1930's, saw a bouncy
six beat variant that was named the Jitterbug by the band leader Cab Calloway when he introduced the tune in 1934
entitled "Jitterbug". Also we
saw the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug, people began dancing to the contemporary Jazz and Swing music as it was
evolving at the time, Dancers soon incorporated tap and jazz steps into their dancing American music flourished and expanded during the 1930s, driven by a search for
authentic American voices and rhythms. From sophisticated symphonic composers, urban recording executives, rural radio-station
operators, and the Smithsonian Institution to the Library of Congress, the general trend among music lovers and producers
was to seek out voices of the American people and to adapt their songs or record them directly in an effort to capture what
was a disappearing authenticity. Radio had arrived full force in the 1920s, and already the folk of rural America were being
introduced to a variety of musical styles that they adapted into their traditional sound.
Missouri, located in the center of America,
was the heartland of ragtime. As noted by popular music historians David Jasen and Gene Jones, "There were more rags--and
more good rags--from Missouri than anywhere else." (That American Rag, 1) Perhaps it was the robust pioneer
spirit that thrived in Missouri that created the environment for music like ragtime to flourish.
"...Missouri was destined by its location to be an area of commercial, social,
and cultural change. Since the early nineteenth century, St. Louis has served as midpoint and stopover for north-south
traffic on our largest river, and when going west was a national imperative, the city was the 'Gateway to the West.'"
During the 1880s, black entrepreneurs
prospered in the sporting district of St. Louis, known as Chestnut Valley. John L. Turpin, a black businessman from Savannah,
Georgia, made St. Louis his home in 1887 and opened a saloon called the Silver Dollar.
Turpin's teenage son, Tom, followed closely in his father's footsteps and by 1897 had opened his first
saloon. That same year, young Turpin, also a self-taught pianist, had his composition "Harlem Rag" published
by a local lawyer. "Harlem Rag" was a defining piece of piano ragtime and a model for its composers.
By 1900 Tom Turpin had acquired sufficient capital to open
a new saloon and brothel, the Rosebud. His two young protégés, Joe Jordan and Louis Chauvin, frequented
the establishment. With the constant rollicking, buoyant sound of ragtime, Turpin, Jordan, Chauvin, and many other enthusiastic
proponents of the new music, made the Rosebud and St. Louis the capital of ragtime.
The regular flow of traffic through St. Louis and the rest of the state created a demand for accommodations and
amenities for travelers. "As Missouri gentrified it became a state where a piano player could make a good living."
(TAR, 2) As their salaries usually were nominal, the nomadic pianists made their best money from tips provided
by the patrons of the many saloons and brothels that employed them.
Compared to the styles of the 1920s,
the overall effect was a more sophisticated sound, but with an exciting feel of its own. Most jazz bands adopted this style
by the early 1930s, but "sweet" bands remained the most popular for white dancers until Benny Goodman's appearance
at the Palomar Ballroom in August 1935. Swing's birth has been traced by some jazz historians to Chick Webb's stand
in Harlem in 1931, but noted the music failed to take off because the onset of the Depression in earnest that year killed
the nightclub business, particularly in poor black areas like Harlem. Fletcher Henderson, another bandleader from this period
who needed work, lent his arrangement talent to Goodman. Goodman had auditioned and won a spot on a radio show, "Let's
Dance," but only had a few songs; he needed more. Henderson's arrangements are what gave him his bigger repertoire
and distinctive sound. The show was on after midnight in the East and few people heard it, but unknown to them, it was on
earlier on the West Coast and developed the audience that later led to his Palomar Ballroom triumph. The audience of young
white dancers favored Goodman's "hot" rhythms and daring swing arrangements. "Hot Swing" and Boogie
Woogie remained the dominant form of American popular music for the next ten years. Benny Goodman, one of the first swing band leaders to achieve widespread fame.
With the wider acceptance of swing music around 1935,
larger mainstream bands began to embrace this style of music. Up until the swing era, Jazz had been taken in high regard
by the most serious musicians around the world, including classical composers like Stravinsky; swing on the contrary, with
its "dance craze", ended being regarded as a degeneration towards light entertainment, more of an industry to sell
records to the masses than a form of art. Many musicians after failing at serious music switched to swing Swing was essentially
done by blacks to entertain whites.
his autobiography W.C. Handy wrote, "This brings to mind the fact that prominent white orchestra leaders, concert singers
and others are making commercial use of Negro music in its various phases. That's why they introduced "swing"
which is not a musical form."
orchestras had to reorganize themselves in order to achieve the new sound. These bands dropped their string instruments,
which were now felt to hamper the improvised style necessary for swing music. This necessitated a slightly more detailed
and organized type of composition and notation than was then the norm. Band leaders put more energy into developing arrangements,
perhaps reducing the chaos that might result from as many as 12 or 16 musicians spontaneously improvising. But the best
swing bands at the height of the era explored the full gamut of possibilities from spontaneous ensemble playing to highly
orchestrated music in the vein of European art music.
