The Encyclopedia of American Songs and Musicals
in the "Thirties"
The year in music
2 The musical event of the year occurs on August 25, with the release of The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland.
The movie required a huge budget but the result was to delight the filmgoer. The young heroin whose horizon never went beyond the bare hills of her hamlet in Kansas is propelled following a dream in a fantasy world where she will experience lots of adventures. It will maybe seen there some similarities with Alice in Wonderland but The Wizard of Oz is an American tale, what makes its originality. The special effects are surprising, Technicolor is well controlled, the characters skillfully performed and at 18, Judy Garland fills the screen with her tremendous talent. Curiously, the movie does not get the expected success, failing to truly find its audience. It will take a few years to enter the legend. Nominated for the Academy Award, it will even be upstaged (and there is nothing surprising) by Gone with the Wind released a few months later. However, it will get a reward with Over the Rainbow dedicated Best Song.
1939 definitely brands the consecration of big bands. Anything surprising in fact but if they were for over ten years the bulk of the musical landscape, Glenn Miller who had to mark the time of his imprint has just come out of the shadow. At last ! could it be said, because at 35, he is far from being a newcomer. He was a trombonist in numerous orchestras, played with Red Nichols beside Benny Goodman. He also helped the brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey to set up their own band and worked with Ray Noble. He had during a time formed his own orchestra but had to leave, overfilled by financial concerns. His second attempt is at the moment the right one and a track lets him in straightaway to the legend: Moonlight Serenade. Located on the border of jazz and dance music, his distinctive style will become inseparable from the war years.
3 Another highlight of the year is Artie Shaw who comes with his velvet clarinet to have his first big hit thanks to Begin the Beguine and the sensuality that emanates. He now reiterates with All the Things You Are, a romantic ballad splendidly performed by vocalist Helen Forrest.
Whereas The Andrews Sisters continue to accommodate the traditional repertoire in swing mode, as for proof the earthy Beer Barrel Polka, Billie Holiday evolves in the register of emotion by performing Strange Fruit, one of the most challenging song of her career. It is originally a poem written by professor Abel Meeropol constituting a disquieting plea against racism and lynching, a deadly practice whose victims are predominantly African-Americans. Billie Holiday later confessed that the content was so strong, even so terrifying that she feared not being able to go to the end of the song. Barney Josephson, the owner of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, where occurs the artist found it necessary to create the circumstances for a particular atmosphere, halting the service and placing all the room in the dark with only a spotlight directed onto the face of the artist.
New talents also appear during the year. It is the case of the brothers Ray and Bob Eberle as well as the sisters Marion and Betty Hutton. The Ink Spots confirm their growing popularity with I didn't care and especially My Prayer, a song called to become a standard. Perry Como continues to assert himself in Ted Weems's band and proves that he has the qualities of a true crooner. Bing Crosby is as for him, always very popular as singer and actor, even if it is the first year since almost the beginning of the decade that he does not rank any of his songs at the top of sales.
1939 also marks the end of a successful cycle. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers indeed perform for the last time together in Vernon and Irene Castle, a movie far removed from the screwball genre which was clearly bound to their collaboration. Is it even about a musical ? The story tells the real course of a couple of actors on the eve of World War I. It includes dance choreographies, still very elegant, but these occupy only a secondary place. No songs, not even an original music, just a small tap-dance. The RKO works, according to its habit, in the economy and the overall quality of the movie suffers of it. The couple lost nothing of its complicity but the time seems ripe to turn over a new leaf. There will be thus for once no Happy End, Fred Astaire having the role of a pilot during the war, dies at the end of the movie, when the crash of his plane
A Brave New World
1 Among all the images that marked this year, perhaps the most affecting remains that of the African-American contralto Marian Anderson, a renowned specialist of Verdi, performing on Easter Sunday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in front of more than 75 000 spectators and heard at the same time by millions of listeners stuck to their radio. The event is by itself exceptional but it is mainly a victory over the preppy racism and the spirit of segregation that still haunt the American society. Everything began with the ban made for the artist to occur in Constitution Hall of Washington, the concert hall held bythe very respectable but also conservative Daughters of American Revolution, women
descended from patriots who contributed to the independence of The United States.
Their refusal to welcome a so prestigious personality as Marian Anderson appeared as a decision with a racist nature. The association called for its defense upon a provision of its statutes but the affair made so much noise that Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the President, decided, in reply to return her membership card of the society and to organize an open-air concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The rating of Marian Anderson's popularity was considerably strengthened, encouraging her even to start a fight to bring down one by one the racial barriers. The Daughters of the Revolution eventually wanted to redeem by inviting the contralto to sing in 1943 for the benefit of the American Red Cross.
Dawn of A New Day, is the name that the organizers gave to the World’s Fair of New York which opens on April 30, and has to be held for two years. The chosen date coincides exactly with the 150th birthday of George Washington's nomination in the Presidency of the United States. The project goes back to 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, at a moment when the politicians sought to create an event important enough to overcome the crisis. The fair has to constitute for the American economy a huge tool of promotion. In this purpose, the opening speech of President Roosevelt is not only broadcast on the radio but also on television on more than 200 screens settled for the occasion in several places of New York.
All the new technologies and the last industry jewels are honored. Sixty countries answered the call among which Soviet Union and France which distinguishes itself by the development of a big open space called symbolically Ground of the Peace. Germany declined, as for it, the invitation.
The city of San Francisco inaugurates at the same moment The Golden Gate International Exposition intended to commemorate the achievement of the suspension bridge open two years earlier. This one has for theme the Pacific and its treasures, symbolized by a colossal statue 80 ft. high supposed to represent the goddess of the ocean. It is illuminated at night by spectacular lighting effects that create, according to witnesses, an almost mystic atmosphere.
The explorer and novelist Richard Halliburton who had to arrive there in hero delays however on the way. He made for the opportunity build a Chinese junk, the Sea Dragon which must join Hong-Kong to San Francisco. The crossing starts under the best auspices but the weather suddenly degrades to the passage of Midway Island. The patrol boat of the Navy which follows the expedition captures a last message announcing a major depression, then nothing. The boat and its crew disappeared in the waves.
