42nd Street 

American Songs and Musicals in the "Thirties"

42nd Street, le symbole de toute une


42nd Street, symbol of an era

..."the big parade goes on for years; it's the rhapsody of laughter and tears: naughty, bawdy, gaudy, sporty, 42nd Street.”


 4  Located in the heart of Manhattan, 42nd Street connects the Hudson River to East River crossing by the way Broadway and Times Square.  Famous for its nightlife, its theaters and popular shows, it belongs especially to the film legend since it was featured in a musical movie.
Released on the screens in 1933,

" 42nd Street " is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the young dancer Bradford Ropes, in which he depicts the backstage of the creation of a musical review entitled Pretty Lady at the worst moment of the 1929 crisis. 

The movie was the first one in many respects: first partnership

between the songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin,  first major stage choreography by Busby Berkeley, first leading role for Ruby Keeler and especially first full Hollywood musical .







 5 Though 42nd Sreet is thought as being seminal of the Hollywood musical, it does not prevent it from being also a work of exception. Moreover, it’s not wrong to say that there was as for any renewal in the artistic creation a before and an after. Shot at the peak of the Great Depression, the movie was from its release a true smash hit. It contained all the ingredients that would appeal to the public : well typed characters, fantasy, humor, a drop of cynicism, a pinch of realism and a hint of romance. 




A decade that changed the music

 1   The musical trends experienced by the country during the 1930s

were widely favored by both major technological innovations that

were the radio and the ribbon microphone. The latter changed

consistently the way of singing by softening some constraints bound up

to vocal art while, with an ever growing audience, the radio,

emerged in the late 1920s, allowed the rise of the music industry such as we know it. The quest of new talents and new tunes became consequently essential for companies increasingly dependent on sales rankings.

 It was often found suitable to blame music business for putting forward financial interests at the expense of artistic quality but let us admit it to manage in return to produce something else than simple consumables by offering dream, emotion and sometimes even genius. It is ultimately all that survives, despite the escape of time.


A time of great changes


 2   The 1929 crisis has just sruck as an awful warning shot, putting dramatically an end to the Roarin'Twenties and their airiness. The country gets ready to sink into what was called the Great Depression, a period of social deprivation that will spare only the wealthiest. Music and movies will conveniently allow many to forget one moment the daily hardship. 

A fortunate coincidence wanted that the downturn started when the talkies were overriding silent movies. The handover was in fact smoothly made and the audience immediately catched. Some silent stars certainly struggled to adapt, theaters closed, others were converted, pianists lost a source of income but on the whole,  collateral damage was unrepresentative.

 3   Who could actually miss the silent movies? Some deaf maybe, but certainly not singers or musicians who, thanks to the talkies' advent, saw a tremendous opportunity to perform some day on the big screen. 

Song and music would be more affected by recession due to the slump of records sales or a growing joblessness among musicians than on account of a public's disillusionment, quite the contrary. Unlike all other economic sectors, the radio stations would attend such a noteworthy increase of their advertising incomes that they consequently flourish in the biggest as well as smallest cities , and what would they propose to their listeners if not at first and foremost music.

Benny Goodman

The good old days of swing


 6  From the music of the 1930s remain the black and white 

pictures of a bygone era that the vintage side makes perhaps

likeable but which the today’s generations, accustomed to the

beatboxes and simplistic computers sounds, find barely audible.

The contemporary hearing gets indeed fast bothered by the

instruments babel and the frequent failing quality of

recordings. And if the old of us (i.e. those who can claim

keeping some memories of these distant years) hasten to

take out the handkerchiefs of nostalgia, what were actually

our great grandmothers favourites when they were still little girls?

Consequently, should we consider as lost the tunes of those remote years and bury them, claiming not without cynism that the voices of these bygone years are now only those of dead even though this decade left us unforgettable musical treasures.

