42nd Street  

The Encyclopedia of American Songs and Musicals

in the "Thirties"

l'année des élections

The great choice


  1   The year begins with a

particularly bloody news. On

January 2, six policemen are

shot dead near a farm close to

Springfield (MO) by trying to get

hold on Harry and Jennings

Young, two brothers wanted since

1929 for various burglaries and

car thefts.

The number of casualties

enlists immediately the law

enforcement on their trail. Both runaways are caught up 3 days later in Houston ( TX) and prefer to commit suicide before being captured.

The United States proclaim on January 7 the so-called Stimson Doctrine (named after the Secretary of State Henri Stimson) acording to which they avoid from now on recognizing a government established by force. This decision follows the invasion of Manchuria by Japan.


On January 12, Harrie Caraway is the first woman to make her debut in the Senate. She replaces off the cuff her husband recently died under the principle that a widow can if necessary take the place of her husband. But the story does not stop there. A few months later, she surprises all her political competitors in Arkansas by winning the Senate election.





























On the eve of the presidential election, it is time for Herbert Hoover to take sock of his action at the White House. He often said he hated the job but he seeks however a second term, persuaded to be the only one able to make the Republicans win. He invests heavily in the campaign, hoping to offset his unpopularity. But this one has something definitive. Admittedly, everything seems to gang up on him, even the weather. Indeed, since the onset of the Great Depression, the Mid-western states are facing an unprecedented drought. The plains of Oklahoma, in particular, have become almost sterile due to frequent dust bowls and the wrath of despair rumbles among farmers.


They are also veterans of World War I, come to camp out in Washington D.C. to claim the bonus they were promised and that they still wait in vain. Unable to pay them, Hoover appoints the army to disperse the protest. The case makes even more noise than convinced to face communists, general McArthur who commands the troops does not hesitate to use the hard way. In the midst of elections, the incident can only serve the interests of the Democrats whose candidate Frankin D. Roosevelt has said of Hoover : “ there is nothing inside the man but jelly ". His campaign turns apparently to martyrdom. Resentment is such that his public appearances are systematically subjects to  insults and threats; the crowd throws rotten-eggs to his face and a man is even arrested close to him with explosives.

Hoover has yet tried everything until the end to make up his poor image with the public opinion. He made such haste to build makeshift villages to shelter families thrown to the street but these were soon be given the nickname of Hooverville, as a mockery. He also sent back home tens thousands Mexican immigrates accused of stealing the work of  Americans. He has just enacted a law to protect indebted families against the seizure of their assets but these measures come too late, the damage being so deep that everybody wants him to go due firstly to the fact that he is himself the crisis.

Hoover is insurprisingly defeated in November and Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the 32nd president of  the United States. It is a hard pill to swallow for the ousted president who will deem himself erroneously misunderstood.

At the same time, CBS starts on radio the first science fiction series Buck Rogers in the 25th century inspired by the comic strip hero.

"Scarface" , in this time was the Mob


   2     "Scarface ", the movie directed by Howard Hawks is based on a novel published in 1929 whose action takes place in the Chicago underworld, staging the merciless war between gangs of the north and south areas of the city. The subject refers to Al Capone's criminal acts (dubbed Scarface owing to a facial scar further to a youth brawl) and of his sidemen in a so obvious way that the release on screens is delayed due not only to some violent sequences but also because the censorship sees it as an apology for the crime syndicate. The star of the movie is indeed the famous Tommy gun, the Thompson submachine-gun and its charger "camembert ", obviously the gangsters' favorite toy of the era. Paul Muni is there particularly convincing in the key-role of Carmonte.






The damaging effects of Prohibition

Although it had been for decades one of the workhorses of temperance societies, the Prohibition never yelded to the expected results. Good feelings in politics do not always produce good effects. When in 1919, President Wodrow Wilson ratified the 18th amendment prohibiting the manufacturing, transport and sale of alcohol, he sincerely believed that this wise arrangement would moralize the habits, stop the conjugal violence and build a healthier society. He never imagined that he instead promoted organized crime, developed black market, caused the advent of all gas and generate a true social disorder. The sale of alcohol made the happiness of bootleggers of all kinds and Canada became despite it the partner of the mob by leaving on its soil proliferate distilleries designed to illegally supply the U.S. market.



















They often manufactured liquor with anything, including wood, whose consumption blighted the health of number of citizens. But they were also the farmers, got used to run their tractors to ethanol, who were the first to suffer from Prohibition. They often made themselves this cheap fuel and had now no other choice than to buy gasoline to power their engines. 

In New York as in many big cities, bars had back-rooms, the "speakeasies", where alcohol was sold at excessive prices. The police made regular raids there, seized goods, destroyed material but the results seemed very thin compared with the level of the traffic. Closures never lasted long and gangs were engaged in a relentless war to control the supply. The alcohol was all the illicit trade in the hands of the organized crime, the one who turned better profit. The 20s attended in particular Al Capone's tremendous rise, a shameless mobster who managed in holding much of the market under control, heading a true empire.

