Jazz was the music of the 1920s. It was the best display of black musical talent the world had ever seen. Originating with musicians in New Orleans, Louisiana, the sound soon spread across the country. Jazz grew out of ragtime and Dixieland music and sprang as well from the improvisations of the many musicians of French, Spanish, and African heritage who lived in Louisiana. Although the greatest jazz musicians were black, including Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941), and Duke Ellington 1899–1974), white musicians were the first to record jazz for profit. White musicians such as Bix Beiderbecke (1903–1931), George Gershwin (1898–1937), and Paul Whiteman (1890–1967; dubbed "The Jazz King") popularized jazz with white audiences by performing it in theaters and cabarets. They paved the way for black musicians to cross racial boundaries and to perform in locations generally attended by whites. Soon black musicians were welcomed and profited from exposure to white audiences and recording contracts with record companies previously closed to them.
The jazz of New Orleans spawned variations in different parts of the country, especially Chicago, Illinois, where jazz musicians played in speakeasies (illegal bars) and dance halls. The Jazz Age encouraged vigorous dances, of which the Charleston was by far the most popular. As jazz evolved throughout the decade, other musical genres took shape, including blues and swing, which would become more popular in the next decade.