 7   Fortunately, films and sound recordings have this ability to contract the time and teleport us into another age, without leaving our couch. It lacks certainly flavors, colors and a singular atmosphere, but whatever after all if 78-rpm crackle a bit, the emotion remains strong.  In the 1930s were invented swing, hot jazz, Chicago blues, boogie-woogie, Rhythm and Blues, Country music, electric guitar, romantic and sentimental ballads, in short, all that led to rock and pop music. They are somehow the taproots of popular music today.

Artists like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby,

Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington are of course the best known figures in the collective memory but others really deserve attention.

So, welcome in the "thirties".



Alice Faye

 8   Most of the musicals gave a special place to chorus girls. Trailers moreover never fail to insist on their number and their beauty to attract the audience. 42nd Street is no exception to the rule. The presence of dancers is even its best means of promotion. It is certain that the dance routines and the work of the camera, such as designed by the master of the genre Busby Berkeley, reach a kind of climax in the way to emphasize the gorgeous look of the " more beautiful girls in Hollywood ". Hence sometimes a certain ambiguity viewer-voyeur which, anyway, will find its conclusion in 1934 by the implementation of the Hays Code and the requirement  for respecting on the screen of a prudish strictness .

October 6, 1927, The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson is released in New York. It is about the first talking film. The death of silent movies will soon be consumed.

An American music pie


 9      The American music results from a relatively complex cultural blend.
Coming from England, Ireland and France, from the rest of Europe, from Africa and to

a lesser extent from Asia, hoping for some to build a new Jerusalem, imported for others in

dreadful conditions, all those who built the United States brought with them their songs, their

rhythms and their instruments.
Well far from the European aristocratic tradition, from its conventions and its rules,

the American music built itself on popular bases. It originated in the corner of a street, in a

village church, on the stage of a traveling theater, in a party improvised among

wagons, in a log cabin near a cotton field…


The “classic” music could not occupy more than an additional row owing to the fact that the dominant culture in Europe had very few things in common with this country under construction. However, it had to build its own personality and to operate in this sense a synthesis between the various musical influences of which it was the crossroads.
It is in fact from two traditions that the American music primarily drew its substance:  one, African-American gave rise to blues and jazz while the other, of Anglo-Saxon origin, inspired  folk and Country music. Far from opposing, these two traditions constantly intertwined and mutually enriched in retaining peculiarities testifying to an always long-lived cultural diversity.
Fact not less  decisive, at the end of the 19th century was born in New York which was going to become the music industry. Gathered in what is called Tin Pan Alley, music publishers signed there for nearly 50 years most of the seminal tunes which originated fashions and trends throughout the country as well as around the world.

A musicians' family by 1885

The Salvation Army Museum, Des Plaines (IL)




10  The stock exchange crash of 1929 has led to the collapse of the U.S. economy. Convinced that the downturn will not last, President Herbert Hoover is prone to a wait-and-see attitude and takes time to initiate right measures. The government is obviously overwhelmed while a quarter of the workers are found jobless. Faced with the growing power of the mob and his frightening

representative Al Capone, the FBI creates a special department placed under the authority of

 Eliot Ness, a young inspector belonging to the Bureau of the Prohibition . His agents will

soon be dubbed the Untouchables. It is in this sluggish background that the Mount Rushmore

monument (SD) is inaugurated to the glory of the great presidents of the United States

(George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt).


Best musical movie : Puttin' on the Ritz  starring Harry Richman and Joan Benett

Best songs :


 1 - The Boswell Sisters  & The Jackie Taylor Orchestra - That's what I like about you

2 - Duke Ellington & Ivie Anderson - Mood Indigo


3 - Cab Calloway - St James Infirmary

Artist of the year : Paul Whiteman for his movie King of Jazz


Revelation of the year: Cab Calloway for his thunderous arrival at the Cotton Club, the most

attended jazz club in Harlem.