He did not hesitate if necessary to physically eliminate his competitors and knew how to corrupt officials. Bill Thompson, himself, the mayor of Chicago was suspected of having sworn allegiance to Al Capone.

1930 begins with Gaetano Reina's murder. He was a New York hood working for Joe Masseria, one of the big hitters of the city. Reina was for some time suspected of getting closer to Salvatore Maranzano, head of the rival clan. Masseria was himself to order the murder of his lieutenant. The case triggered a new war between the various Sicilian gangs of which Maranzano goes out temporarily victorious before being shot down in September, 1931 by Vincent " Mad Dog " Coll, a killer under Lucky Luciano's orders.  


   Gunfights are, at the time, sadly current in the underworld. Everybody still has in mind the Valentine's Day massacre that took place on February 14, 1929 in the Chicago suburbs. Seven mobsters who worked for Bugs Moran of the North Side Irish gang specialized in bootlegging, were killed having fallen in a real ambush. The investigation since clearly pointed out the Capone clan but it trampled due to the threats exerted on those who would dare to testify. The dispute between Moran and Capone went back to several years: in 1925 at first, Moran attempted to murder Johnny Torrio, the boss of Capone, but the latter miraculously survived, despite numerous injuries. He recurred the following year by tackling this time directly Capone, without more success. The St Valentine’s day, however aroused real emotion in public opinion and prompted the federal government to react, at last. It began this time to focus very closely on Al Capone's illicit activities. In April 1930, the Commission on Crime in Chicago declares Capone Public Enemy No. 1. 

They choose a young agent named Eliot Ness, already assignated to the Bureau of Prohibition, to lead the hunt against the boss of the mob. Thus was created the section of the legendary " Untouchables ".

The results won't be long. Within six months, Ness seized for more than a million dollars of goods. Capone eventually falls for tax evasion and sees condemning October 11, 1931 to 11 years in prison. Frank Nitti, his trusted lieutenant is meanwhile sentenced 18 months (he will go out next year).


Mobsters of the Prohibition-era are that of all kinds. The Mob rules on the liquor sales and most of the clandestine activities as games and prostitution while others have specialized in hold-ups, a business born in the American West during the 1860s. In the early 30s, John Dillinger (who operates in Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin,  North Dakota), Lester Gillis aka " Baby Face " Nelson (in Illinois), the couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (in Oklahoma and Texas) and the  Barker sons

(in Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio) keep on robberies and often committ murders, most of them being unjustified. The police is dog-tired.

     Herbert C. Hoover           Franklin D. Roosevelt

Nelson Riddle - " The Untouchables" theme

For most Americans,  the responsability for the economic downturn only falls to President Hoover.

Paul Muni aka Antonio Carmonte and his inseparable Tommy Gun in Scarface, a movie directed by Howard Hawks depicting the unforgiving fierceness of the Chicago  underworld.

 The essential hits (1)


Cab Calloway (Rochester (NY) 1907 -  Hockessin (DE) 1994) Reefer man 2 (Andy   Razaf, J. Russel Robinson)

It is in a frantic rhythm that leads us Cab Calloway with his " Reefer man ", a kind of marijuana dealer who, according to the lyrics, had to be also a big consumer of his own products. It is necessary to note the performance achieved by Al Morgan in the double bass and to have a look, by the way, on the silver hated trumpeter Lammar Wright, obviously beaming.

02 – Connee Boswell  

(New Orleans (LA) 1906 – New York (NY) 1976)

Say it isn’t so 3:11 (Irving Berlin) 

With this strong mixture of sentimentalism and emotion, her rendition of this standard composed by Irving Berlin is among the best versions to be heard.

03 – Louis Armstrong (New Orleans (LA) 1901 – New York (NY) 1971) –

All of me 2:57 (Gerald Marks, Seymour Simons)

That’s an understatement to say that he appropriated this song become essential to his catalogue making almost forget those who preceded him.

04 – Duke Ellington (Washington (DC) 1899 – New York (NY) 1974) feat.

Ivie Anderson (Gilroy (CA) 1905 – Los Angeles (CA) 1949) – It don’t mean a

thing (if it ain’t got that swing) 3:13 (Duke Ellington, Irving Mills)

Does this mean that Duke Ellington was always a little ahead of his contemporaries? A light variation in the tempo is simply enough to make it "swing".

05 – The Dorsey Brothers & The Boswell Sisters – Louisiana Hayride 2:48

 (Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz)

The Boswell sisters are back in the landscape of their youth. A pastoral musical jaunt which is worth by the presence of Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey of whom one can say  they are both discreet and effective.






























