Harry The Hipster Gibson in 1948
  • William P. Gottlieb
  • Harry “the Hipster” Gibson in 1948

There’s been some argument about the origin of hipster culture and the identity of the original hipsters and who has the right to label other people as hipsters. Hipsterdom is apparently as controversial and divisive an issue as city politics and the quality of education at the Chicago Public Schools.

Historically, as best I can tell, the term “hipster” was first used to describe jazz musicians back in the 40s. Norman Mailer gave it its current definition, a cultural rebel, the sort of person who used to be described as “bohemian,” in his 1957 essay “The White Negro.” These days, it’s been argued, it’s impossible for anyone who doesn’t dress like a middle-aged executive not to look like a hipster.

Reader reader Tom Brenner sent me this link last week. It doesn’t really settle the general question of what a hipster is and who qualifies, but can’t we all agree that it’s genuinely awesome? Behold (and hear) the great jazz pianist Harry “the Hipster” Gibson of Harlem.

Please bear in mind that this was filmed in April 1944, more than a decade before Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.