 Paul Whiteman                            

                                              The Boswell Sisters









                      Cab Calloway                    Duke Ellington
















The Boswell Sisters - That's what I like about you

Paul Whiteman - Song of the dawn

Cab Calloway - St James Infirmary



 11 It was called “The Bitter Year". The Great Depression seems to have settled down in a long-lasting way. The American families see their purchasing power collapse while no less than 2200 banks fail. In this desillusioned atmosphere is completed in New York the Empire State Building, already regarded by many as the new symbol of the city. It  took only 410 days to build this 102-storeyed and 1250 feet high skyscraper, a feat partly achieved thanks to the Mohawk workers descended  from the former Iroquois confederacy and considered as being insensitive to vertigo. Trapped for tax fraud, Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in jail. His empire will soon be dismantled.

Best musical movie : Flying High starring Bert Lahr and Charlotte Greenwood

 Best songs:

 01 – Bing Crosby  Out of Nowhere 


02 – Guy Lombardo  et Kate Smith River, stay away from my door



03 – Cab Calloway Minnie the Moocher

Artist of the yearBing Crosby

Révélation of the yearMildred Bailey for

her rendition of Georgia On My Mind

written by Hoagy Carmichael







                                                 Bing Crosby






Mildred Bailey                  Guy Lombardo          Kate Smith



Bing Crosby - Out of Nowhere

Guy Lombardo & Kate Smith - River, stay away from my door

Mildred Bailey - Georgia on my mind




                                        Connee Boswell         Ivie Anderson 



















                             Louis Armstrong      Duke Ellington








                                                              Rudy Vallee        

 12 President Herbert Hoover goes on campaign for a second term while his unpopularity reaches record levels. As if it was not enough, he makes some unfortunate mistakes as to disperse by force the Bonus Army demonstration, mainly composed of veterans of  World War I who, struck by unemployement, came to Washington to claim the promised allowance.
The democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt wins accordingly brilliantly the election. The return of happy days is announced.

Best musical movie : Love me tonight starring

Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald

Best songs:

01 – Duke Ellington &  Ivie Anderson – It don’t mean a thing (if you ain't got that swing)


02 – Connee Boswell  Say it isn't so  

03 – Louis Armstrong  All of me  


Artist of the year : Rudy Vallee for having performed

the song Brother can you spare a dime

Revelation of the year: the brothers Jimmy &Tommy Dorsey

Duke Ellington feat. Ivie Anderson - It don't mean a thing

Rudy Vallee - Brother can you spare a dime

Jimmy & Tommy


The Dorsey Brothers & Jean Bowles - I'm getting sentimental over you




 13   The new President Franklin D. Roosevelt abolishes Prohibition, giving thereby the kiss of death to the mob's juicy business. After the hope brought by his election, he must now pull the economy out of the rut. He undertakes for this a huge project called the New Deal in which the Federal Government hires considerable sums. Despite a shown voluntarism and the launch of major works as the development of the Tennessee Valley, the crisis is not forthcoming and unemployment continues to maintain at a very high level.

Best musical movie : 42nd Street starring Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell

Best songs :

01 - Mildred Bailey et les Frères Dorsey - Doing the Uptown Lowdwon

02 - Joan Blondell et Emma Moten : Remember my forgotten man

03 - Bing Crosby: Here is my heart

Artist of the year: Ruby Keeler for her performances in 42nd Street, The Gold Diggers 1933 et Footlight Parade

Revelation of the year : Benny Goodman for his

recordings with Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday










                                 Mildred Bailey

                                                                                                    Jimmy & Thomas Dorsey









                                    Ruby Keeler                              Joan Blondell










       Billie Holiday                 Benny Goodman                         Bing Crosby

Mildred Bailey & The Dorsey Brothers - Doing the Uptown Lowdown


Ruby Keeler & Dick Powell - 42nd Street

Benny Goodman & Billie Holiday - Your mother's son-in-law



 14  The economic recovery starts to produce slowly its effects even if the interventionist policy led by the President Franklin D. Roosevelt is far from winning unanimous support in the business community. The increased powers of the unions worries in particular the industrialists who see there an adjournment of the American society's capitalist foundations. The year is the warmest ever registered by the weather forecast and States as Oklahoma are subjected to a true soil desertification pushing thousands of farmers to move away.