06 – Bing Crosby (Tacoma (WA) 1903 - Madrid (Spain) 1977)

Some of these days 2:35 (Shelton Brooks)

This song released in 1910 became a hit thanks to Sophie Tucker. Bing Crosby redefines it in his way by imposing a fairly lively pace, an intimate instrumental color and a certain amount of humor before ending with a light "scat".

07 – Don Redman (Piedmont (WV) 1900 - New York (NY) 1964)    1964) feat. Bill“BojanglesRobinson (1878-1949) Doin’ the new low-down 2:27

(Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh)

The Low-Down stuck on the nascent blues as the expression of the unmissable musical style before entering the current language.

The interest of this song first comes  from Bill Robinson's popularity (aka Bojangles), singer, actor and a national renowned tap dancer. Aged 54, he had served in France as rifleman during World War I and acquired after his return a public recognition due to his dancer's great talent as much as by his "cheeky humor" and spontaneity.

08 – Fred Astaire (Frederick Austerlitz – Omaha (NE) 1899 – Los Angeles (CA) 1984) Night and day 3:29 (Cole Porter)

The right tune for the right voice ". Like the beat, beat, beat of the tam-tam..... The time fails to erase the magic of this romance.

09 – Annette Hanshaw (New York 1901 – New York 1985) Fit as a fiddle 2:48 (Al Goodhart, Al Hoffman, Arthur Freed)

She records a lot, maybe too much according to the gossip. Her soft-toned voice matures however and her light jazz notes are not without interest.

10 – Buddy Rogers (Olathe (KS) 1904 – Rancho Mirage (CA) 1999) feat. Louis RappWith my sweetie in the moonlight 3:36 ()

Especially known as actor, he has to his credit a consequent number of movies but also plays the trombone. He formed his own band the California Cavaliers and records in 1932 a series of original songs for Victor Records.

11 – Earl Hines & his Orchestra (Duquesne (PA) 1903 – Oakland (CA) 1983)

I love you because I love you 2:51 (Goodhart, Hoffman, Murray)

In any case, having been Al Capone's official pianist deprives him nothing of his talent as a showman. It is obviously why he fills the Grand Terrace in Chicago at each of his performances..

12 – Cab CallowayDixie doorway 3:36 (Frank Perkins, Mitchell Parish)

All the nostalgia for the South and a tangible emotion, remembering native Carolina. Cab Calloway should however be reminded that he was born in Rochester on lakesides Ontario and spent his childhood in Baltimore, Maryland, the front door of the South.

Bonnie & Clyde, héros romantiques ou meurtriers sans scrupules?

"Brother, can you spare a dime"

  5   the "witness" song of the year (music: Jay Gorney/lyrics:"Yip" Harburg)

With lyrics pointing at the politicians, their false promises and their inability to cope with the Depression beating down the economy, this song is especially a moving tribute to the glory of the millions of Americans reduced to poverty by the crisis. " Yip " Harburg, the songwriter himself was managing an important company before going bankrupt in 1929 and finding unemployed. He owes to George Gershwin his collaboration with composer Jay Gorney. Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby record their own version practically at the same moment. Bing Crosby's one remains the most known but without removing anything from its qualities, it is maybe Rudy Vallee who, supported by an effective orchestration, creates a dramatic progression best expressing the emotional content and despair conveyed by the song.

The esential hits of the year (2)


  01 – Joshua White (Greenville (SC) 1914 – Manhasset (NY) 1969) Little brother blues 3:01 (Joshua White)

His mother finally agreed that he contracts with ARC to the condition to record no track of blues, the music which, acording to her, impersonated the Devil. Waste of time, he will simply use a pseudonym. Josh was exploited when a teenager by travelling musicians but was taught from them all the subtleties of the guitar.

02 – The Boswell Sisters (Formed in New Orleans 1925)Stop the sun Stop the moon 3:01 (Russel Robinson)

Certainly the best rendition of this sentimental ballad.

03 – The Dorsey Brothers feat. Jean Bowes (Formed in Cincinnati (OH) 1924)I’m getting sentimental over you 2:48 (George Bassman, Ned Washington)

The Dorsey brothers could have introduced this song a few months apart but the credit goes in fact to Bert Ambrose and His Mountaineers. Their very successful rendition will in any case open them the doors of radios. 

04 – Lonnie Johnson (Alonzo Johnson – New Orleans (LA) 1899 – Toronto (Ontario) 1970)Winnie the wailer 3:11 (Johnson)

Talent does not always pay off, especially in times of crisis. Lonnie Johnson makes of it a sad experiment by working in a steelworks to make ends meet.























05 – Louis Armstrong Kickin’ the gong around 3:12 (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler)

Another song dedicated to the addiction in drugs. We find Minnie there, lost in the hell of Chinatown.

06– Rudy Vallee (Island Pond (VT) 1901 - North Hollywood (CA) 1986)Brother, can you spare a dime 3:10 (“Yip” Harburg, Jay Gorney

Song glorifying all these anonymous badly hurt by the crisis.