A typical song played in swing style would feature a strong, anchoring rhythm section in support of more loosely
tied wind, brass, and later, in the 1940s, string and/or vocals sections. The level of improvisation that the audience might
expect at any one time varied depending on the arrangement, the band, the song, and the band-leader.
The most common style consisted of having a soloist take
center stage, and improvise a solo within the framework of her or his bandmates playing support. As a song progressed, multiple
soloists would be expected to take over and individually improvise their own part; however, it was not unusual to have two
or three band members improvising at any one time.
Willie Eugene Anderson (b. Warrenton, Georgia, March
3, 1924) was the eldest surviving child of Glen Eugene and Ethel (Turman) Anderson. Ethel was a remarkable woman, the driving
force in their family. She bore seventeen children in twenty years, ten of whom survived. Glen, a carpenter by trade, had
various jobs including night watchman for a printing company. He was a quiet, low-key individual who impressed Ethel with
his inner strength and calmness. He played gospel melodies on his guitar and sometimes played them in church. Both parents
encouraged their children to play an instrument or sing. The Anderson family moved to Detroit a few months after Willie’s
birth. They lived in several dwellings before settling in at 963 Brewster, a four-family flat located near the Brewster Projects.
They relocated to a two-family flat at 2130-2134 Bellevue (about two miles east) in 1951 after being forced out of their home
as part of the Detroit Plan. Both addresses were located on Detroit’s near-east side, near Paradise Valley, center
of gravity for Detroit’s African American population. Anderson’s brother Glen played guitar and most of
the children had modest musical talent but Willie was the standout. “He could play any instrument,” his sister
Mary said. “He started on my father’s guitar but he could play anything he heard on the piano.” His brother,
Glen, Jr. recalled Willie playing the melody to “My Blue Heaven” on piano at age three. Anderson never had
formal training – with his quick ear and prodigious technique, he didn’t need it.
The early 1930s saw the rise of a far greater number
of singer-writers, but primarily on the east and west coasts; in the Southeast the string bands and ever more popular mandolin-guitar
duets remained extremely traditional in repertoire until well into the 1940s. The coasts were more progressive because country
writers, singers, and players there were close to the mainstream of popular music and the popular music business. But why Texas musicians evolved in such a radically
different way is more puzzling. Early in the century the music of Texas resembled that of the Southeast: the fiddle was the
predominant instrument, with guitar, five-string banjo, or occasionally piano providing rhythm. Repertoire, too, was similar,
stemming largely from the same pool of fiddle tunes. This much is not surprising, for a great many Texans, from Sam Houston
and Davy Crockett to the fiddling relatives of Bob Wills and Bill Boyd, were transplanted Tennesseans who had made their way
west in search of opportunity.
the 1920s and 1930s, however, while the music of the Southeast remained quite conservative, the fiddle bands of the Southwest
began assimilating pop music, blues, ragtime, Norteño and Mariachi, and Cajun styles to develop western swing, country
music’s answer to the national dance-band craze of the era. Although the big western bands resembled the dance bands—both
had horn sections, drums, and the like—western swing was still country, with the sound of fiddles and electrified Hawaiian
guitar (which became known as the steel guitar) predominant. The dance-band boom gave western swing its greatest boost. As small roadside taverns opened, smaller dance bands
sprang up. But the bands in these honky-tonks played a different music from the dreamy swing-band style—their focus
was on lyrics and a steady beat, and they performed songs of increasingly harsh honesty on the formerly taboo subjects of
alcohol, infidelity, and divorce. Honky-tonk style is still thriving today. World War II brought about the most dramatic changes of all, for war-weary veterans, hardened by the grimness of
armed combat, returned to a far different America, a harder and colder nation that demanded reality, however painful, from
its songs. Left behind were the swinging dance bands, the romantic songs of the singing cowboys, the plaintive songs of nostalgia
for mother, home, and land of the traditional singers of the Southeast. But for all the changes country music was forced through
at the time and ever since, it remained true to the sources exposed in that initial recording period of 1922-27. It has remained a traditional music able to accept a wide variety of
musical influences without losing its identity, without losing its appeal to those who find beauty and truth in straight-forward
and deeply felt music and lyrics.
"The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details
and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness," wrote novelist Ralph Ellison, "to
finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic,
near-comic lyricism." Certainly the masses migrating to the North carried with them the burdens of a painful past: a
collective history of slavery in addition to the more immediate abuses under Jim Crow. While the North beckoned with opportunity,
many African Americans left the only home(s) they had known. The blues—with echoing train whistles, sudden flights from
danger, and the mournful cries associated with deep sorrow—emerged as a natural mode for capturing and expressing these
moments of transition.
When the country
blues came north, it acquired the sheen of sophistication. Sung chiefly by African American women, this classic city blues
reflected the tensions and ambiguities of the new freedoms blacks found in the North. "If I attend church on Sunday,"
sings Bessie Smith, "Then cabaret on Monday, 'Tain't noboby's business if I do." Smith (1895-1937) was
born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She began her career in 1912 appearing with Ma Rainey, the "Mother of the Blues."
