Music Through The Decades - Part One
Music is influenced by the times and what’s going on during the times. Some people just respond to music, some are influenced by it, and others write music to express themselves. Obviously a comprehensive look at music wouldn’t begin in the 1900s. Actually even beginning in the 1900s I can’t provide a comprehensive look but a nutshell of the music and times of the decades. Much has been omitted (unintentionally) and all is subjective. There is so much to look at and so many people who have shaped and influenced the music scene throughout the decades.
The early 1900’s are known as the Turn of the Century, obviously since it is going from the 1800’s to the 1900’s it is turning. Here is where we begin our journey. Music was purchased as sheet music at this time and Ragtime was beginning its popularity. Phonographs and gramophones were starting to show up in households and electric recording with microphones began. Another popular music of the time was ‘hillbilly music’ which later became Country and Western. I’ve always been a music fan. Back in the 1900’s “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” was a popular song. In the 1950’s I was singing that song as my father played the piano. He loved the old music and taught it to me. He would play the piano and I would sing songs much older than myself.
The March King, John Phillip Sousa became popular at this time. You must’ve heard of him, he conducted and composed military marches. In 1880 he was the leader of the US Marine Band. He also championed the cause of music education. Sousa wrote and performed many marches and surprisingly operettas, suites, and songs. Sousa wrote “Stars and Stripes Forever” , the National March of the United States.
Would you believe “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” was written in 1902? Another song of this decade is a love song entitled “Because” which was also popular in the early 1950’s. Other songs written during this time include; Glow Worm, Everybody Works but Father, Cuddle Up a Little Closer Lovey Mine, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet, and Harrigan. America still believed in Patriotism and songs like You’re a Grand Old Flag, Anchors Aweigh, and America the Beautiful were written then and became very popular. How many of these songs do you not only recognize but know the words to?
In 1914 the First World War broke out. Music continued to be secular and patriotic. Songs like “The Aba Daba Honeymoon” and” If You Were the Only Girl in the World” were joined by songs like” I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”. Vaudeville was booming and no one was more well - known than George M. Cohan. I can remember watching the movie about him, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” with Jimmy Cagney on the Million Dollar Theater(in the 1950’s.) Million Dollar Theater would play the same movie every day, twice a day, for a week. I watched Yankee Doodle Dandy every time it was on. George Cohan grew up in show business and performed as one of the Four Cohans in Vaudeville. George’s trademark line was, "Ladies and gentlemen, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you!" He later became a legend in his own right when he wrote the Broadway play, “Little Johnny Jones” which turned out to have several hits. Most famous, “Yankee Doodle Boy” – later known as “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
Irving Berlin made his entrance near the end of the war. In 1919 he wrote, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”. Irving Berlin once said that, "a patriotic song is an emotion and you must not embarrass an audience with it, or they will hate your guts." This philosophy made him one of America's most outstanding writers of patriotic songs from World War I through World War II.
He was the writer of “America the Beautiful” which was first sung by Kate Smith on a radio program. Other songs he wrote include but certainly are not limited to; This is the Army Mr. Jones, Blue Skies, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Cheek to Cheek, Keep Away from the Fellow Who Owns an Automobile, Mandy and more. Many of Berlin’s songs were written after the 1920’s so I’ll mention them later.
In the 1920’s Jazz was “the cat’s meow” along with Ragtime and Broadway musicals. Dance Halls began to open around the country. During this time period Irving Berlin started writing songs resembling Jazz like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, a little jazz, a little ragtime. Remember, we’re in the Roaring Twenties now, a time when everyone wanted to break with tradition! Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were riding high. Louis did a recording with Bessie Smith called “St. Louis Blues” and played with Carroll Dickerson’s Savoy Orchestra. The Duke wrote and composed. His songs included, “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and “Mood Indigo.”
This is also the time of flappers and Charlestons…enter Ziegfeld’s follies. The tune, “The Charleston” was written in 1923 which became one of the most popular hits of the decade. The dance, the Charleston, peaked mid ’26-27. Ziegfeld built his own theater and ‘showcased’ beautiful women. His production of Show Boat was probably the first musical play.