07 – Bennie Moten feat. Josephine Garrison (Kansas City (MO) 1894 - 1935) Two times 3:09 (Sauberg)

Bennie Moten has made of his hometown Kansas City the new favourite location for jazzmen. It must be said that with a pianist like Count Basie, anything is possible.

08 – Bing Crosby Lazy day 3:01 (Eric Maschwitz, George Posford, Grace Kahn, Gus Kahn)

A rural theme steeped in nostalgia, any other recipe to get the heart of the American housewife?

09 – Ozzie Nelson (Jersey City (NJ) 1906 – Hollywood (CA) 1975) Say it isn’t so 3:03 (Irving Berlin)

A doubtless elegance.

10 – Bing Crosby & the Mills Brothers Dinah 3:06 (Harry Akst, Joe Young, Sam M. 

Eddie Cantor introduced it on Broadway in 1925. After the Boswell Sisters, the Mills 

Brothers stand out again beside leading artists. A double shot for Dinah Lee.

11 – The Dorsey Brothers & Connee Boswell  Me minus you 2:49 (Abel Baer, Paul Francis Webster)

A nice rendition.

12 – Big Billy Broonzy (William Lee Conway Broonzy – Scott (MS) 1893 – Chicago (IL) 1958) I want to go home 2:53 (Bill Broonzy, “Fats” Domino Ledbetter)

After years to roam without much success recording studios, he has just contracted in New York with American Record Company. Finally recognition?


L'année musicale 1932

A Year in music


   7   Music industry really hits the bottom in this third year in turmoil. Only 6 million records are sold in 1932, i.e.15 times less than five years earlier. Phonographs either do not find buyers.

Many artists make gray mine, some even, deep in debt, are in despair. The bands which abounded during the 20s have to tighten their belt at the moment when  tours still cost while people go out less often. Big bands often turn to small groups of four to six musicians, more mobile.

Young talents like Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey or Benny Carter start to position with tightened bands. They provide new blood and the first steps of a fashionable rhythmic kind, the swing. It is however Duke Ellington who, thanks to a stroke of genius will all trigger out with his lyricist Irving Mills by releasing the fulgurating “It don' t mean a thing (if it ain’t got that swing)". One understands from the first few seconds that something uncommon occurs. As stated herself vocalist Ivie Anderson, it's something different, something without what the music nor

the melody mean nothing, i.e. the swing !

Specialists may argue that the term already

belongs to the technical language of  jazz, 

 nevertheless, the doo-WAP doo-WAP which

makes the break announces by itself a small

revolution in terms of tempo. More than a

variation in the rhythm section, the swing is a

true pulse.







It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
(doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah)
It don't mean a thing all you got to do is sing
(doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah)
It makes no difference
If it's sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm
Everything you've got
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
(doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah)
It don't mean a thing all you got to do is sing
(doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah, doo-ah)



Present everywhere, the radio goes on molding the new broadcasting scene. Millions families gather each evening around the radio console that stands in the middle of the living room to follow more and more elaborated programs there mixing songs, humorous shows and serials of all kinds the mission of which being to retain a spellbound audience. The radio now constitutes for singers the archetypal tool of promotion.

It affects a widened audience while having the advantage of being inexpensive.

A requirement however, create something new and enjoy on the occasion a little nudge of destiny. Performing on the  radio indeed supposes for breaking through to possess originality, either a voice or a differentiated style, a new tune and above all a wise agent. On the other hand, it is very common for most singers to record their own cover of a hit of the moment. In fact, everyone is benefiting. An example among others: created in 1931 by Belle Baker in a relative anonymity All of me met a first success having been performed by Ruth Etting and Russ Columbo. Paul Whiteman and his vocalist Mildred Bailey then ranked it No. 1 in sales before Louis Armstrong did make of it an essential jazz standard.



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

The essential hits (3)


  01 – Ted Weems (Pitcairn (PA) 1901 – Tulsa (OK)1963) Look who’s here 2:58 (Burton Lane, Harold Adamson)

02 – Josh White Crying Blues 2:58 (Josh White)

03 – Washboard Rhythm Kings (Formed in Alabama 1930) Was it the human thing to do 3:35 (Victor Young, Sammy Fain)

With rhythm and a touch of whimsy, the band is well in tune with the times.

04– Cab CallowayMinnie the Moocher’s wedding day 3:09 (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler)

Minnie pursues her descent into hell in the opiate word of Chinatown.



























05 – Bing Crosby Street of dreams 2:51 (Sam M. Lewis, Victor Young)

06 – The Boswell Sisters Charlie two- step 2:27 (Hoagy Carmichael)

07 – Jack Teagarden (Vernon (TX) 1905 - New Orleans (LA) 1964) I gotta right to sing the blues 2:49  (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler)

Ethel Merman was the first singer to perform this song in the Earl Carroll Vanities, one of the most

famous annual reviews on Broadway. Jack Teagarden just had time to record his own cover before Louis Armstrong .