Touring widely, she became enormously popular with both white and black audiences and recorded regularly until 1928. The intensity
and emotional power of her singing made her the greatest of the vaudeville blues artists. In the early 1930s her career faded
as the popularity of her style of music waned. She was mounting a comeback when she was killed in an automobile wreck.
In the 1930s, as the Great Depression worsened,
the rural blues, with its message of resilience in the face of hardship, found a growing audience. Male singers, like Eddie
"Son" House, made Memphis and Chicago the centers of the blues industry. House (1902-1988) was born and raised in
Mississippi. Even though he wanted to become a preacher, he was drawn to the low-down world of the blues and in his twenties
taught himself to play the guitar. However, it was not until after serving a two-year prison term for killing a man, in self-defense,
that he undertook to make a living as a blues singer. He recorded in the 1930s and '40s, then faded from public view,
only to be rediscovered with the folk revival of the 1960s. In the early 1970s ill health brought this phase of his career
to an end, and he settled into retirement in Detroit. In "Dry Spell Blues," House details the struggling rural South,
but with a level of gothic grandiosity Flannery O'Connor might have appreciated. Through pulsing repetition, he reveals
the South as a cracking, blistering hot wasteland, miserable and tense. As House cries, "I stood in my back yard, I wrung
my hands and screamed." "Dry Spell Blues" closes with measured hope, for it is "likely bound to rain somewhere."
Ragtime first came into focus as the leisure time music
of slaves on southern plantations and as
the music of performers in taverns, barrel houses and other places of entertainment and social activity. This provocative
music was sung, played on banjos, fiddles, harmonicas, pianos, trumpets, clarinets and whatever other instruments which were
available. If no traditional instruments were handy, performers often created homemade substitutes from materials such as
washboards, combs and tissues and animal bones. According to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and many other jazz pioneers ragtime
was played by string bands, brass bands and a wide variety of small ensembles long before it became a national fad as piano
music. Many of the basic characteristics of ragtime were found in abundance in the ballads, fun songs, dance music and other
vocal and instrumental music popular in African American communities throughout the 1800’s. Although ragtime was, for
the most part created and developed by unschooled musicians, composers like Scott Joplin took note of the work of earlier
composers like Louis Moreau Gottschalk of New Orleans, Blind Tom Bethune of Columbus Georgia, Peter O’Fake of Newark,
New Jersey, Francis Johnson of Philadelphia and Justin Holland of Virginia.
Duke Ellington was perhaps the greatest Jazz musician
ever, if not the greatest American musician ever. Unlike Louis Armstrong, and like Count Basie, his instrument was the
band, not just the piano he played in the band. Along with his composition partner, Billy Strayhorn, Ellington also
wrote some of the greatest Jazz compositions ever. Count Basie acknowledged it himself in 1961: that "The Duke"
was at the top of Jazz royalty hierarchy, with "The Count" being one of his subjects. From the dawn of the
Swing Era in the 1930s to his final orchestral suites in the 1970s, Ellington was always, and perhaps will always be, the
single most important figure in Jazz music.
Duke's fame derived from four major elements: 1) his remarkable ability as a musician and composer; 2) his ability
to politically sooth the egos of uppity but immensely-talented musicians who would not have thrived or stayed under anyone
but Duke; 3) his sheer drive to succeed and not "give up;" and 4) (the factor to which he most attributed his success)
his amazing good fortune to be "in the right place, at the right time, in front of the right people," with the right
people at his side to give him the opportunities to succeed.
Although Ellington, himself, developed as a musician in the pre-swing and Swing Era, and although many of the greatest
Swing songs ever were either written or performed by him, Ellington's greatness as a Jazz musician stemmed only in part
from his Swing music. A new fan of Swing music might feel understandably confused by going out and purchasing an Ellington
album expecting to hear great Swing music. Although it is more difficult to find Duke's great Lindy Hop songs, that
only attributes to the breadth of his greatness as a musician, not his limitations as an unquestioned Master of Swing.
Indeed, his band's ability to Swing fueled his success, giving him the opportunity to innovate and create critically-acclaimed
Jazz music that deviated from his popular formula.
One final preliminary note that I have echoed elsewhere but merits re-emphasis here to at least diminish the risk
that I will contribute to the problem. It is easy for us to historically idolize musical giants as pre-ordained demi-gods
who could never, and did not ever, do any wrong, could not and did not record any "junk," or whose significance
or place in history could never or have never been legitimately questioned or doubted. Were we to go back in history,
we envision their peers fawning in their presence as we would, feeling immensely privileged to see just one of hundreds of
shows Ellington performed, say, at The Cotton Club. This idolizing tendency both dehumanizes and diminishes the accomplishments
of men like Duke Ellington. Although Ellington was always comfortable in his own success and never really flirted with
failure, he struggled with his own demons, lapsed through periods of unpopularity, and did not become the unquestioned genius
of Jazz he now is considered until he had fully earned his role in history. Back in the Cotton Club days, he was just
another good band, and people took him for granted just like they now take, say, The Counting Crows for granted. It
was neither as easy nor as melodramatically-difficult as many biographies make it sound. In many regards, he was "just
another famous, accomplished Swing musician" until the later part of his career, where he blossomed far beyond the boundaries
of Swing or even song-based Jazz music.