The 1930’s brought hard times to America. The ‘30s followed the stock market crash and jobs were scarce if not all together gone. Music was upbeat to take people’s minds off the depression. New faces in music appeared along with the old. Faces like Woody Guthrie, Fred Astaire, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, and Ethel Waters. Big bands with 15 or 20 players also became popular. Hillbilly music was now Country and Western. In 1936 President Hoover made The Star Spangled Banner our official national anthem. The ‘30s was the real beginning of popular music. Top songs included songs like; Happy Days Are Here Again, Ten Cents a Dance, My Baby Just Cares For Me, Begin the Beguine, My Funny Valentine, Over the Rainbow, Stormy Weather, and on and on. The movies The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind came out in the 30s and the world met Little Shirley Temple and her songs and dance.
Duke Ellington had a hit with “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing.” Gershwin’s” Porgy and Bess” was performed for the first time in 1936. Radio was probably at its most popular in the 30s. The Metropolitan Opera Company began broadcasting on the radio on December 25, 1931. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard of Bing Crosby, if for no other reason than for his rendition of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas which was actually in 1942 but he began his career in the 1930s on the radio where he sang “When the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day).” I could write the rest of this piece solely on the life and times of Bing Crosby and his music but I’ll continue with what I started.
Remember we’re in the 1930s. Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, began his career and was the most successful country western star of the 30s. In 1939 he sang “Back in the Saddle Again”. Other 1930s songs include; Pistol Packin Papa, If I Could Bring Back My Buddy, Yodeling Hobo, and Red River Lullaby.
Back in the Saddle Again
George M. Cohan's "Over There"
Yankee Doodle Dandy - George M. Cohan
World War II began in 1939 with the invasion of Poland. America became part of the war with Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The people of the United States supported the war effort like no other time in history. Women entered the workforce in temporary munitions plants as well as in community service acting as nurses. Women also pioneered as pilots both in the armed forces and as civilians. African Americans enlisted in the armed forces. Everyone joined the war effort in one way or another. Rationing and wartime shortages affected everyone back home. Music took on a new role, consoling the soldier overseas, helping him to remember his girl back in the states, and dance halls became popular with soldiers and civilians, a way to help everyone feel closer. Songs like; Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me), I Don’t Want to Walk Without You, Somebody Else I s Taking My Place, I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time, You’ll Be So Nice To Come Home To, and many more, showed what the deployed soldiers were thinking about. Of course there was patriotic music too. Songs like; Johnny Get Your Gun, and Over There (Over There was a WW I song resurrected for WW II.)
Hollywood entered the War an promoted buying bonds to help raise money for the war effort. Movies were all about soldiers and war-related themes. The Andrews Sisters became popular during this time with one of their most famous songs being “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.”
Big Bands continued their popularity and gave starts to such singers as Frank Sinatra, it was the band people came to hear and though the singer was just an extra it was exposure for the singer. That didn’t last long with Frank Sinatra. Frank’s career actually started on a radio show in the 30s but Harry James gave him a break. He followed that with the Tommy Dorsey Band when his career really took off, both in singing and in movies. Sinatra songs in the 40s included; Fly Me to the Moon, I Won’t Dance, It Was a Very Good Year, Moonlight Serenade, and Strangers in the Night, among others.
Bing Crosby continued to croon with songs like; I’ll Be Seeing You, Pennies From Heaven, and Stardust. These two gentlemen were joined by the likes of Judy Garland, Perry Como, Kay Kyser, Harry James, and Ella Fitzgerald and songs like; A Tisket A Tasket, Auld Lang Syne, Beer Barrel Polka, Mr. Gable You Made Me Love You, I’ll Never Smile Again, and a very impressive list of more.
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- Music Through the Decades - Part Two
A look at music from the 1950s to the 1990s and how it evolved from Pop to Rock and Roll and onward