It is also the end of the run for Bonnie & Clyde and John Dillinger who fall all three under the bullets of Federals.

Best musical movie : The Gay Divorcee starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Best songs:

01 - Jimmie Lunceford - Remember when

02 - Fred Astaire  - Night and day


03 - Charlie Barnet & Helen Heath - Infatuation

Artist of the year : Fred Astaire for his performance in The Gay Divorcee

Revelation of th year : Claude Hopkins with I can't dance,

I got ants in my pants

Jimmie Lunceford - Remember when





            Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers





        Charlie Barnet             Claude Hopkins         Jimmie Lunceford






Charlie Barnet & Helen Heath - Infatuation

Claude Hopkins - I can't dance, I got ants in my pants





 15   The unemployment always borders on 20 % of the workforce. Despite ambitious measures, the country indeed seems remained sunk in the Depression while Europe witnesses the rise of totalitarian regimes. The dust bowls continue to strike the Mid-West and Florida is in turn hit by a hurricane considered as the most devastating of the century.

Best musical movie : The Gold Diggers of  1935 starring Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Stuart

Best songs: 

01 - Teddy Wilson & Billie Holiday - Miss Brown to you

02 - Wini Shaw  -  The Lullaby of Broadway

03 - Chick Webb - I’ll chase the blues away


Artist of the year :

George Gershwin fot the Opera Porgy & Bess

Revelation of the year : Wingy Manone, composer, trumpetter, singer

and bandleader













           Teddy Wilson                    Billie Holiday







                                             George Gershwin           Wini Shaw









                                                  Wingy Manone                            Chick Webb

Teddy Wilson & Billie Holiday - Miss Brown to you

George Gershwin - It ain't necessarily so

Wingy Manone - Black coffee



  16   Launched in 1933, the New Deal is partially declared unconstitutional and several of its measures accordingly repealed. It does not preclude the triumphant re-election of President Franklin Roosevelt with not less than 60 % of the vote. In Olympic Games of Berlin, Adolf Hitler refuses to go to shake hands with Jesse Owen, the American athlete with four golden medals, miffed that a black skinned man dared challenge the white race supremacy.


Best musical movie : Follow the Fleet starring Fred Astaire and Gingers Rogers

Best songs:

01 - Tommy Dorsey  & Edythe Wright- Will I ever know it

02 - Fred AstaireLet’s face the music and dance

03 - Woody Herman - Tormented

Artist of the year : Teddy Wilson for having launched the career of Ella Fitzgerald

Revelation of the year : Willie Bryant for his way of walking in the steps of Armstrong.








                                                 Ella Fitzgerald


                   Teddy Wilson    









                                      Tommy Dorsey









 Fred Astaire                            Willie Bryant 




Tommy Dorsey & Edythe Wright - Will I ever know it

Edythe Wright

Teddy Wilson & Ella Fitzgerald - My melancholy baby


Willie Bryant - All my life



  17  The German airship Hindenburg blazes on May 6 at the time of its landing on Lakehurst runway, New Jersey. The tragedy claims many victims and sounds the toll of this air type of transport.
Meanwhile, the civil war rages in Spain where Nazi Germany tests especially its air fire power. The Japanese army follows its plague of China and takes over the city of Shanghai while in Moscow, Stalin begins  the Great Purge to eliminate the opposition. There will be more than 700 000 executions.
Fortunately, in an other register, on December 21 takes place in Los Angeles the first night of " Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ", the famous Walt Disney's animated film.