Months go by and if America tries to keep away from the threats increasingly weighing on its European allies, some incidents remind to what extent neutrality at any price can also lead to bad choices. June 4, in particular, the MS St Louis, a ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees sees refusing the authorization to tie up in Florida. Forced to leave to Europe, most of its passengers will die in the Nazi extermination camps.
It is in this climate of tensions that Albert Einstein writes to President Roosevelt informing him of the desire of Germany to conceive a nuclear weapon and praying him to work without waiting for the development of an atom bomb from uranium. His request is going to be heard and to lead to the Manhattan Project that will use up to 130,000 people.
Events rush indeed in Europe. On August 23 is signed the German-Soviet Pact; on September 1, the Nazi troops enter Poland; 3, France, United Kingdom and New Zealand declare war on Germany; 6, it's the turn of South Africa and on 10 that of Canada to enter the conflict. The United States confirm on the other hand their neutrality.
In this uncertain context, the early release of Al Capone, November 16, almost goes unnoticed. Eaten away by the syphilis, the former king of the Chicago Mob is no more than the shadow of himself.
Bert Lahr Ray Bolger Jack Haley
Opera singer Marian Anderson
Washington DC, 1939
4 The Wizard Of Oz
the movie credits
Direction : Victor Fleming
Production ; Victor Fleming, Melvin LeRoy , Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Screenplay: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf, based on the
novel by L. Frank Baum published in 1900
Score : Herbert Stothart, Harold Arlen, "Yip" Harburg
Acteors : Judy Garland (Dorothy Gale), Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz), Bert Lahr
(Zeke, Cowardly Lion), Ray Bolger (Hunk, the Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Hickory,
the Tin Man), Margaret Hamilton (Miss Gulch, the Witch of the East/West)
The idea of such a movie slept in drawers for already a few years and it is certain
that the success of Snow White urged Metro-Goldwyn Mayer to move to the
implementation phase. Shirley Temple was originally approached to hold Dorothy
Gale's role but 20th Century Fox having refused to free her, the choice fell on Judy
Garland already under contract with MGM. Many artists were anticipated in the
same way to the other roles. The casting however has proved difficult to complete.
Renowned actors as Wallace Beery and W.C. Fields were requested in particular to
embody the magician but they were too expensive and it is finally Frank Morgan
who won the decision.
Buddy Ebsen seemed the ideal actor to play the Tin man, yet he had to give up,
unable to withstand the constraints of makeup. Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger made
however immediately unanimously, like Margaret Hamilton whose physical
appearance perfectly suited to perform the witch.
(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg)
Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can’t I ?
Following the example of White Christmas written by Irving Berlin and introduced in 1942 by Bing Crosby, this song was adopted by U.S. troops fighting in Europe during World War II. It was considered as a symbol of the distant United States, looking like a dream beyond a rainbow.
Harold Arlen and " Yip " Harburg, two composers on the Broadway scene who possess to their credit a host of hits were hired to write the songs.
These fit into the usual vein of Hollywood musical, light, rhythmic, dotted with humor and effective musical effects, merging in order to keep the whole a real homogeneity. Follow the yellow brick road, If I had a brain, If I had a heart, If I had the nerve, Let’s Off to See the Wizard, The Merry Old Land of Oz, punctuate the various stages of Dorothy's course according to a principle of repetition which becomes at the same time familiar and reassuring, matching the alarming rhythms which mark out the appearances of the witch. Remains Over the Rainbow, the worship song of the movie that had even to be removed because of its too big gap with the general spirit of the comedy. Producers would have had a great harm to pass through as it has since never ceased to move generations by the timelessness and universality of its message. She mentioned that part of ideal and dream which is in everyone, this desire to a distant earth necessarily better than the hopeless world that life offers usually.
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, teenagers at the top
5 Babes in arms (MGM)
The Andy Hardy character worked so well that
MGM extended on screen the couple Judy Garland -
Mickey Rooney in a new series of musicals
Babes in arms is adapted this time of a musical
released two years earlier on Broadway including
some songs like My Funny Valentine and The Lady is a Tramp which are on the way to become standards. The subject is however completely rewritten and most of the songs removed in order to give a new look to the story. There is generally a gap between the Broadway stages and the Hollywood studios but we must recognize that the film adaptation does
have, in this case, very little in common with the original production. The story is about two young talented artists who put on a show despite opposition of their parents and manage to overcome the obstacles to go up to Broadway.
The new score has been assigned to the songwriters
Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, two veterans
well-versed in this kind of exercise who get through
rather good with in particular a catchy Good
Morning (a song which will be covered in 1952 in the
movie Singing in the Rain). Mickey Rooney shows in
this movie impersonator's true talent. He is moreover
engaged in the final sequence in a small number in
which he mocks Franklin Roosevelt and his wife
Eleanora. The scene will moreover be cut in 1945, at the
time of the death of the President.
Director : Busby Berkeley
Screenplay : Jack Gowan et Kay Van Riper based on the musical written Lorenz Hardt and Richard Rodgers released on Broadway in1937.
Actors : Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Charles Winniger, Guy Kinnee, Grace Hayes...
Good Morning (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown)
With Babes in Arms, Busby Berkeley signs here a remarkable musical, full of freshness and enthusiasm. He has lost nothing of his way to emphasize the characters. Judy Garland is of a real elegance there and we can only be sensitive to the way the director highlights the complicity which seems to prevail between the young actors. Mickey Rooney is on his side there also "stunning" as possible in his pianist's role.
This original version is also more peppy than the better known cover performed by Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the Rain (1952).
6 The essential hits of 1939 (1)
01 – Glenn Miller (Clarinda (IA) 1904 - airplane crash above the Channel dec. 15, 1944) feat. Marion Hutton (Marion Thornburg -Battle Creek (MI) 1919 – Kirkland (WA)1987) & Tex Beneke (Fort Worth (TX) 1915 – Costa Mesa (CA) 2000) – Three Little Fishies 3:00 (Saxie Dowell)
One the hits of the year also recorded by Hal Kemp and the Smoothies or still by Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey.
