured music by Barbara and Greg D’Augelli, who performed jazz numbers of the era with an electric bass, tenor saxophone and flute. Danny Kibbee, a Chico State alumni and local DJ, played vinyl jazz records.

The event had a good turn out this year, said Tray Robinson, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and treasurer for BFSA.

He looks forward to the diversity of the event and the people that come out to support it and learn about the era, he said.

“So many people wouldn’t know about it, what happened during this time period if we didn’t have this event,” Robinson said. “It’s nice to see people learn about that.”

Ashiah Scharaga can be reached at [email protected] or @AshiahD on Twitter.

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Harlem Renaissance revived by rent party