1936: Patsy Montana records “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s
Sweetheart,” the first million-seller by a woman country-and-western singer. 1937: Bing Crosby (with Lani McIntire and
His Hawaiians) records “Sweet Leilani.” It becomes Crosby’s first blockbuster hit, with sales surpassing
22 million copies. 1937: After years of riding the rails, folk singer Woody Guthrie settles in Los Angeles, taking a job as
a radio host for $1 a day. Though he is remembered for “This Land Is Your Land” and “Roll On Columbia,”
his more political songs make him the father of protest music. 1938: John Hammond, who would later discover Bob Dylan, Aretha
Franklin and Bruce Springsteen, introduces boogie-woogie, rocking blues and gospel, and Count Basie’s prototypical R&B
at Carnegie Hall at his first “Spirituals to Swing” concert. 1938: Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson dies. His songs — “Me and the Devil Blues,” “Hell
Hound on My Tail” and “Sweet Home Chicago” — later inspire generations of rock musicians. 1938: Tommy
Dorsey and His Orchestra record “Boogie Woogie,” composed by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith in a old piano
style based on eight beats to the bar. The style becomes extremely popular in the late 1930s and early ’40s. 1939: Cab
Calloway, the “King of Hi-de-ho,” records his first million-selling disc, “Jumpin’ Jive.”
“Who Do You Love” – Although overshadowed
by his Chess labelmate Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley (Elias McDaniel, born 1928, McComb, Ms.) created a primal rhythm that lies
at the very base of rock n’ roll. Buddy Holly used that rhythm on “Not Fade Away” (he also covered “Bo
Diddley”), and the Rolling Stones, who covered Bo’s “Mona” and “I’m Alright” scored
their first hit in England with their version of Holly’s “Not Fade Away” (the Stones’ cut includes
maracas, a staple on Bo’s recordings and performances). His experimental guitar distortion influenced many guitarists,
including Jimi Hendrix. Bo’s beat, his innovative guitar style, and his rollicking, wisecracking lyrics resulted in
several hits in the late 50’s and early 60’s. “Who Do You Love”, recorded for Chess in 1959, was one
of his biggest. The lyrics of the song are classic Bo Diddley, hooking the listener immediately with the first two lines –
“I walk 47 miles of barbed-wire, use a Cobra snake for a necktie.” Bo is the only artist represented on this album
that is still living (along with Dion, of course). Although his more recent recordings pale alongside his early hits, he still
performs regularly, and his show continues to be supercharged with energy. “Built For Comfort” – Howlin’
Wolf (Chester Burnett – born 1910, West Point, Ms. – died 1978, Hines, Il.), along with Muddy Waters, provided
a double-barreled attack for Chess Records that resulted in the label’s dominance in the blues market for over two decades.
Wolf grew up in rural Mississippi, where he learned to play guitar from seminal blues man Charlie Patton, and harp (harmonica)
from the acclaimed Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). Wolf was an imposing character – well over six feet tall and
close to 300 pounds; his size made his animated stage performances truly “larger than life”. “Built For
Comfort”, written by the prolific Willie Dixon (who also played bass on most of the great Chess label recordings), is
a rollicking medium-paced shuffle, whose lyrics promote the benefits of loving a large man. Recorded in Chicago in 1963, it
was backed with another Dixon-penned song with a similar theme - “300 Pounds Of Joy” - and became a double-sided
“Travelin’ Riverside Blues” –
Another of Robert Johnson’s songs - recorded during his final session in 1937, it remained unreleased until the 1960’s
when Columbia Records issued the LP, “Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers”. This is perhaps Johnson’s
most provocative song, and features his oft-imitated line, “You can squeeze my lemon, baby, ‘til the juice run
down my leg”. The “riverside” refers to the Mississippi river, which forms the border between Arkansas and
Mississippi. Although Mississippi was a dry state in the 1930’s, there were “juke joints” along the river,
in places such as Rosedale and Friar’s Point (which are mentioned in the song), where liquor, brought over from Arkansas,
was plentiful. “You Better Watch Yourself” – This song was first recorded in 1960 by Texas bluesman, Sam
“Lightnin’” Hopkins (born 1912, Centerville, Tx. – died 1982, Houston, Tx.). Hopkins, whose folksy
style made him an early favorite with the white “coffeehouse audience” in the late 50’s and early 60’s,
recorded hundreds of sides for a number of labels during a career that spanned nearly sixty years. His music remained largely
unchanged throughout – complex boogie riffs and constant lyrical improvisation. Lightnin’ Hopkins met “Blind
Lemon” Jefferson as a youth, perhaps the first blues guitar “star” (he was the most famous blues musician
of the 1920’s and had nationally successful records that crossed racial barriers), eventually becoming the guide for
the sightless Jefferson. Lemon was the first blues guitar star and the most famous blues musician of the 1920’s, with
national hit records that crossed pronounced racial barriers. He was also a consummate showman, a trait that undoubtedly influenced
Hopkins, who was known for his rapport with audiences. Hopkins first recorded in 1946, and his popularity, which declined
in the late 50’s, skyrocketed in the early 1960’s, largely through his discovery by the white folk music audience.
