62 Years Later, the Most Iconic Photo in American Music Inspires Celebration and Recreation

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones’ newsletters.The power of a single photo to galvanize generations of artists has never been more clearly captured than in the one taken 62 years ago today on the sidewalk of 126th Street between Fifth and Madison in New York City. It’s the most immortalizing image in American music. On August 12, 1958, 57 musicians got together for an extended reunion that doubled as an Esquire cover shoot. Titled “A Great Day in Harlem,” the photo features legend after legend, their collective creativity giving the moment its timelessness. To celebrate, the Billie Holiday Theatre and a production group are inviting artists to reimagine the scene.
The new photo, happening today at the Black Lives Matter mural in Bed-Stuy, will be called “A Great Day in New York.” “We find ourselves at the beginning of another civil rights era,” organizers wrote, adding that artists should wear masks for the recreation. For a powerful behind-the-scenes look at the 1958 moment, catch this video.
Who’s in the original? In nonalphabetic order: Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Rushing, Horace Silver, Charles Mingus, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Hank Jones, Pee Wee Russell, Stuff Smith, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Pettiford, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Jo Jones, Benny Golson, Roy Eldridge, Art Farmer, Milt Hinton, Sonny Greer, Bud Freedom, Gene Krupa, Eddie Locke…and many, many others. Here’s the photo and here’s the video. Recharge shouts and more to recharge@motherjones.com.

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