08 – Fletcher Henderson (Cuthbert (GA) 1897 – New York (NY) 1952) feat. Baby Rose Marie (Rose-Marie Mazetta – New York (NY) 1923) Say that you were teasing me 2:44 (Allan Flynn)

What more surprising to see this stage veteran accompanying the child prodigy. Aged only 9, Baby Rose Marie is indeed a confirmed star. She has already acted in several movies and even featured in radio broadcasts. It is however the first time when she records in studio and the least we can say is that she provides voice.

09 – Louis Armstrong Keepin’ out of mischief now 3:31 (Andy Razaf, Fats Waller)

10 – Cab Calloway Eady was a lady 2:51 (Buddy DeSylva, Nacio Herb Brown, Richard A. Whiting)

After Minnie, Eady adds to the portrait gallery of Cab Calloway. The song was created shortly before on Broadway by Ethel Merman in the musical Take a Chance.

11 – Blind Willie McTell (Thomson (GA) 1901 – Amon (GA) 1959) Searching the desert for the blues  3:08  (McTell)

The drop in records sales strikes hard the blues musicians. In spite of his undeniable talent, Willie McTell earns his living by walking the roads of Georgia and Florida, occurring in hotels, stations, canteens and even in the street.

12 – Billy Banks (Alton (IL) 1901 – Tokyo (Japan) 1967) Oh Peter! 2:58 (Jesse Stafford, Fred Rose)

Irving Mills discovered him in Cleveland and sent down to New York where he was placed as the frontman of the Rhythmakers, a band he has just formed. What beautiful casting indeed:  Henry " Red " Allen on trumpet, Fats Waller on piano, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, Eddie Condon on banjo, Pop Foster on double bass, Zlotty Singleton to the drums and of course Billy Banks whose style reminds Cab Calloway. The success is immediate. They even talk of "the  hottest jazz " never heard before.

  The agents of 

 Russ Columbo spare

no effort t see their foal

replacing  Bing Crosby

in the heart of the


It will be finally

waste of time.

More popular

than ever, the former

lead singer of the

 Rhythm Boy  indeed

chalks up the year

producing hits such as Some of these days, Lazy Day, Street of dreams or still Dinah whom he records with the Mills BrothersHe still shoots in Hollywood in musical shorts and plays for the first time at the Capitol Theatre in New York with Bob Hope in a successful light comedy mixing humor and nonchalance. Meanwhile, for Russ Columbo, the effect of the "handsome crooner " fades gradually. The numerous contracts signed earlier this year will not be renewed. This series of setbacks is completed by a final falling out with his manager Con Conrad.

With songs as Reefer man, Eadie was a Lady, Dixie Doorway etc., Cab Calloway is more than ever the appointed guest of the Cotton Club of which he electrifies the evenings with the adventures of Minnie's the Moocher. When he is not there, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, a group of Harlem led by Baron Lee and produced by Irving Mills, takes over.

Louis Armstrong leaves, as for him, in July for a long tour across Europe. He took care to record before leaving some new tracks planned to be come out during his journey. Body and Soul, Love you Funny Thing, Sweetheart of Dreams will appear among the best sales of the fall. In a style still very New Orleans, Earl Hines, who played with him on the piano for a few years now triumphs with his band at the Grand Terrace in Chicago (the equivalent of the Cotton Club), a jazz club said to have been controlled still a few time ago by Al Capone.


Coveted, the Mills Brothers confirm their early success, whereas other groups as the Washboard Rhythm Kings or the Bennie Moten Orchestra (Two times a night) reach a certain popularity. Vocalists such as Billy Banks, Chick Bullock also make a guest appearance next to confirmed artists as the Boswell Sisters flanked by the brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Annette Hanshaw (Fit as a fiddle), Mildred Bailey (Rockin ' chair), Jack Teagarden, Ozzie Nelson, Don Redman, Ted Weems or still Sidney Bechet.


Fred Astaire & Claire Luce starring

in The Gay Divorce.

Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway (1932)


 10  Fred Astaire is featured from November on Broadway in The Gay Dicorce, a musical whose score has been

assigned to Cole Porter. He has for new partner the actress Claire Luce as a replacement of her sister Adele, recently married to an English Lord. It is the last time he occurs on the theatrical stage before joining Hollywood where he is expected. However, he leaves New York in triumph with a new song promised soon to a bright future: Night and Day.

Other highlights: the first recordings of Baby Rose Marie, the little girl prodigy with the band of Fletcher Henderson ; Connee Boswell records for the first time without her two sisters, it was to be expected. She is doing pretty well with Say it isn' t so a wonderful sentimental ballad written by Irving Berlin whose we shall not count  any more the performers. Among them are in particular Rudy Vallee, Annette Hanshaw, Ozzie Nelson, George Olsen and Jack Payne.