Best musical movie : Shall we dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Best songs : 

01 -Tommy Dorsey & His Clambake Seven, Edythe Wright - The Big Apple

02 - Benny Goodman - Hooray for Hollywood

03 - Chu Berry - Too Marvelous for words

Artiste of the year : Cab Calloway



Revelation of the year : Judy Garland for All God’s chillun is Rhythm and You made me love you

                                                    Cab Calloway












 Benny Goodman


                                                   Edythe Wright &









Judy Garland                                Chu Berry


Tommy Dorsey & Edythe Wright - The Big Apple

Cab Calloway - Swing, swing, swing

Judy Garland - You made me love you




  18    The government refuses to take a stand in European affairs. It particularly declines the offer of Moscow to establish a forehead anti Nazi  and advocates neutrality as Germany gets ready to invade Czechoslovakia.
While unemployment had begun to decrease in a significant way in 1937, the recession seems 
again to strike the country causing further job losses.

On October 30, Orson Welles organizes the hoax of the century by announcing on the radio the landing of the Martians and the beginning of

" The War of the Worlds".


Best musical comedy : Sing you Sinners starring Bing Crosby, Fred McMurray, Donald O’Connor and Helen Drew

Best songs:


01 - Tommy Dorsey & Edythe Wright - Music, Maestro Please

02 - Larry Clinton & Bea Wain - My Reverie

03 - The Andrew Sisters - Hold tight, hold tight

Artist of the year : Fats Waller for all of his work 


Revelation of the year : The Andrew Sisters for their sensational debut at the top of the sales












         The Andrews Sisters










                                                 Tommy Dorsey                 Larry Clinton






    Edythe Wright                



                                                     Fats Waller                         Bea Wain

Tommy Dorsey & Edythe Wright - Music, maestro please

Fats Waller - I simply adore you

The Andrews Sisters - Hold tight, hold tight



 19  The novelist John Steinbeck publishes The Grapes of Wrath telling the exodus of a farmers' family of Oklahoma during the Great Depression.
June 4, the MS St Louis, an ocean liner carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees being denied landing in Florida must turn back towards Europe. Most of its passengers will die in concentration camps.
September 3, fifteen days after the release of The Wizard of Oz  starring Judy Garland, France and Great Britain declare war to Germany. The United States have decided to stand behind but launch in secret the Manhattan project after the president Franklin Roosevelt has received Albert Einstein's letter urging his country to provide the atomic bomb.


Best musical movie - The Wizard of Oz  starring Judy Garland, Billie Burke, Bert Lahr

Best songs



01 -Judy Garland - Somewhere over the rainbow

02 - Billie Holiday - Strange fruit

03 - Glenn Miller - Stairway to the stars

Artist of the year : Billie Holiday for her unique performance of

 Strange Fruit


Revelation of the year : Glenn Miller for a take-off finally successful


















                                                        Judy Garland

                                    Billie Holiday





  Glenn Miller                        

Judy Garland - Somewhere over the rainbow

Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit

Glenn Miller - Stairway to the stars



  20  While refusing to be directly involved in the war raging in Europe, the United States  increase significantly their deliveries of weapons to England. The Congress gives on the other hand its agreement to expend the power of the Navy and to a granting of a 900 millions $ budget for the manufacturing of 50 000 planes a year.

The American voters re-elect in November President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a third term. It is an unprecedented fact in the history of the country.
Pinocchio and Fantasia from the  Walt Disney's studios are released on screens. Some newcomers also appear in dark rooms : Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry.
McDonald's very first restaurant opens in San Bernardino, California.


Best musical movie : The Broadway Melody of 1940 starring Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell

Best songs 

01 - Benny Goodman & Helen Forrest : How high the moon

02 – Cliff EdwardsWhen you wish upon a star

03 – Judy GarlandI’m nobody’s baby

Artist of the year : Artie Shaw




Revelation of the year : Frank Sinatra









                                                                                                                                                                                          Benny Goodman



Helen Forrest







                                                                                                           Artie Shaw 






Frank Sinatra                                              





                                                                          Tommy Dorsey

Benny Goodman & Helen Forrest - How high the moon

Artie Shaw & Helen Forrest - All the things you are

Tommy Dorsey & Frank Sinatra - Imagination

42nd-street.fr - Gerard Tondu

All rights reserved - nov. 2010