The album that helped introduce him to that audience, produced by musicologist Samuel Charters for the Folkways label, was
recorded in Lightnin’s tiny Houston apartment on a borrowed guitar.
Swing jazz began to be embraced by the public around
1935. Prior to that, it had had limited acceptance, mostly among Black audiences. Radio remotes increased interest in the
music, and it grew in popularity throughout the States. As with many new popular musical styles, it met with some resistance
from the public because of its improvisation, fast erratic tempos, lack of strings, occasionally risqué lyrics and
other cultural associations, such as the sometimes frenetic swing dancing that accompanied performances. Audiences who had
become used to the romantic arrangements (and what was perceived as classier and more refined music), were taken aback by
the often erratic and edginess of swing music.
German swing bands, virtually unknown to British and American swing band followers, thrived in the early 1940s in
spite of an official Nazi campaign against "decadent Western music". German authorities in fact created a Swing
band called "Charlie and His Orchestra" to record hot Swing and dance music. Some songs included lyrics ridiculing
and abusing the leaders and people of Allied nations. Records were dropped over "enemy" lines by parachute.
In the US, by the late 1930s and early 1940s,
swing had become the most popular musical style and remained so for several years, until it was supplanted in the late 1940s
by the pop standards sung by the crooners who grew out of the Big Band tradition that swing began. Bandleaders such as the
Dorsey Brothers often helped launch the careers of vocalists who went on to popularity as solo artists, such as Frank Sinatra.
Swing music began to decline in popularity during
World War II because of several factors. Most importantly it became difficult to staff a "big band" because many
musicians were overseas fighting in the war. Also, the cost of touring with a large ensemble became prohibitive because of
wartime economics. These two factors made smaller 3 to 5 piece combos more profitable and manageable. A third reason is the
recording bans of 1942 and 1948 because of musicians' union strikes. In 1948, there were no records legally made at all,
although independent labels continued to bootleg records in small numbers. When the ban was over in January 1949, swing had
evolved into new styles such as jump blues and bebop.  Cross-genre swing
of the crooners who came to the fore after the swing era had their origins in swing bands. Frank Sinatra used the swing-band
approach to great effect in almost all of his recordings and kept this style of music popular well into the rock 'n'
In country music, artists
such as Jimmie Rodgers, Moon Mullican and Bob Wills introduced many elements of swing along with blues to create a genre called
western swing. Like Sinatra did, Mullican went solo from the Cliff Bruner band and had a successful solo career that included
many songs that maintained a swing structure. Artists like Willie Nelson have kept the swing elements of country music present
into the rock 'n' roll era. Nat King Cole followed Sinatra into the pop music world bringing with him a similar combination
of swing bands and ballads. Like Mullican, he was important in bringing piano to the fore of popular music.
Gypsy swing is an outgrowth of Venuti and Lang's jazz
violin swing, the style emerging in its own right in Europe with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. The repertoire
overlaps that of 1930s swing, including French popular music, gypsy songs, and compositions by Reinhardt, but gypsy swing
bands are formulated differently. There is no brass or percussion; guitars and bass form the backbone, with violin, accordion,
clarinet or guitar taking the lead. Gypsy swing groups generally have no more than five players. Although they originated
in different continents, similarities have often been noted between gypsy swing and western swing, leading to various fusions.
Rock 'n' roll era hit makers like Fats
Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Elvis Presley also found time to include many swing-era standards into
their repertoire. Presley's hit "Are You Lonesome Tonight" is an old swing standard and Lewis' "To
Make Love Sweeter For You" is a new song but in the old style. Domino made the swing standard "My Blue Heaven"
a rock 'n' roll hit.