On the screen, Betty Boop dressed as a funambulist makes popular the legendary Boop oop a doop created in 1929 by Helen Kane .


 11  At the same time, musical movies have largely deserted screens. Without  consistent storylines nor charimatic stars, this cinematographic  genre which does not know either to make laugh or cry seems to have reached its limits whereas the crowds rush in dark rooms  to watch dramas with complex plots as well as exotic love affairs.

Actors like Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable or Marlene Dietrich became the inescapable stars of the talkies. Since The Jazz Singer, the Warner studios hastily flooded the market of musicals shot in Technicolor (a process of poor quality) and induced such a rejection as the spectators even flee all color movies likening them to this tedious genre. In 1932, Warner being therefore on the verge of bankruptcy, owes fortunately its temporary salvation to the welcome of  "mobster" films whose Scarface is the latest. 

  12    Paul Robeson  (Princeton (NJ) 1898 – Philadelphia (PA) 1976)

Son of a runaway slave become a Methodist minister, he had the misfortune of losing his mother while he was only 6. Bright student, he is one of rare young African Americans to enter the university and leave graduated. He first chooses to move towards a football professional career but disappointed by the racist behavior which is commonplace in sport (as well as in among lawyers he then attended), Paul Robeson is attracted by the world of theater and actor's job.

He makes his first appearance on Broadway in 1922 and has therefore a string of featured roles. He tours throughout the United States but also in England and to Russia where he will show interest in the communist ideals.

His great bass voice and his impressive stature provide him a wide reputation that will soon drive him to Hollywood. 

Jimmie Davis (Quitman (LA) 1899 – Baton Rouge (LA) 2000)

Coming from a very modest farmers' family, he nevertheless manages in going out graduated of the Louisiana State University. After having some time taught  history at a girls College in Shreveport (LA) while singing occasionally for the local radio, he signs a first contract with Victor Records. It is the opportunity for him  to make a series of recordings in a style reflecting the influence of Jimmie Rodgers and a real ability to yodeling, a vocalise usually associated with German Alps which has become inseparable from  "Country music".


Chick Bullock  (Butte (MT) 1908 – CA 1981)

Prolific singer, Chick Bullock remains nevertheless a mystery for many, beginning with his birth more than uncertain in Montana. On retains just a single picture of him, taken by profile. Yet  he sang for the greatest orchestras, from Paul Whiteman to Duke Ellington through Cab Calloway but it seems due to an accident which partly disfigured him that he never shows up in public and is condemned to record only in studio.

La Paramount s’en tire en revanche  plutĂ´t bien  grâce Ă  la personnalitĂ© d’une de ses vedettes fĂ©tiches, Jeanette MacDonald dont le capital sympathie est considĂ©rable auprès d'un large public. D’une beautĂ© intemporelle, cette actrice et chanteuse Ă  la douce voix de soprano possède un vĂ©ritable charisme. Elle joue en 1932 aux cĂ´tĂ©s de Maurice Chevalier, de quinze ans son aĂ®nĂ© mais toujours aussi « french lover Â», dans One Hour With You  (musique de Richard A. Whiting – paroles de Leo Robin) une comĂ©die piquante rĂ©alisĂ©e par Ernst Lubitsch et Love Me Tonight (musique de Lorenz Hart – paroles de Richard Rodgers) tirĂ© d’une opĂ©rette Ă  succès.

 The essential hits of 1932 (5)


  13  01 –The Boswell Sisters  & The Dorsey Brothers – Everybody loves my baby 2:24 (Jack Palmer, Spencer Williams)

A successful way to revisit this hit of 1924 performed at the time by Louis Armstrong.




 02 – Louis Armstrong – Love you, funny thing 3:41 (Fred Ahlert, Roy Turk)

Bing Crosby recorded this song nearly at the same moment.

03 – The Mills Brothers – Sweet Sue 3:03 (Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, Harry Brooks)

04 – Billy Banks & The Rhythmakers – Spider crawl 2:59 (Edie Condon, Jack Bland)

A band consisted of white and African American musicians whom we find very comfortable in the Hot Jazz registry.

05 – Al Bowlly (Lourenço Marques (Angola) 1899 - London (UK) 1941) with The Masqueraders– Goopy Geer 2:27 (Herman Hupfeld)

Goopy Geer is none other than the dog which plays the piano (with ears in particular) in a cartoon of the series Merrie Melodies. It inspired the character of Goofy created shortly after by Walt Disney.

06 – Bing Crosby – Brother, can you spare a dime? 3:13 (“Yip” Harburg, Jay Gorney)

The most known performance for the most symbolic song of the Great Depression.