02 – Ella Fitzgerald (Newport News (VA) 1917 – Beverly Hills (CA) 1996) with Chick Webb & His Orchestra (Baltimore (MD) 1905 – Baltimore (MD) 1939) – F.D.R. Jones 2:58 (Harold J. Rome)
Extracted from the show Sing out the News introduced in 1938 by Rex Ingram, this song covered in particular by Cab Calloway, Judy Garland and the Mills Brothers, illustrates clearly the popularity which enjoyed President of the United States with the African-American community. There were indeed many children who were named after Franklin Delano Roosevelt (F.D.R.).
03 – Judy Garland (Frances Ethel Gumm – Grand Rapids (MN) 1922 – London (UK) 1969) –
(Somewhere ) Over the rainbow 2:50 (Harold Arle, “Yip” Harburg) One of the major songs of the 20th century.
04 – Artie Shaw (Arthur Arshawsky – New Haven (CT) 1910 – Newbury Park (CA) 2004) feat. Helen Forrest
(Helen Fogel – Atlantic City (NJ) 1917 – Los Angeles (CA) 1999)
- All the things you are 2:57 (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II)
This song created for the musical Very Warm for May consists of a harmonious progress the complexity of which inspired the greatest jazzmen especially as Charlie Parker. Tommy Dorsey has just ranked it n°1 shortly before Artie Shaw makes it a moment of legend thanks to Helen Forrest's vocal performance.
05 – Bing Crosby (Tacoma (WA) 1903 – Madrid (Esp.)1977) – I cried for you 3:10 (Abe Lyman, Arthur Freed , Gus Arnheim)
This cover of song written in 1923 illustrates rather well a lasting taste of the 30s for the sentimental repertoire
06 – Benny Goodman (Chicago (IL) 1906 – New York (NY)) feat. Martha Tilton (Corpus Christi (TX) 1915 – Brentwood (CA) 2006) – And the angels sing 2:46 (Ziggy Elman, Johnny Mercer)
A n° 1 of the year which owed its success to the outsatnding performance of trumpeter Harry James.
07 – Erskine Hawkins (Birmingham (AL) 1914 – Willingboro (NJ) 1993) feat. Merle Turner (Charleston (NC) ?) – I hadn’t anyone till you 3:00 (Ray Noble)
Erskine Hawkins composes the same year Tuxedo Junction called to become, through Glenn Miller, one of the major hits of the early 40s.
08 – The Andrews Sisters (Formed in Minneapolis (MN) 1925) – Beer barrel polka 2:50 (James Whitcomb Riley, 1900)
This song composed in 1927 by the Czech musician Vejvoda was ranked No. 1 in the world and in the United States courtesy of the German conductor Will Glahe's version. It is however the adaptation that made the Andrews Sisters which bequeathed it to posterity.
09 – The Merry Macks (formed in 1930 Minneapolis (MN) by the McMichael brothers Judd (1906-1989) Joe (1916-1944 ) and Ted (1908-200) and vocalist Helen Carroll (since 1936) – My cat fell in the well 2 :56 (Billy Moll, Dick Robertson, Terry Shand)
10 – Kay Kyser (Rocky Mount (NC) 1905 – Chapel Hill (NC) 1985) feat. Ginny Simms (San Antonio (TX) 1913 – Palm Springs (CA) 1994) – Indian summer 3:13 (Victor Herbert, Al Dubin)
Victor Herbert had composed this tune for the piano en 1919 but it did not become a hit before 1939 when Al Dubin adds lyrics.
11 – Bob Chester (Detroit (MI) 1904 – Detroit (MI) 1975) & His Orchestra feat Kathleen Lane (Rocky Mount (NC) 1905 – Chapel Hill (NC) 1985) – Shoot the sherbet to me Herbert 3:01 (Slim Gaillard, Greer)
12 – Billie Holiday (Eleonora Gough – Baltimore (MD) 1915 – New York (NY) 1959) – The man I love 4:47 (George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin)
This song written in 1924 under the original title " The Girl of Love " was part of the show Lady Be Good whose satirical allusions to the government policy had been the source of a controversy. Covered in the antimilitarist musical Srike up the band (1927) and in Ziegfeld's Rosalie (1928), the song was censored again. Vaughn De Leath and Helen Morgan made afterward two performances of quality but the version of Billie Holiday will remain the most known.
8 Bob Chester (Detroit (MI) 1904 – Detroit (MI) 1975)
He knows in 1939 his finest hour. Saxophonist rather endowed, he had played in particular in the orchestra of Ben Pollack but while being inspired by Glenn Miller's sound he forms his own band in Detroit. The adventure seems promising to the point that CBS announces him on its radio show as The New Sensation of the Nation but despite the qualities of his musicians and the reputation of his vocalist Kathleen Lane, he fails to get contracts outside Ohio and has to dissolve within a few months.
Kay Kyser (Rocky Mount (NC) 1905 – Chapel Hill (NC) 1985)
He just graduated from the University of North Carolina when he had the opportunity to take over the orchestra of Hal Kemp, called in the North. He toured with his musicians throughout Midwest, proving to be a mostly good clarinetist. He excelled on the other hand at evenings entertainment and got soon a strong reputation in Chicago when dressed in teacher, he organizes from 1938, a musical quiz which becomes fast very popular on the radio. So named, The Kay Kyser Kollege of Musical Knowledge, will make moreover numerous emulators. He also appears in 1939 in That Right You' re Wrong, a full-length movie released by RKO starring Adolphe Menjou and Lucille Ball in which he performs under his own name.
Kyser also knows how to surround himself with musicians and singers of quality such as Harry Babbitt and Ginny Simms called both to noticeable careers.
