It was hard to believe that just after what was thought to be Hollywood's greatest decade there seemed to be such lost promise. With the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour, and the resulting outbreak of World War II, the American film industry suffered a slump during the early part of the 1940s. As it did following the Great Depression, Hollywood would have to again find a formula for survival.

The world was in turmoil, and oddly enough, it would be this very same War that helped start Hollywood on its comeback. In an effort to support the national war effort, Hollywood studios began producing a large number of movies that became war-time favorites.

One of the classic motion pictures of all-time was also a subtle wartime propaganda film Casablanca, was released in 1942. Many stars of the time enlisted in the Armed Forces, or provided entertainment for the troops, resulting in a large boost in morale for both the military and the general public.

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These war related efforts showed immediate results, as major movie studio profits began to grow to record levels. As the war drew to an end, so did the number of films produced that were war related. However, the influence of World War II has a permanent residence in the history of the motion picture industry.

Some of the most memorable war-time classics would include Guadalcanal Diary, Bataan, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Story of G.I. Joe, They Were Expendable, A Walk In The Sun, and a great many more. There were also a number of pictures dedicated to portraying life after war for the returning veteran. One of the most well-known of these stories is also one of the best films in motion picture history - The Best Years of Our Lives.

This multi-Oscar winning picture (including Best Picture) touched the hearts and lives of all Americans. The 1940's also brought refinement to the art of film making, with technological improvements in sound recording, lighting, color usage, and special effects.

These production advances made film-watching a much more enjoyable activity leading the way to record setting profits from 1943-1946. The light, escapist entertainment offered by Hollywood musicals during the 1940's skyrocketed their appeal, and a new breed of directors and stars rose to prominence.

It seemed that once again Hollywood had withstood a great challenge and survived to flourish. Some however, realized that right before their eyes the greatest threat to Hollywood's dominance of the entertainment industry was busily developing. The popularity of television was growing by leaps and bounds. 

The Jazz Singer Al Jolson

The Hollywood musical is recognized as a distinguished part of our movie history, playing an integral role in the evolution of movies during the 1920s through 1950s. Today, despite this fact, most people are unaware of how they originally got their start. The development of moving pictures with sound during the 1920s paved the way for the era of Hollywood musicals.

Prior to the development of the musical, as we are familiar with, there were some vaudeville fillers produced in the early 20th century that included music. While accepted by the audience, they were never as popular as the full production Hollywood musicals that America came to love. During the mid 1920s, Warner Brothers studio began experimenting with something new known as Vitaphone.

The Vitaphone provided a method of coordinating a musical soundtrack with film, thereby effectively creating a sound picture. This method, however, overlooked much of the huge potential regarding the adding of sound to motion pictures. At this time in movie history, Warner Brothers felt it was not necessary to hear the individuals talk, and merely wanted the sound to provide some musical background noise to film.

It wasn't until 1927 that Warner Brothers first introduced to the big screen singing along with sound in their release of The Jazz Singer; a remake of the Broadway musical of the same name. The late 1920s brought difficult financial times to the country. It was during this time that Hollywood came to the publics rescue with the wonderfully entertaining diversion of the Hollywood musical.

Hollywood movie studios began to release numerous musicals which offered the movie going public a chance to temporarily escape from the financial issues at hand. Some of the most popular and highly regarded musicals to come out during the 1930s included 42nd St, Bright Lights, and Gold Diggers.

The 1939 musical, The Wizard of Oz is one of these classic musicals that still continues to entertain audiences today. It was during the 1940s that the Hollywood musical really came of age and their popularity continued right through the 1950s. One of the more popular 1940s musicals was Yankee Doodle Dandy, a film that introduced movie lovers to a young James Cagney who gave a performance that earned him an Oscar.

This movie continues to be one of the most famous musicals ever produced. Another popular title that has become a holiday tradition is The Bells of St. Mary's. The original Hollywood musical is a page out of movie history that can never be duplicated. The memories, however, are forever captured on film and continue to be enjoyed by audiences around the world. 