07 – Tampa Red (Hudson Whittaker – Smithville (GA) 1904 – Chicago (IL) 1981) – Western bound blues 3:18 (Hudson Whittaker, V. Williams)

08 – Washboard Rhythm Kings (Formed in Alabama 1930) - Learn to croon (Arthur Johnston,Sam Coslow)

09 – Ray Noble ( Brighton (UK) 1903 -London (UK) 1978) feat. Al Bowlly & Anona Winn – Where are you girl of my dream  3:06 (Charles Tobias)

10 – Phil Spitalny  (Russia 1889 – Miami (FL) 1982) feat. Helen Rowland (Jersey City (NJ) 1906 - 1975) – Let’s have another cup of coffee 2:49 (Irving Berlin)

This song created for the musical Face The Music illustrates the hope a the future crisis end.

11  â€“ Ted Lewis (Cirdevile (OH) 1890 – New York 1971) – Headin’ for better times 3:02 (Charles Tobias)

Dressed up in his old top hat, Ted Lewis invites the traveler in the train of " Better Times", another message heralding the next end of the Depression.

12 – Jimmie Rodgers  (Meridian (MS) 1897 – New York (NY) 1933) – Miss the Mississippi and you 2:37 (Rodgers)

Exhausted by disease, Jimmie Rodgers continues nevertheless to perform in concert in order to live on. He enjoys a great popularity due the atmosphere both poetic and realistic of his songs which constitute slices of life where each one can find his part of emotion.

Oh that Mitzi (Oscar Strauss, Leo Robin)

As a true showman, Maurice Chevalier fills the screen thanks to his natural elegance, his sense of the comic effect and especially his dreadful French accent which far from being a handicap plays in fact in his favor as a genuine instrument of seduction.

One Hour With You, directed by a master of comedy such as Ernst Lubitsch appears among the successful movies of the year and devotes the brilliant career of a Parisian street urchin in Hollywood, an event rare enough to be pointed out.

I love Colette but Oh That Mitzi !.... Some girls are cool and others only fool ...but Oh! That Mitzi.....

The essential hits (4)


  14   01 – Paul Robeson (Princeton (NJ) 1898 – Philadelphia (PA) 1976)River, stay away from my door 3:23 (Harry Woods, Mort Dixon)

02 – The Allen Brothers (Formed in Chattanooga (TN) 1923)Slipping cutch blues 3:23 (Allen Bothers)

Their sparse and percussive style include them among the most representative artists of the hillbilly blues, ancestor of the Country music. It does

not enable them, however, to live only from their music. 

03 – Don Redman  (Piedmont (WV) 1900) – New York (NY) 1964) -

Ain’t the lucky one 2:40 (Melvin Endsley)

04 – Bing Crosby & The Boswell Sisters Got the South in my

soul 2:56  (Ned Washington, Victor Young)

The voice of Connee Boswell soaks this song of an unspeakable scent of nostalgia.


























05 – Cab CallowayOld Yazoo 2:52 (Fats Waller)

Made to measure for Hi-De-Ho Man

06 – Mildred Bailey (Mildred Rinker – Tekoa (WA) 1907 – Poughkeepsie (NY) 1951) Rockin’ chair 3:02 (Hoagy Carmichael)

Quite a convincing performance.

07 – The Mills Brothers (Formed in Cincinnati (OH) 1924)Dirt dishin’ daisy 3:13 (Lou Klein)

Humor and talent, that’s what these young four have decidedly to resell.

08 – Jimmie Davis (Quitman (LA) 1899 – Baton Rouge (LA) 2000) - High behind blues 2:48 (Buddy Jones, Jimmie Davis)

09 – The Three Keys (Formed in Chester (PA) 1931) Somebody loses, somebody wins 3:08 (Nat Schwartz, George Whiting, J.C. Johnson)

George Tunell plays the piano, Slim Furness the guitar and Bob Pease the double bass. This trio sticks to the vocal style of the Mills Brothers including a pre-R&B tune.

10 – Kansas City Kitty  (Jane Lucas ?) & Georgia Tom (Thomas Dorsey – Villa Rica (GA) 1899 – Chicago (IL) 1993) How Can you have the blues 2:49 ()

Pianist and composer of gospel, Thomas Dorsey,  known as  Georgia Thom already has a great career behind him when he sings with the mysterious  Kansas City Kitty. Settled in Chicago, he especially played with Ma Rainey.

11 – Billy Banks Yellow dog blues 3:13 (W.C. Handy)

12 – Chick Bullock (Butte (MT) 1908 – CA 1981) Underneath the Harlem moon 2:48 (Harry Revel, Mark Gordon)

   15    Al Bowlly (Lourenço Marques (Angola) 1899 - London (UK) 1941)

Born in Mozambique to a Greek father and a Lebanese mother, he was brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa. He apprenticed as singer in Edgar Adeler's band whose tours took him to India and in Indonesia. Further dismissed after a quarrel, he sails to Europe, settles first in Berlin and then in London where he joins Fred Elizade's jazz band. He knows his first successes but is once again fired and has to sing in the street with his guitar and additionally an ukulele.

