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 " and based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the young dancer Bradford Ropes, it depicts the area behind the stage of the creation of a musical play 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 such as
the radio and the ribbon microphone. While the latter changed
consistently the way of singing by softening some constraints bound up
to vocal art, the radio, emerged in the late 1920s, benefited its ever
growing audience to allow 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 have managed 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, dramatically putting an end to the Roarin'Twenties and their airiness. The country is getting ready to sink into what will be called the Great Depression, a time of social deprivation that would only spare the wealthiest families. Music and movies will conveniently allow the general public to forget the daily hardship, even for a while.
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 valuable source of income but collateral damage was on the whole unrepresentative.
3 Who could actually miss the silent movies? 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 tin order to colonise the biggest as well as the smallest cities , and what would they offer their listeners if not at first and foremost music.
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 generations of today, widely accustomed to
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
wave 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".
8 Most musicals provided 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 promotional tool. There is no doubt that the dance routines and the motion 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 " most beautiful girls in Hollywood ". Hence sometimes 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, 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 prevailing culture in Europe had little in common with this country under construction. However, it had to shape 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.
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
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 year : Bing Crosby
Révélation of the year : Mildred Bailey for
her rendition of Georgia On My Mind
written by Hoagy Carmichael
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
01 - Tommy Dorsey & Edythe Wright- Will I ever know it
02 - Fred Astaire - Let’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.
Fred Astaire Willie Bryant
Tommy Dorsey & Edythe Wright - Will I ever know it
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
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
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
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
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
Revelation of the year : Glenn Miller for a take-off finally successful
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
01 - Benny Goodman & Helen Forrest : How high the moon
02 – Cliff Edwards – When you wish upon a star
03 – Judy Garland – I’m nobody’s baby
Artist of the year : Artie Shaw
Revelation of the year : Frank Sinatra
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