1940s movies

After World War II, 1940's peacetime Hollywood required a little something old and a little something new to keep the attention of moviegoers. During the war Hollywood had experimented, and found success, with the production of war themed pictures as well as more mature films with new topical subject matter. There were predictions that motion pictures would, and could, never be the same as before the war. These predictions would prove to be false.

The publics emotional and ideological fatigue over the war was being replaced with a peacetime euphoria that was bringing with it a building boom, new cars, and the rapid spread of television across the country. It was time for Hollywood to get back to the basics of what the public most desired in movies. The war had reignited a taste for violence in film and the appeal of sex had never really disappeared.

In good times or bad, Hollywood had, for a period of forty years, depended on Westerns. The popularity of this genre would insure their opening in no less than 6,000 theaters. There was only one exception to this; the major first-run theaters in big cities were rarely included when premiering a Western.

This would change with the emergence of John Wayne who was rapidly becoming America's favorite male actor. Wayne's natural appeal as a western hero made the opening of a new Western, with him as the star, every bit as popular as any other first-run film. During the 1940's and 1950's the Hollywood Musical would flourish. Perhaps the purest form of movie entertainment, the public couldn't get enough.

Script's were usually light, and while there may actually be a story to follow, it was the singing and dancing that audiences loved. Film studio's also loved them and would often bring back old songs and routines from vaudeville, polish them up a bit, and present them to a very receptive audience.

Quite possibly the greatest song-and-dance man ever, Fred Astaire, who had been officially retired, repeatedly returned to the screen to show the modern audience what great dancing is all about. There was no mistaking the fact that what had worked for Hollywood before would work again.

The basic entertainment value of Westerns, Musicals, Comedy, Science Fiction, and those films considered to be pure Biblical spectacle, such as Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments, were money in the bank. After the war there was much less need for depressing recreations of wartime and troubling social issues. Action, adventure, and fun were back on the screen as 1940's Hollywood had returned to entertainment as the basic ingredient for profitable film making and audiences were loving each and every minute.

1940s Music

So it's no shock that the law banning alcohol was a dismal failure and was overturned in 1933. People had simply rebelled and turned to bootleggers and underground bars serving alcohol called speakeasies. The soundtrack to this whole rebellion was jazz.

It was a time when people were reaching for hedonistic liberation as dancing became more sexual and wild as illustrated in dances like "The Charleston." It was an age of incredible optimism fueled by new technology, progressivism and a booming economy. Blues had been the social commentary of black Americans and its feelings of despair were closely tied to discrimination that they felt from the aftermath of the Civil War.

Some historians point to the song "St. Louis Blues" by W.C. Handy, written in 1911 as the first blues song. In reality, nearly every song is a culmination of a wide array of previous influences. The roots of blues were intertwined with gospel hymns and the songs created by plantation slaves about their frustration. By the 1920s blacks were still treated as second-class citizens by white society and their music was ignored by the big record labels and the emergence of radio, which hit the scene in 1920. Jazz music was being popularized by white artists such as Al Jolson, who wore black make-up and made history by appearing in the first talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer in 1927.

The first African-American artist to rise to widespread popularity was Louis Armstrong, first with instrumentals and then songs like "Big Butter And Egg Man," "Keyhole Blues," and "West End Blues" in the late 1920s. Then many more began to follow.

An emerging underground black artist in the 1920s was Robert Johnson, who some people might consider the "grandfather of rock and roll." His basic guitar riffs followed earlier established blues patterns but with a little more of a jagged edge. Johnson never had hit records in his time but his influence can be heard and felt in future stars like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.

His music conjures up the image of the frustrated musician seeking notoriety by "making a deal with the devil at the crossroads." The movie The Crossroads starring Ralph Machio touches on that theme and helped the masses become aware of Robert Johnson.

Such bluesy music with haunting melodies in the pre-rock era was kept out of the mainstream by the powers that be simply because it sounded to them like "devil music." The explanation for this is simply pure racist undertones in the establishment, although many of the early blues artists believed in the devil complex and were actually commenting on it.