He succeeds however in signing a contract with Ray Noble in November, 1930 and sees finally his career taking shape. We say of him not without exaggeration that he invented the "crooning" and was the first "Pop Star" " but there is no doubt that he knew  how to generate some emotion

Tampa Red (Hudson Whittaker – Smithville (GA) 1904 – Chicago (IL) 1981)

Orphan as a child, he was raised by an aunt in Florida who lived in the suburb of Tampa. He learned to play the guitar with a friend and began to live on his music by traveling in bike through the Southern United States. He will therefore follow the classic route of blues musicians which from the street, will bring him in vaudevilles then in nightclubs of Chicago. There he meets the pianist Georgia Thom (Thomas Dorsey) with whom he composes some songs and gets acquainted of Big Bill Broonzy of whom he will become friend. Tampa Red was dubbed the " Guitar Wizard " because of the impressive slides which he realized with his National Steel.

          Love me tonight

  16  This movie directed by Rouben Mamoulian for the Paramount is inspired by a play written in 1924 by Léopold Marchand and Paul Armont, Le Tailleur au Château  (The Tailor in the Castle).

The score was signed by one of the most reknown duet of songwriters, Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers who made it a modern operetta in which dialogs and sung parts are linked together with the action in a continuous way. A deserved success.
















































  18  Jeanette McDonald (Philadelphia (PA) 1903 – Houston (TX) 1965)

She was certainly,in the 30s, the  most popular opera singer performing in movies. Good actress favored besides by a young physics, she was confined with success in torch or romantic roles and allowed to retain a kind of public by offering dreams and escape at a time when people were experiencing a critical phase.

Attracted from her earliest childhood by performing arts, the young Jeanette learnt tap-dancing in front of a mirror and trained her voice by listening to the records of opera which possessed her mother.

Left to New York in 1919 to join her elder sister in chorus line at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway, she quickly rose levels but did not succeed reaching the main roles. It is in 1929 that she was finally noticed by director Ernst Lubitsch when he sought to get for his movies actresses of the Broadway stage. He made of her the star of Love Parade beside Maurice Chevalier. The film won a so promising success  that Paramount was not slow to exploit what it considered a new vein to produce as a result some similar musical comedies.










For once, the story does not happen in Broadway but in a picturesque Paris (as it can be seen from Hollywood) featuring a tailor (Maurice Chevalier) who fault to be paid the work that he performed for a viscount invited himself in his family where he is taken despite him for a baron. He then falls in love with a young widow (Jeanette Mac Donald) who lives confined, unable to find a suitable match. The trickery being eventually discovered after numerous twists funnier than each other, both lovers will finally get together.

The movie takes up the good old recipe of the commoner who falls in love with the princess but adds to it spice and humor. It is always easy to caricature the aristocratic mannerisms but just once will not hurt, Love Me Tonight gets the rudeness, the thoughtlessness, a dose of romanticism and sufficiently suggestive moments so that the censorship saw fit to put it its nose. With his inimitable

French accent, Maurice Chevalier (aka Maurice Courtelin) could not be more comfortable in a genre as he likes. Jeanette Mac Donald shines as for her in a role which perfectly suits her polished image of actress, sweetheart and melancholic (which was not moreover the case behind the camera) to which she adds hesoprano voice.

« Isn’t it romantic ? Â»

The way the song was staging does not lack originality. The most unlikely protagonists were wisely chosen to follow one another taking account the chorus left from the tailor’s workshop to end in the castle of the princess. The fact of staging in a totally moved way a soldiers' patrol in uniforms dating from the war is even rather surprising in a musical. Connoisseurs will recognize however that our friendly squaddies, so true as natural, go on mission in a landscape which reminds the countryside of California rather than France. Nobody's perfect.

Mimi,  a classic of Maurice Chevalier


 17  Among nine songs that counts Love Me Tonight,  the two most known are "Lover" sung by Jeanette MacDonald and "Mimi" that performs Maurice Chevalier. Both become even soon national hits and will appear almost six months in the Top 10 of records sales.





Mimi comes as Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald met for the first time, in a rough way indeed since she hit his car with her horse. Maurice worries about the health of the young woman and immediately falls in love with her. He begins then to perform the song but Jeanette defends herself to be so called. It's in vain, he insists and she is then lulled by his words.

Maurice Chevalier - Mimi

Maurice Chevalier (Paris 1888 - Paris 1972) had the advantage

to be the "handsome boy”, the eternal youth on which years had no

hold. He was the companion of Mistinguett for ten years, well before

that his career leads him to Hollywood where he arrived in 1928.


He masters perfectly English but displays however an accent whoever more than a caricature represents actually a real personal signature. He knows several cinematographic successes as much as sentimental and possesses such an approval rating that Duke Ellington asked him to make the first part of his show on Broadway. He however prefers to give up the Californian studios after some signs of breathlessness and breaks up with MGM in 1935. He returns to Paris where he will be welcomed in hero.

42nd-street.fr - Gerard Tondu

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