Early country music has long had the reputation of being
a pristine folk music, an archaic holdover from a past deeply obscured by time. This reputation was powerfully reinforced
by English folklorist Cecil Sharp’s 1916-18 trip to the Appalachians, where he found ancient ballads far better preserved
than in Britain. It has been further enhanced by the genuine folk songs found on early recordings done by field men and talent
scouts for major record companies in the 1920s who scoured the hills and plains for what was then called “hillbilly
music.” Although this supposition is based on substantial fact, it is on the whole not true. From its earliest documentation
(made a great deal easier by the advent of recordings) the folk music that was to become commercial country music displays
an exceedingly wide and rich variety of sources. There were fiddle tunes reminiscent of highland bagpipes, and English ballads
that survived their journey intact. There were Irish tunes that were transplanted but transmogrified and became the basis—with
new lyrics—for the cowboy songs of the West. And there were the sentimental parlor songs of the 1880s and 1890s, which
have composed a large part of countrymusic repertoire from “Wildwood Flower” to “I’ll Be All Smiles
Tonight.” There was the blues of the black man, and the guitar and the banjo, instruments that he introduced to the
mountaineer. There was a score of other ethnic strains: polkas and their attendant accordion from central Europe; Norteño
songs and the Mariachi brass from Mexico; Swiss yodeling; the striking fiddling and rich dialect of the Cajuns (Acadians)
of southwest Louisiana; the dreamy tunes and the steel guitar from Hawaii; the pomp of small-town brass bands; the foursquare
harmony and melody of Protestant hymns; and heavy borrowing from jazz and swing. Country musicians have always been quick
to adapt other music to enrich their own.
Records and then radio accelerated this crosscultural
phenomenon. The first country record is said to have been made on June 30, 1922: Eck Robertson’s recording of an old
squaredance fiddle tune, “Sally Goodin,” for Okeh Records in New York. Although this was coincidental with the
beginning of the radio age (the first radio barn dance came the same year on WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas), the technology and
equipment for receiving the radio signal were new and expensive, while the record player had been available through mail-order
catalogues, since the early 1900s and was firmly established throughout the nation. In time, of course, radio was sold throughout
the United States the same way. With the
coming of records and radio, some singers and players found that a living could be made in a field that had for so long been
a pleasurable hobby for entertaining friends at country house parties, where rugs were rolled back and square dancing lasted
late into the night. And when Vernon Dalhart, an aspiring light-opera singer, recorded the million-selling “Prisoner’s
Song” in 1925, the vast market for this music was dramatically exposed, and a flood of new talent and new hits followed:
Carl T. Sprague’s cowboy ballad of the following year, “When the Work’s All Done This Fall”; Dalhart’s
“Death of Floyd Collins” and “The Letter Edged in Black”; and, in 1927, the remarkable discovery of
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, among the most important figures in country-music history. The same era also saw the
founding of the two major radio barn dances—variety shows simulating old-fashioned get-togethers in the house-party
tradition—of country music’s early period, the “National Barn Dance” over WLS in Chicago and the still
extremely popular “Grand Ole Opry” over WSM in Nashville.
Within the first five years of commercial country music,
then, the main traditions that have shaped country music to this day were recorded: the instrumental/fiddle-band tradition
of Eck Robertson, the solo-singer/saga-song tradition of Vernon Dalhart, the cowboy song of Carl T. Sprague, the mountain
harmony of the Carter Family, and the blues of Jimmie Rodgers. Before the professional demands of the barndance stage and
the Victrola, musicians had been content to perform hoary versions of ancient ballads or pretty much the same set of fiddle
tunes at parties and dances. Now they were compelled to come up with new songs, tunes, and ideas. Some—like A. P. Carter
of the Carter Family—reworked and adapted folk material, while many others used popular songs for additional repertoire.
Jimmie Rodgers both adapted folk blues and wrote his
own sentimental songs in a semi-popular vein, and many other entertainers began writing their own songs. The 1920s gave birth
to the professional songwriter. Bob Miller and Carson J. Robison (a Kansan transplanted to Tin Pan Alley) became the best
known; their specialty was topical event songs, a contemporary continuation of the British broadside tradition, which dates
back well over two centuries. “The Morro Castle Disaster,” “The Death of Kathy Fiscus,” “The
Death of Floyd Collins,” and many more became extremely popular for brief periods after the events they celebrated.
They were the first hits of a music that was to become increasingly ephemeral, increasingly dependent on popular rather than
Jazz is America’s classical
music. As a musical language, it has developed steadily from a single expression of the consciousness of African Americans
to a national music which expresses Americana to Americans as well as to people from other countries. As a classical music
with its own standards of form, complexity, literacy and excellence, jazz has been a major influence on the music of the world
for more than one hundred years. Recognized as a national treasure by the Congress of the United States, this unique American
phenomenon defines the national character and the national culture. It serves, in a sense, as a musical mirror, reflecting
how we have seen ourselves at different times in our history. A good example of this is the way the movies portray the 1920’s
and 30’s using the jazz of those decades to underscore the pictures.
Ragtime, a uniquely American, syncopated musical phenomenon,
has been a strong presence in musical composition, entertainment, and scholarship for over a century. It emerged in its published
form during the mid-1890s and quickly spread across the continent via published compositions. By the early 1900s ragtime flooded
the music publishing industry. The popularity and demand for ragtime also boosted sale of pianos and greatly swelled the ranks
of the recording industry. Ragtime seemed to emanate primarily from the southern and midwestern states with the majority of
activity occurring in Missouri -- although the East and West coasts also had their share of composers and performers. Ragtime's
popularity promptly spread to Europe and there, as in America, soon became a fad.