9 Ginny Simms (Virginia Eastvold – San Antonio (TX) 1913 – Palm Springs (CA) 1994)
She completes her studies in Fresno with the idea to become a concert pianist but turns finally to singing, forming in college a vocal trio which fast reaches some recognition. She then regularly takes part to radio broadcasts and performs since 1932 in the band of Tom Gerun based in San Francisco, giving her the opportunity to get to know Tony Martin and Woody Herman.
She joins in 1938 the band of
Kay Kyser whereby she will soon acquire a national dimension. She then appears in That’s Right You' re Wrong beside Lucille Ball, a movie which is for her the prelude to an honorable film career.
7 Glenn Miller, a special magician of sound
Glenn Miller (Clarinda (IA) 1904 - airplane crash above the Channel dec. 15, 1944)
His recognizable style between all sums up alone the period of big bands. The picture which represents him in uniform of the US Air Force and his untimely death at 40 above the Channel while he was flying to Paris to give a concert to the G.I. made him of more a real myth, associating indissolubly with his memory the music of the war years.
It is nevertheless only in 1939 that he finds finally his place in the inner-circle of fashionable conductors. He joins at last names so prestigious as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Jimmie Lunceford, Larry Clinton, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Count Basie, getting even ready to pass them.
Born to parents farmers, he spends his childhood in Iowa and Missouri. The little Glenn shows very early his aptitude for music. He begins by learning to play the mandolin then buys a trombone with the money earned to milk cows. He even manages to enter the local brass band for his 13 years when his parents decide to move to Colorado.
He completes there his studies in college but wishes above all to become a professional musician. His style: dance music.
He spends then some time at the University of Denver without real motivation and gives up finally the classes to dedicate himself to the study of the technique taught
by the composer Joseph Schillinger of whom he somehow makes his tutor. This one developed a theory of the composition based on exclusively mathematical principles and although controversial, he has many followers among whom George Gershwin, Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey.
Glenn Miller begins his professional career in the band of Ben Pollack. He meets there Benny Goodman with whom he composes in particular Room 1411, an instrumental recorded in 1928 for Brunswick. He joins later the band of Red Nichols based in New York and proposes from 1930 his services as a freelance trombonist and arranger. He has, as such, the opportunity to work with the Dorsey Brothers, the Boswell Sisters and
contributes to the development of the famous American orchestra of
the English bandleader Ray Noble.
He decides in 1937 to form his own band but for lack of proposing a
differentiated style, the success does not come and he has to give up.
He understands while he needs to stand out with a
really new sound. He decides for it to make play the
melodic line by a clarinet accompanied with a
saxophone holding the same note a semitone lower
whereas three other saxophones harmonize an octave
below. He also needs an original soloist capable of
generating a tone never heard to there. The saxophonist
Wilbur Schwartz fits perfectly to what he expects. His
playing brings immediately a richness and fullness which
will be the trademark of the Miller style. He begins to
record in September, 1938 for RCA Victor and Bluebird
Records and finds finally through the businessman
If Shriman, the financial support he lacked during his first
experience. The next spring, his concerts in New York
His records literallly snap up. He tops the jukeboxes
and it is a massive hit: 115 000 copies of Tuxedo Junction are
sold in one week. The purists are generally reluctant to
classify his music in the jazz category under the pretext it is too structured and too disciplined to grant place to improvisation or to spontaneity. He nevertheless made throughout his career in an environment widely influenced by jazz but also let us recognize the originality of his method, the completion of his technique and his ability to synthesize the currents.
The music of Glenn Miller holds finally its originality of its consensuality. It is jazz in spirit, swing in rhythm, " dance " in the form and thus able to appeal to audiences.
Kay Kyser et Ginny Simms
10 The essential hits of 1939 (2)
01 – Glenn Miller (Clarinda (IA) 1904 - airplane crash above the Channel dec. 15, 1944) feat. Ray Eberle (Hoosick Falls (NY) 1919 –Douglasville (GA) 1979) – Stairway to the stars 2:53 (Matty Malneck, Mitchell Parish)
02 - Benny Goodman (Chicago (IL) 1906 – New York (NY)) feat. Mildred Bailey (Mildred Rinker-Tecoa (WA) 1907 – Poughkeepsie (NY) 1951) – Scatter brain 2:44 (Johnny Burke, Frankie Masters)
03 – Ella Fitzgerald (Newport News (VA) 1917 – Beverly Hills (CA) 1996) & His Orchestra – Moon ray 3:01 (Artie Quenzer, Artie Shaw, Paul Madison)
04 – Tommy Dorsey (Shenandoah (PA) 1905 – Greenwich (CT) 1956) feat. Jack Leonard (Brooklyn (NY) 1914 – Woodland Hills (CA) 1988) – All the things you are 3:22 (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II)
05 – Al Donahue (Dorchester (MA) 1904 Fallbrook (CA) 1983) feat. Paula Kelly (Grove City (PA) 1919 – Costa Mesa (CA) 1992) – Jeepers creepers 2:46 (Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer)
One of the numerous versions of the hit introduced the previous by Louis Armstrong in the movie Going Places in which he reaches by his song to soothe Jeepers Creepers, a race horse particularly hard to break in.
06 – Billie Holiday (Eleonora Gough – Baltimore (MD) 1915 – New York (NY) 1959) – More than you know 3:05 (Billy Rose, Edward Eliscu, Vincent Youmans)
07 – Glenn Miller feat. Marion Hutton (Marion Thornburg - Battle Creek (MI) 1919 – Kirkland (WA)1987) & Tex Beneke (Fort Worth (TX) 1915 – Costa Mesa (CA) 2000) - Ain’t cha comin’ out 2:40 (Bert Kalmar, Harry Rubin )
08 – Harriett Nelson (Des Moines (IA) 1909 – Laguna Beach (CA) 1994) – No Mama no 2:00 (Nat Gonella)
After promising debut, Harriet abandons the film to dedicate herself exclusively to the song in the band led by Ozzie Nelson, her husband since 1935.
