Jitterbugs V, ca. 1941–42. William Henry Johnson. Color screenprint. Gift of Reba and Dave Williams, 1999.
Johnson created his lively series of Jitterbug paintings and screenprints (ca. 1940–42) while teaching at the WPA's Harlem Community Art Center. After 13 years of living abroad and painting in a modernist style, the artist returned to the United States in 1938 to record the daily lives of African Americans in a manner akin to naïve folk art. Here, a flamboyantly dressed couple dances wildly at one of Harlem's popular nightspots to the loud music being played on two trumpets and a drum set. Artist Romare Bearden (who knew Johnson) recalled his own experiences at the time: "Three nights a week, we were at the Savoy Ballroom. Charlie Buchanan, who ran the place, liked artists to come to the Savoy. The best dancing in the world was there, and the best music. When we left the Savoy, we'd go to the after-hours spots….They called us the Dawn Patrol. We moved till dawn, from one after-hours spot to another."