The one truth we can all agree on is that early blues was not happy music. It was about being cheated and mistreated. Coinciding with the rise of jazz in the 1920s was the emergence of country music via the Grand Ole Opry. At the time it was commonly referred to as "hillbilly music" because it drew from experiences of rural white American farmers in the south. Like blues, country grew out of a form of folk music within a subculture. Some might trace the actual roots of country to Irish folk music.

By the 1940s country music had clearly become its own genre regardless of its origins and was beginning to produce big stars like Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold and Tex Ritter. The key to their success was their close rapport with an audience that cherished honest storytelling. It was combined with simple melodies and became reflective of people who gravitated toward the basics of life as a contrast to the evergrowing modernization of society. Meanwhile, jazz became the first popular music in America to fragment into multiple genres.

Mainstream music from the twenties through the forties can be summed up as "the big band era," which was the upbeat optimistic side of jazz. Glenn Miller is without a doubt, the most celebrated artist of this era with his swinging pop hits like "In The Mood," "The American Patrol" and "Little Brown Jug."

These songs were pretty much the soundtrack to World War II, as was the military tribute "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by the Andrews Sisters. On the softer side, crooners like Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, who started out as vocalists for big bands, became popular singing love ballads and whimsical novelties that formed the basis of "lounge music."

Frank Sinatra1940

Frank Sinatra was considered a crooner but with a more dynamic vocal style that allowed him to also fit in with upbeat swing. Boogie woogie was a funky outgrowth of the bluesy and rootsy side of jazz with big band crossover appeal. Pine Top Smith was one of the early boogie woogie artists who helped popularize the genre beginning in the late 1920s.

It was boogie woogie that started to shape the sound of what was to become known as rhythm & blues highlighted by pulsating bass lines. The term "rock and roll" appeared in boogie woogie recordings long before the 1950s. Throughout the thirties and forties several songs by black artists used the term as an underground reference to sex.

The topic of sex was off-limits in pop music in the pre-rock era, simply because the establishment did not condone sex for pleasure as moral activity. Queen Victoria of Great Britain in the 1800's had set many prudent standards that America graciously followed for many years, even after her death. The term "rockin' " was much more common, however, than "rock and roll" as in "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris in 1947.

By the 1940s rhythm & blues was becoming its own sound and wasn't necessarily strictly tied to the boogie woogie formula. Black artists gradually were becoming more accepted in the mainstream with people like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, who all mixed the upbeat big band sound with melancholy blues. For those jazz musicians who didn't like all the prevalant formulas of the day, the concept of progressive or improvisational jazz began developing.

The big band era faded quickly after World War II. Glenn Miller had enlisted in the military and came up missing, which was the first major blow to the genre and then several of the main bands disbanded by the end of the decade. For awhile crooners took over. Record sales overall began to slump, so something new was needed to excite the market. By this time the major record labels were Columbia, RCA and Decca. Two of these labels revolutionized the music industry by issuing new configurations of recorded sound. For years 78 rpm records were the industry standard.

In 1947 Columbia introduced the 33 and 1/3 rpm long-playing record, which held a lot more music than the three minute time limit of the 78 rpm disc. That same year RCA introduced the 45 rpm record, which only featured one song per side but was revolutionary because it used something called microgroove technology. Microgroove allowed a lighter tonearm and needle to cut through the vinyl, giving the disc longer life. It took awhile for people to catch on, but by the mid-fifties the 78 was an ancient dinosaur as all the labels were concentrating on 45s and LPs.

 Leo Fender

Technology has always played a big part in shaping recorded music. Prior to the invention of the condensor microphone in 1925, for example, loud sounds such as drums were very hard to record without distorting. Soft sounds were also hard to record because the singer had to sing at a certain volume through a horn in order for the sound vibrations to affect the device that was cutting the groove. Then in the early 1940s Les Paul introduced the modern electric guitar.

The guitar, of course, goes back several centuries and the electric guitar appeared as early as the 1920's in Hawaiian music, but it was Paul's hollow-body model that set the standard for what was to follow. In all fairness, Leo Fender also introduced a similar model around the same time. Les Paul was also the first major pioneer in multi-track recording.