09 – Charlie Barnet (New York (NY) 1913 – San Diego (CA) 1991) feat. Judy Ellington (Helen Fogel – Atlantic City (NJ) 1917 – Los Angeles (CA) 1999) – It must have been two other people 3:06 (Arthur Altman, Carmen Lombardo, Jack Lawrence )
Song introduced by Fred Astaire in the movie Carefree.
10 - Orrin Tucker (St Louis (MO) 1911 – South Pasadena (CA) 2011) feat “Wee” Bonnie Baker (Evelyn Nelson – Orange (TX) 1917 – Fort Lauderdale (FL) 1990) – Oh ! Johny, Oh ! Johnny, Oh ! (Abe Olman, Ed Rose)
Saxophonist and bandleader, Orrin Tucker had his greatest hit with this song recorded in Los Angeles which will be a chart-topper in 1940. Bonnie Baker had since 1936 become the official singer of his orchestra further to Louis Armstrong's recommendation.
11 – Red Norvo (Kenneth Norville – Beardstown (IL) 1908 – Santa Monica (CA) 1999) & Mildred Bailey – Says my heart 2:58 (Burton Lane, Frank Loesser)
Song also performed by Bille Holiday and the Andrews Sisters.
12 – Louis Jordan (Brinkley (AR) 1908 – Los Angeles (CA) 1975) – Honeysuckle rose 3:04 (Andy Razaf, Fats Waller)
A quite personal version of a hit introduced by Fats Waller in 1934.
11 The Hutton Sisters
Childhood hardly smiled to Marion
and her little sister Elizabeth.
Depressive, their father, a railroad
employee, deserted his family when
they were quite young and it is
much later that they will learn
about his suicide. Mabel, their
mother has to raise them alone
and takes advantage of her small
experience of theater to form a
vocal trio with her daughters.
This one occurs from 1924 in speakeasies, these numerous clandestine bars which bloom under Prohibition. The ceaseless trouble with the police require however the family to pull up stakes and move to Detroit.
Both sisters sing then in various bands.
Marion is spotted in 1938 by Glenn Miller and his wife Helen. She is still only 17 years and the couple chooses to adopt her officially to authorize her to sing in the nightclubs.
From her part, Betty leaves trying her luck in New York in the hope to be hired on Broadway. She begins by suffering refusals but manages to find a support in the person of the bandleader Vincent Lopez with whom she records her first hit Old Man Moses is Dead. She sees therefore open the doors of show busines and appears in 1939 in several short films for Warner.
Betty Hutton (Elizabeth June Thornburg - Battle Creek (MI) 1921 – Palm Springs (CA) 2007).
Marion Hutton (Marion Thornburg -Battle Creek (MI) 1919 – Kirkland (WA)1987)
12 The Eberle brothers
The fact of having won on
the radio the Allen
Amateur Hour directs Bob
to a professional career
which starts in the clubs of
the County of Rensselaer
of which he is native. It is
there that he gets noticed
in 1935 by the Dorsey
brothers seeking at the
time to compensate for Bob
Jimmy decides to hire him
in the band which he is forming. It will be for them the beginning of a long collaboration. Bob Eberly will indeed remain faithful to him, in spite of numerous proposals. Remarkable singer, he sometimes bears comparison with Bing Crosby.
It is thanks to his older brother that Ray succeeds in fact in becoming a professional singer by being hired in the Glenn Miller orchestra. Without real music training, he is sometimes a headache for the musicians of the band but eventually ends up, despite the criticism, to get a real success.
Bob Eberly (Robert Eberle - Mechanicville (NY) 1916 – Glen Burnie (MD) 1981)
Ray Eberle (Hoosick Falls (NY) 1919 –Douglasville (GA) 1979)
13 Strange Fruit, a highlight in the career of Billie Holiday
Abel Meeropol, a Jewish professor of New York published this poem in 1936 in the Marxist
review The New Masses before putting it in music and performing it with his wife. By targeting
directly the practice of lynching, still common in the Southern States, it denounced the racial
segregation and the indefensible violence of behaviors in front of which the justice closed eyes.
This was not a political, still less an ideological plea, but rather a series of images intended to
challenge the audience and cause a reaction.
After hearing this song, the owner of the Cafe Society, located in Greenwich Village, suggested to
Billie Holiday to add it to her repertoire but she hesitated. She first had to integrate the strength of the words and the question was to know how their message would be received by the public. She did not even know if she would succeed in dominating her emotion and sing without failing so much it revived the memories of her father.
Billie Holiday actually knew so well to appropriate it that she caused the expected shock. Cafe Society sold out. From the listening of the first notes, the public began to hold his breath, the silence became total, only a spotlight illuminated the face of the singer, the emotion was on edge. Billie Holiday finished each performance literally worn out.
However, Columbia pushed away the date of the recording, fearing a strong reaction from people
of the South. This one finally took place and the intro of a little over a minute was added to obtain
a timing in compliance with the usual standards. Strange Fruit was considered as the first real
"Protest Song" intended to denounce the scandal of the segregation and its most perverse effect,
the lynching. A journalist of the New York Post wrote for that purpose that the oppressed of the
South held with it their anthem.
Strange Fruit (Abel Meeropol)
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
14 The essential hits of 1939 (3)
01 – Artie Shaw (Arthur Arshawsky – New Haven (CT) 1910 – Newbury Park (CA) 2004) feat. Helen Forrest (Helen Fogel – Atlantic City (NJ) 1917 – Los Angeles (CA) 1999) – Day in, day out 3:28 (Rube Bloom, Johnny Mercer)
This song will be covered by artists like Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland,….
02 - Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra (Louisville (KY) 1909 – New York (NY) 2002) – Big Wig in the wigwam 2:31 (Byron Bradley, Kenneth Case, Roe Alexander)
Undoubtedly one of the major hits of the year , covered in particuliar by Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman, Stuff Smith and Erskine Hawkins.
03 – Jimmy Dorsey (Shenandoah (PA) 1904 – New York (NY) 1957) feat. Bob Eberly (Mechanicville (NY) 1916 – Glen Burnie (MD) 1981) – South of the border 3:00 (Jimmy Kennedy, Michael Carr)
Song introduced by Gene Autry in the movie of the same name directed by George Sherman.