It is not easy to define ragtime. Like jazz, another distinctly American musical art form, ragtime's composers,
practitioners, and admirers each see its boundaries differently. However, these groups are distinguished by subgroups of purists
who generally agree on, and stand by, a precise definition:
-- A genre of musical composition for the piano, generally in duple meter and containing a highly syncopated treble lead over
a rhythmically steady bass. A ragtime composition is usually composed three or four contrasting sections or strains, each
one being 16 or 32 measures in length.
describes much of the music of the itinerant pianists who traversed the South and Midwest and eventually congregated in Missouri
to produce an oeuvre of core ragtime compositions. These roving composers include Scott Joplin, Charles Hunter, Thomas Turpin,
Louis Chauvin, Charles L. Johnson, and many others.Some ragtime scholars point out that ragtime is composed chiefly for an
audience -- a pianistic work not meant for dancing. It is a genre distinct from other types of syncopated musical compositions
from about the same period -- for example, "coon songs" and cakewalks -- the latter especially composed for dancing.
But our definition cannot be cut-and-dried, for "ragtime" once described the peppy, syncopated treatment of almost
any type of music -- that is how it was known to the public at large. Ragtime became a very real fad that covered a wide range
of styles and even grew to describe things non-musical. Much like rock 'n' roll, heavy metal, jazz, and other popular
genres of music, ragtime invited "the curiosity and even devotion of the young at the same time it disquiets the staid
Like the classical music of other cultures, jazz has
been time tested; it has served as a standard and a model; it has established value; and it is indigenous to the culture for
which it speaks. In addition to this, throughout the chronological styles of jazz, we find a treasure of music which embodies
formal elegance, simplicity, dignity and correctness of style, just and lucid conception and order.
Jazz emerged from the need of African Americans to express
themselves in musical terms. This need for self expression stemmed directly from the African musical heritage. In the societies
they left behind, there was music for working, for playing, for hunting and much more. They were used to having music to accompany
and define all the activities of their lives. However, when Africans were brought to the United States and sold as slaves,
they were prevented by law and customs form utilizing the well developed cultural supports that enabled them to enjoy productive
lives on a daily basis in their native countries and to make matters worse, they often met strong opposition when they attempted
to acquire any knowledge or skills which did not directly relate to their individual value as slaves. In order to survive
the harsh, restrictive and demanding realities
of enslavement, they were forced to be resourceful and creative. Since music had always played such an important part in the
daily lives of so many Africans from different tribes, countries and backgrounds, it was quickly seized upon as a tool to
be used for communication and as relief from both physical and spiritual burdens.
The Boswell Sisters were a close harmony singing group,
consisting of sisters Martha Boswell (June 9, 1905 – July 2, 1958), Connee Boswell (original name Connie) (December
3, 1907 – October 11, 1976), and Helvetia "Vet" Boswell (May 20, 1911 – November 12, 1988), noted for
intricate harmonies and rhythmic experimentation. They attained national prominence in the USA in the 1930s. They were raised by a middle-class family on Camp Street in uptown
New Orleans, Louisiana. Martha and Connie were born in Kansas City, Missouri. Helvetia was born in Birmingham, Alabama. (Connee's
name was originally spelled Connie until she changed it in the 1940s.) They came to be well known in New Orleans while still
in their early teens, making appearances in local theaters and radio. They made their first record for Victor Records in 1925.
However, the Boswell Sisters did not attain national attention until they moved to New York City in 1930 and started making
national radio broadcasts. After a few recordings with Okeh Records in 1930, they made numerous recordings for Brunswick Records
from 1931-1935. These Brunswick records are widely regarded as milestone recordings of vocal jazz. Connee's ingenious
reworkings of the melodies and rhythms of popular songs, together with Glenn Miller's hot arrangements, and first rate
New York jazz musicians (including The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Fulton McGrath, Joe Venuti, Arthur Schutt,
Eddie Lang, Joe Tarto, Manny Klein, Dick McDonough, and Carl Kress), made these recordings unlike any others. Melodies were
rearranged and slowed down, major keys were changed to minor keys (sometimes in mid-song) and rhythmic changes were par for
the course. They were among the very few performers who were allowed to make changes to current popular tunes as during this
era, music publishers and record companies pressured performers not to alter current popular song arrangements. Connee also
recorded a series of more conventional solo records for Brunswick during the same period. The name of their 1934 song "Rock
and Roll" is an early use of the term. It is not one of their hotter numbers; it refers to "the rolling rocking
rhythm of the sea". In 1936, the group signed to Decca and after just 3 records, broke up (the last recording was February
12, 1936). Connie Boswell continued to have a successful solo career as a singer for Decca. She later changed the spelling
of her name from Connie to Connee in the 1940s, reputedly because it made it easier to sign autographs. (It's interesting
to note that Connee sang from a wheelchair - or seated position - during her entire career, due to an accident she suffered
as a young child. Amazingly, when she tried to get involved with the overseas U.S.O tours. during World War II, she was not
given permission to travel overseas due to her disability.) The Boswell Sisters chalked up 20 hits during the 1930s including
the number one record "The Object of My Affection" in 1935.