Prior to his 1951 recording of "How High The Moon" with Mary Ford, the concept of over-dubbing was only done in movies. Music was always recorded live until that time. In other words, a full band would play the entire piece in real time and keep doing it over and over again until they got the final take. With multi-track recording, which started out as four tracks, an artist could lay down separate tracks for different instruments and vocals.

It no longer had to be done all at once as a live performance. The key to this new technique was the Ampex reel to reel tape deck. Magnetic tape allowed four separate channels of audio to be recorded or played at the same time. This also opened the door for electronic reverb for the first time.

Prior to the reel to reel machine, if an artist wanted echo on their voice it had to be recorded in a room where there was natural reverb. The reel to reel also paved the way for stereo music, a technology used in movie theaters since the early 1930s, but absent from music recordings until the fifties. Even so, the one-signal mono sound dominated the recording industry until the late sixties.

Bill Haley 1940s

With the advent of the electric guitar and multi-tracking, combined with the withering of big bands and the mixing of styles between country and r&b artists, a new sound in music was born. Enter the rock era. There's a long list of artists who are given credit for inventing rock and roll, but the first such record to make a big national splash was "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets in 1955. Several records prior to this hit can be considered rock and roll including "Shake, Rattle And Roll" by Big Joe Turner, "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston & Ike Turner and "Fat Man" by Fats Domino.

The term "rock and roll" was brought into the mainstream in the early fifties by a Cleveland radio DJ named Alan Freed, calling his show the "Rock And Roll Moondog Show." Early rock that leaned more on r&b than country was also called "bop."

The message and music of rock and roll was very simple. Essentually, it was swing dance music with a faster tempo and more raw and amplified sound than big band, blues or country. The lyrics were generally about the high school dating experience. For the first time, the music industry began to target teenagers, which added to the rebellious nature of the music.

It's important to point out, however, that the major labels were definitely avoiding rock and roll. The movement happened because of independent labels like Chess (who signed Chuck Berry) and Sun (who signed Elvis Presley).

Once rock and roll began to surge in the fifties, only then did the three major labels begin to take notice. But the first wave of rock only lasted a few years. Not only were local government officials and school administrators voicing anti-rock concerns about the rebellious behavior the music inspired, several of the movement's stars suddenly disappeared almost overnight. Elvis was drafted in the Army.

Chuck Berry went to jail for transporting a minor over a state line, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash and Little Richard became a preacher. By the end of the decade the overall pop landscape had swung back to a nostalgic lounge sound highlighted by Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife." What followed in the early 1960s was a period of intense optimistic dance songs countered by tearful ballads that dwelled on personal tragedy. You had "The Twist" by Chubby Checker on one hand and the romantic death lyrics of "Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning on the other.

Many of the songs of that period were novelty and for the most part, unoriginal and forgettable. They tended to be family-friendly songs and had very little to do with the rock and roll of the fifties. Very few songs of that period had intellectual credility. Most of the songs were products of either "Tin Pan Alley" or other song writing teams who wrote "safe hits" for recording artists.

The Beachboys

Tin Pan Alley was a specific group of writers that included Neil Sedaka and Carole King, who cranked out assembly line formula songs day after day for various artists. The only artists who seemed to break away from this industry structure were the Ventures, the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys. The Ventures were an instrumental guitar-bass-n' drums outfit that didn't necessarily write their own material, but were the closest thing of the period that could be considered innovative rock.

They used different chord progessions than the fifties hits and were pretty much the first band to put heavy emphasis on lead guitar. The Four Seasons and the Beach Boys were unique because they wrote their own songs and had their own sound, although the Beach Boys were sued by Chuck Berry for lifting the melody almost note for note of "Sweet Little 16" on their 1963 hit "Surfin' USA."

If there was an underground scene to escape to at the time it was brought on by none other than the beatniks, who called their movement the "beat generation." Leaders of this emerging counter-culture were more writers and poets than musicians, although progressive jazz and folk were the two genres of choice for this group. The names that stand out are Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsburg and William Burroughs.