04 – Glenn Miller (Clarinda (IA) 1904 - airplane crash above the Channel dec. 15, 1944) feat. Ray Eberle (Hoosick Falls (NY) 1919 –Douglasville (GA) 1979) – Wishing (Will make it so) 2:50 (Budy DeSylva, Horace Henderson) Song ranked No. 1 in june 1939.
05 – Hal Kemp (James Harold Kemp – Marion (AL) 1905 - Madera (CA) 1940) &
The Smoothies (Grove City (PA) 1919 – Costa Mesa (CA) 1992) – Three little fishies 3:22 (Saxie Dowell)
06 – Glen Gray (Glen Gray Knoblauch – Metamora (IL) 1900 – 1963) & The Casa Loma Orchestra (Formed in Toronto (ONT) 1929) – Heaven can wait 3:05 (Eddie DeLange, James Van Heusen)
With its languorous style and an the finest instrumental work, The Casa Loma Orchestra appeared since the early 30s among the most popular dance bands of the continent.
07 – Betty Hutton (Battle Creek (MI) 1921 – Palm Springs (CA) 2007) with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra (Brooklin (NY) 1895 – Miami Beach (FL) 1975) – Old man Mose is dead 2:37 (Zilner Randolph )
An impressive, stunning number. Betty Hutton makes a splash as much by her vitality as by her maturity. Amazing for a 18-year-old young woman.
08 – Bing Crosby (Des Moines (IA) 1909 – Laguna Beach (CA) 1994) & Connee Boswell – Between 18th and 19th on Chestnut Street 3:04 (Will Osborne, Dick Roger)
09 – Ella Fitzgerald (Newport News (VA) 1917 – New York (NY) 1996) – My heart belongs to daddy 3:05 (Cole Porter)
Song written for the musical Leave it to me ! released on Broadway in November, 1938 and introduced by Mary Martin. It will be immortalized some 21 years later byMarilyn Monroe in the movie Let's Make Love.
10 – Louis Prima (New Orleans (LA) 1911 – New Orleans (LA) 1978) – Of thee I sing 2:59 (George & Ira Gershwin )
Cover of a song written for the musical of the same name released on Broadway in 1931
11 – Duke Ellington (Washington DC? 1899 - New York (NY) 1974) feat. Ivie Anderson (Gilroy (CA) 1905 - Los Angeles (CA) 1949) – I’m checkin’ out, goo’m bye 2:28 (Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn)
12 – The Ink Spots (Brinkley (AR) 1908 – Los Angeles (CA) 1975) – My prayer 3:11 (Georges Boulanger, Jimmy Kennedy)
Composed to be only played on tthe piano, this song dated 1926 entitled « Avant de mourir » (Before dying) became a hit in 1939 thanks to the lyrics added by Jimmy Kennedy. Glenn Miller ranked it No. 2 of sales while the Ink Spots' version reached No. 3.
16 The essential hits of the year (4)
01 – Tommy Dorsey (Shenandoah (PA) 1905 – Greenwich (CT) 1956) feat. Jack Leonard (Brooklyn (NY) 1914 – Woodland Hills (CA) 1988) – Blue rain 3:18 (James Van Heusen, Johnny Mercer)
02 – Benny Goodman (Chicago (IL) 1906 – New York (NY) 1987) feat. Louise Tobin (Aubrey (TX) 1918) – There’ll be some changes made 2:31 (Billy Higgins, W. Benton, Overstreet, Walter Donaldson )
03 – Jack Teagarden (Vernon (TX) 1905 – New Orleans (LA) 1964) feat. Kitty Kallen (Philadelphia (PA) 1922) – At least you could say hello 3:15 (Charles J. McCarthy, Louis Robertson, Sammy Mysels)
04 – Bing Crosby (Tacoma (WA) 1903 – Madrid (Esp) 1977) & Frances Langford (Frances Newbern – Lajeland (FL) 1913 - Jensen Beach (FL) 2005) – I’m falling in love with someone 2:50 (Rida Johnson Young, Victor Herbert)
05 – Cab Calloway (Rochester (NY) 1907 – Hockessin (DE) 1994 ) – The Jumpin’ Jive 2:50 (Cab Calloway, Frank Froeba, Jack Palmer)
One of the biggest hits of the year-end with over one million records sold.
06 – Bob Hope (Eltham, London (UK) 1903 – Los Angeles (CA) 2003) & Shirley Ross (Beatrice Gaunt – Omaha (NE) 1913 – Menlo Park (CA) 1975) – Two sleepy people 2:56 (Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser)
Song introduced in themovie Thanks for the Memory directed for Paramount.
07 – Maxine Sullivan (Marietta Williams – Homestead (PA) 1911 -New York (NY) 1987) – Corn pickin’ 3:19 (Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer)
08 – Sammy Kaye & His Orchestra (Samuel Zamocay – Lakewood (OH) 1910 – Ridgewood (NJ) 1987) feat. Jimmy Brown & The Three Barons (Tacoma (WA) 1903 – Madrid (Esp.)1977) – Penny Serenade 3:17 (Arthur William Halifax, Melle Weersma)
09 – Benny Goodman feat. Louise Tobin – I didn’t know what time it was 2:35 (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rogers)
Song written the same year by Richard Kollmar and Marcy Westcott for the musical Too Many Girls . Artie Shaw releases his own version practically at the same moment as Benny Goodman.
10 – Tony Martin (Alvin Morris – Oakland (CA) 1913) – It’s a blue world 2:40 (George Forrest, Robert Wright)
Cover of a song introduced in the musical of the same name released on Broadway in 1931.
11 – The Dandridge Sisters (Formed in Los Angeles (CA) 1934) – Undecided 2:47 (Charlie Shavers, Sydney Robin)
After their success in Cotton Club, the three sisters spend summer on tour in England and in Ireland. It is exactly during their stopover in London that they record Undecided, a song which already belongs to Ella Fitzgerald's repertoire.