I had previously inherited Dion’s earlier hit
singles, “A Teenager in Love” and “Where Or When”, from my older brother, so I was already immersed
in his music. This guy was my idol – wanted to be just like him. I read once where he didn’t like the studio back-up
singers at his first session - told the producer he could find better talent right in his own back yard. So, he goes down
to Belmont Avenue in his Bronx neighborhood, recruits three buddies and calls the group Dion and the Belmonts. Now that’s
got to be the very essence of cool. ver the next two years, Dion scored with “Little Diane”, “Love
Came To Me”, “Ruby Baby”, “Donna The Prima Donna”, and “Drip Drop”. Then the “British
Invasion” more or less ended what may have been one of the great periods of American rock n’ roll, and Dion seemingly
vanished from the airwaves. e resurfaced in 1968 with “Abraham, Martin and John”, the record he may
always be best known for. It was an anthem for a generation. I pretty much lost track of Dion after that - I heard he made
some Gospel albums in the mid 80s, including one that was nominated for a Grammy in 1987 (I Put Away My Idols), but I hadn’t
heard a new record of his in some years. Then a friend at The Orchard told me Dion recorded a blues album and sent me a copy
– he knew I was a blues fan, but didn’t know how far into Dion I once was. I was a bit skeptical at first –
wasn’t sure how well my early rock hero would translate doing straight blues tunes – then the first track dropped
on my CD player. he strength and the beauty of this album is its simplicity – no fancy solos, no exaggerated
vocal deliveries, no production tricks. Just Dion’s robust, powerful, acoustic guitar playing (the guy is a helluva
player!) and that unmistakable voice on a dozen well-selected songs – that’s all you need here. This is not a
good recording – it’s a great one. Because it’s real and it’s honest, which is what this music is
all about. That’s something you don’t find with many albums these days, particularly in the blues genre. he
tracks on this album are pretty closely split between deep rural blues and the sound of postwar Southside Chicago. Most of
the songs were written and originally recorded by men born and bred in the fertile blues setting of the upper Delta region
of Mississippi. Some of those artists migrated to Chicago and developed an electric sound with rhythm sections that became
the bedrock upon which rock music developed. There is also representation from one of the great Texas bluesmen, as well as
from a New York City guy by the name of Dion. For those readers who aren’t blues fanatics, here’s a brief primer
on the songs and the original artists:
Born and raised in depression-era Alabama, Hank Williams
learned guitar from a black street musician called Tee-Tot (real name – Rufe Payne). Although none of Williams’
“blues” follow the traditional a-a-b progression, the influence of rural blues music is prevalent in nearly all
of his recordings. This record, released less than a year before his untimely death, was one of a long succession of hits
for Williams, (he released ten singles in the two years prior to his passing, and all were Top 5 records). It remains one
of his most popular up-tempo sings. Hank Williams’ life somewhat parallels that of Robert Johnson – both came
from poor rural roots, learned guitar from itinerant blues players, had brief success as recording artists (although Williams’
popularity and record sales were immeasurably greater than Johnson’s), and both died young as a result of the hard lifestyle
they developed as performing musicians (while Robert Johnson was allegedly murdered via poisoning at age 27, Hank Williams
death at age 28 was brought on by alcoholism and drug abuse – he was found dead in the back seat of his Cadillac en
route to a gig on New Year’s Day, 1953). Most significantly, the recorded legacies of both men have had an indelible
impact on the musical landscape, and their music continues to influence countless artists. “Baby, What You Want Me To
Do” – Written and recorded by Jimmy Reed (Mathis James Reed, born 1925, Dunleith, Ms. – died 1976, Oakland,
Ca.). This song, recorded in 1959, was one of a string of hits that made Jimmy Reed one of the best-selling blues artists
of the 50’s and 60’s. In a span of less than 10 years, he placed 14 singles on the national R&B charts, 12
of which “crossed-over” to the Top 100 Pop chart. The simplicity of his music – bottom string boogie guitar
rhythms, two-string turnarounds, lazy harmonica solos (he always played with a neck rack) and drawling vocals – was
the key to his success. Reed’s sound was completely accessible to any audience; consequently, many of his songs, including
this one, are considered blues/folk “standards”. Jimmy Reed learned guitar and harmonica from boyhood friend Eddie
Taylor, who accompanied Reed on most of his recordings and live performances until Jimmy’s death. He began playing professionally
after moving to Gary, Indiana in the mid-40’s, eventually signing with the Vee-Jay label after being turned down by
Chess Records (Reed’s subsequent success would be a sore point with the Chess brothers for years). His third single
for Vee-Jay, “You Don’t Have To Go”, went Top 5 on the national R&B chart, and for the next decade,
he enjoyed unprecedented success for a blues artist.
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