12 – Billie Holiday (Eleonora Gough – Baltimore (MD) 1915 – New York (NY) 1959) – Strange fruit 3:03 (Abel Meropool)
No comment, just listen.
15 Chick Webb, the little giant has gone
Chick Webb's already weak health steadily declined for
months but he wished to continue his tour, refusing to
self-pity. Really exhausted after each concert, he is finally
transported to Baltimore hospital to undergo there the operation
of the last chance but it is unfortunately already too late. He
dies on June 16 at just 34 years uttering these last words " I' m
sorry, I have to go ". Chick Webb leaves behind him the memory of an energetic conductor all the more praiseworthy as spinal cord disease contracted during his childhood had deprived him growing normal and distorted his body.
We must to him especially to have launched Ella Fitzgerald's career and made of the drums one of the essential instruments of the jazz.
Chick Webb feat. Ella Fitzgerald - Undecided
17 New talents on view
Louise Tobin (Aubrey (TX) 1918)
This native of Texas would certainly have a
brilliant career if her husband, the famous
trumpeter Harry James had not asked her to
give up so early the song. She had been
known from 1935 with the band of Ben Pollack
but she owed especially to Benny Goodman to
record with him in 1939 two exceptional songs
of which There' ll be Some Changes, called
however to be a hit only in 1941.
Kitty Kallen (Philadelphia (PA) 1922- Mexico 2016 )
It all started badly for the little Katie when after winning her first song contest, her father imposed her a tough correction, convinced that she had stolen the trophy. He soon had to admit his mistake and allowed her daughter, barely aged ten years old to participate in her first radio broadcasts including The Children's Hour. She began her professional career with the young bandleader Jan Savitt then moved in 1938 to work alongside Artie Shaw before ending up in 1939 in
the band of Jack Teagarden with whom she recorded in August her first hits.
Tony Martin (Alvin Morris – Oakland (CA) 19136- Los Angeles (CA) 2012)
Born in a family of Jewish immigrants, he discovered music at the age of ten when his grandmother offered him a saxophone in birthday present.
This incites him to turn to a musician's career and he forms his first band from college, claiming otherwise strong qualities of bariton. Left trying his luck in Hollywood, he has a first small role dressed in sailor in Follow the Fleet (1936) alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers before appearing during the next years in several musicals shot for the 20th Century Fox and Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Married in 1937 to the actress and singer Alice Faye, he occurs from this time in the orchestra of Ray Noble with whom he records his first songs. He appears in 1939 in the bands of Victor Young and Ray Sinatra where his crooner voice, both hot and powerful foreshadows the generation of singers who will dominate the 40s.
19 The Dandridge Sisters
Formed at first under the name of Wonder Kids, the vocal trio consisted of both sisters Vivian and
Dorothy Dandridge and of Etta Jones
becomes famous in 1934 by winning an
important song contest organized in
Los Angeles by the radio station KNX.
Dorothy has already begun an actress's
career in Hollywood when the group
moves in 1936 to New York at the
invitation of the Cotton Club. The sisters
make a strong impression and soon
become regular boarders of the famous
night club alongside Jimmie
Lunceford, Cab Calloway and the
Nicholas Brothers, a duet of very spectacular acrobatic dancers. They also have the opportunity to perform at the Apollo Theater and leave in June, 1939 for a big tour through England and Ireland. Their program will unfortunately be bobtailed three months later due to the outbreak of the war in Europe.
Vivian Dandridge (Cleveland (OH) 1921 – 1991)
Dorothy Dandridge (Cleveland (OH) 1922 – West Hollywood (CA) 1965)
Irene Daye (Lawrence (MA) 1918 – Greenvile (SC) 1971)
She has just ended her studies in High School when she joins at 17 Jan Murphy's big band. She stays there two years before being hired by Mal Hallett considered then as a real talent scout. It is there that in 1938, she gets to know Gene Krupa of whom she will during three years become the official singer. Her marriage with the trumpeter Corky Cornelius will prematurely put an end to her career.
18 The essential hits of the year (5)
01 – Woody Herman (Woodrow Charles Herman – Milwaukee (WI) 1913 – Los Angeles (CA) 1987) – For tonight 3:23 (Paul Mann, Stephan Weiss, Kim Gannon)
02 - Gene Krupa (Chicago (IL) 190ç – New York (NY) 1973) feat Irene Daye (Lawrence (MA) 1918 – Greenville (SC) 1971) – You taught met to love again 2:50 (Tommy Dorsey, Henry Woode, Charles Carpenter)
03 – Tommy Dorsey (Shenandoah (PA) 1905 – Greenwich (CT) 1956) feat. Jack Leonard (Brooklyn (NY) 1914 – Woodland Hills (CA) 1988) – This is it 2:19 (Dorothy Fields, Arthur Schwartz)
04 – Bing Crosby (Tacoma (WA) 1903 – Madrid (Esp.)1977) & Connee Boswell (New Orleans (LA ) 1905 – New York (NY) 1976) – An apple for the teacher 3:05 (James V. Monaco, Johnny Burke)
05 – Slim & Slam (Bulee Gaillard – Detroit (MI 1916 – London (UK) 1991/ Leroy Stexart – Englewood (NJ) 1914 – Binghamton (NY) 1987) – Tutti Frutti 2:24 (Gaillard)
06 – Benny Goodman (Chicago (IL) 1906 – New York (NY)) feat. Martha Tilton (Corpus Christi (TX) 1915 – Brentwood (CA) 2006) – Shut eye 2:44 ()
07 – Ella Fitzgerald (Newport News (VA) 1917 – Beverly Hills (CA) 1996) with Chick Webb & His Orchestra (Baltimore (MD) 1905 – Baltimore (MD) 1939) - Undecided 2:40 (Charlie Shavers )
One of the last songs recorded by Chick Webb and certainly one the best.
08 – The Ink Spots (Formed in New York (NY) 1934) – If I Didn’t care 2:00 (Jack Lawrence)
09 – Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters with The John Scott Trotter Orchestra – Yodelin’ jive 2:56 (Michael Prince, Don Raye )
10 – Jimmie Lunceford (Fulton (MS) 10902 – Seaside (OR) 1947) – Blues in the night 2:44 (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer)
One of the very first versions of this unescapable standard.
11 – Glenn Miller (Clarinda (IA) 1904 - airplane crash above the Channel dec. 15, 1944) feat. Ray Eberle (Hoosick Falls (NY) 1919 –Douglasville (GA) 1979) – Oh, you crazy moon 3:25 (Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen)
12 – Perry Como (Cannonsburg (PA) 1912 – Jupiter (FL) 2001) with Ted Weems & His Orchestra (Brinkley (AR) 1908 – Los Angeles (CA) 1975) – I wonder who’s kissing her now 3:17 (Joseph E. Howard, Harold Orlob, Will M. Hough, Frank R. Adams)
Chicago (IL) , State Street, Christmas 1939
20 The Blues at the crossroads
It is in Chicago that is now focusing much of the creativity in the blues. Since the sudden death of Robert Johnson,
the music icubator that was, a few years earlier, the Delta seems quite deserted. The rough tunings of guitars and the
haunting refrains of singers are now far from the public tastes, in particular the White audience
which forms in fact the main part of the blues lovers. At a moment when prevail the stars of the jazz stage and the big
bands, where fashion is in boogie-woogie and where gospel pervades American homes, one expects from
bluesmen to propose also modernity. It is therefore necessary to travel to Chicago where always reigns a real emulation.
The artists got there used to play together and offer increasingly sophisticated arrangements, introducing
instruments usually reserved for jazz. Big Bill Broonzy was the first to be surrounded with musicians but others
follow now his way. 1939 remains however a transition year as much as the electric guitar that will soon appear as a
basic instrument is still barely discernible. Lonnie Johnson had a go at it with a real success but the implementation
poses some technical problems. The guitar is naturally a portable instrument, easy to carry, which is played
anywhere, but electricity is a new strain and is more an investment.
Lester Melrose, the producer of Bluebird Records considers as urgent to give to the blues a new impulse. He is convinced that it must get rid of the shackles of its rube origins and find a second breath. He records for it in July iconic Big Bill Broonzy with his new electric guitar together with harmonicist Sonny Boy Williamson. A new sound has just taken shape.
Among the events of the year, let us quote the arrival to Chicago of Tommy McClennan, straight from his native Mississippi. Strongly influenced by Robert Johnson, he distinguishes himself by the outstanding quality of his voice. He records in November for Bluebird but his growing success is quickly tarnished by an outspoken which is for a black musician a weighty handicap to a mostly white audience. Like many fans, the small world of blues is crying too this year the loss of female vocalist Ma Rainey, glory of the 1910s and 1920s who at the time launched the career of Louis Armstrong. Memphis Minnie just dedicates one of her songs.
21 The strange destiny of Tommy McClennan
Native of Yazoo City, in the heart of the Delta, he is already more than 30 years old when he arrives in Chicago at the invitation of Lester Melrose, the tireless agent of Bluebird. This one went to see him play one year earlier in Mississippi on the advice of Big Bill Broonzy. Melrose always seeks the rare pearl and thinks of having found it in McClennan, a self-taught guitarist trained at the school of pioneers such as Tommy Johnson and
Charley Patton. Having never left the Delta, he only knows the juke-joints where he occurs occasionally and the cotton fields where he works but he possesses on the other hand an amazing way of singing, an exceptional voice which grants by certain sides Charley Patton's vigor to Robert Johnson's subtlety.
Melrose takes him under his wing and sends him without waiting to the studio. The magic, however, will not operate for long. Apart from his use in one of the titles of the word "nigger" judged scandalous by the African American community in the north, McClennan displays an addiction to liquors. Often drunk, he is unable to concentrate and is confined to a limited range. He will however remain three years at Bluebird before sinking into alcoholism and poverty. He died in 1962 in a Chicago hospital as a result of cirrhosis and tuberculosis.
Big Joe Turner, the last shouter
23 Big Joe Turner (Kansas City (MO) 1911 - Los Angeles (CA) 1985)
He has been dubbed the " Boss of the Blues " but many consider him especially as the father of rock 'n' roll given the skill with which he knew how to associate boogie-woogie and Rhythm and Blues. He was also one of the last representatives of shouters, these singers in the powerful voice able to be clearly heard by an audience without using a microphone.
Curiously, the accidental death of his father that occurred while he was still only 4 years old will allow him to discover his vocation. Obliged to go to the church, he indeed demonstrates his real abilities for singing, to the point that he does not delay performing at the corner of streets to earn a little money. He abandoned afterward the middle school to be hired at 14 in a nightclub of Kansas City where he begins in the kitchen before becoming The Singing Barman. There he works together with the pianist Pete Johnson with whom he creates a resolutely boogie-woogie style to which he adds suggestive lyrics intended to catch the public's attention.
Bolstered by their initial success, both artists go in 1936 to New York but their meeting with Benny Goodman is not enough to open the doors of recording studios and they return somewhat dismayed to Kansas City. The luck smiles to them again two years later after they are invited by the producer John Hammond to take part to Spiritiuals to Swing, a series of concerts that he stages at Carnegie Hall. They perform Roll' em Pete, a song which more than a simple boogie-woogie, is built on the basis of a very strong syncopated tempo in which is already perceived the essence of rock 'n' roll.
The success is this time acquired. Joe Turner and Pete Johnson set up from then their headquarter in Cafe Society, a night club open the previous in Greenwich Village where already occurs Billie Holiday. Cafe Society had already acquired a strong reputation due to its claim to flaunt a political inclination and to treat equally the white and black customers.
Joe Turner and Pete Johnson then record for Vocalion a series of hits among which Cherry Red, I Want A Little Girl et Wee Baby Blues.
Big Joe Turner & Pete Johnson - Roll'Em Pete
42nd-street.fr - Gerard Tondu
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