Beat poets made recordings of rhythmic spoken word pieces set to music and to some degree sounded loosely like early rap artists. The underlying theme of the beat generation revolved around seeking pleasures beyond what was offered by the establishment. It really was not so much a political movement as it was a hedonistic or wandering movement.

Their views of alienation and disenchantment with the mainstream were similar to those of the "lost generation" writers during the post-World War I era. The beatniks also helped pave the way for the 1960s "love generation" movement popularized by the hippies whose main themes were peace and love. The beatniks, unlike the hippies, however, were generally confined to their subculture and did not penetrate the music charts with their anthems.

One particular successful jazz artist embraced by the beatniks was Dave Brubeck, whose instrumental hit "Take 5" broke musical ground with its 5/4 time signature, which was considered very odd. The pre-rock lounge and swing sounds have continued to be celebrated in the decades to follow. The New Vaudeville Band had the most retro sound in the sixties with their big hit "Winchester Cathedral." In the seventies Englebert Humperdinck's "After The Lovin'" and Al Matino's remake of "Volare" kept the lounge sound alive.

Frank Sinatra continued to have hits in the sixties but one of his most memorable hits was "Theme From New York, New York" in 1980. There was a string of forties remakes in the eighties, starting with Larry Elgart's "Hooked On Swing" and continuing with Taco's "Puttin' On The Ritz" and Depeche Mode's "Route 66." David Lee Roth even did a remake of the thirties standard "Just A Gigolo." In 1990 a medley called "Swing The Mood" by Jive Bunny featured actual hit recordings of forties and fifties swing hits.

Harry Connick Jr. ended up doing several classics. Madonna's song "Hanky Panky" in 1990 was a modern version of the classic big band sound. Then for awhile the alternative rock format embraced swing music from Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppindaddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Lou Bega closed the century with "Mambo #5." Christina Aguilerra had somewhat of a big band parody hit in the 2000s called "Candy Man."

Judy Garland 1940s

For more than three decades singer-actress Judy Garland claimed the hearts of audiences worldwide. She was the leading star of Hollywood musicals during their heyday in the late thirties and forties, playing wholesome, small-town girls loaded with big-time musical talent. Her rich, powerful voice and dynamic delivery celebrated mainstream American pop at a time when musicals still reflected either the eccentricities of vaudeville, or the conventions of opera and legitimate theater; she made American pop music acceptable, leading it to swing and later, to the mellow harmonies that dominated after World War II.

When her movie career waned in the 1950s, Garland became a premier concert performer, renowned for her rapport with an audience. The love of music and desire to please so evident in her screen portrayals became almost palpable on stage, and she inspired a devotion at home and abroad that occasionally assumed the dimensions of a cult.

Garland's failed marriages, her suicide attempts, and her battles with her weight, alcohol, and pills only enhanced her vulnerability and appeal; The Best of the Music Makers cited performer Jerry Lewis as commenting that Garland "communicates for the audience.

All the things people can't say for themselves. All the stout women identify with her, the losers in love identify .. . the insomniacs, the alcoholics and pill takers." Writing in the New Yorker, Ethan Mordden observed that Garland's "extraordinary singing style [was] so individual yet so uneccentric," allowing her to perform cabaret jazz, show tunes, or love ballads with equal mastery. "She made each song hers without taking anything away from the song," he decided. "Garland is .. . strangely familiar, permanently contemporary."

Garland was born Frances Gumm, the third daughter of vaudeville actors. At the age of two she toddled on to the stage of the Minnesota theater her father owned to sing "Jingle Bells," and was so taken with performing that she had to be forcibly removed.

Following relocation to Los Angeles, Frances and her sisters formed a singing-dancing trio, The Gumm Sisters, with their mother accompanying them on the piano. The girls became the principal support of their family as their father's health declined, performing in vaudeville theaters around the country.

After being mistakenly billed as "The Glumm Sisters" at one stop, they changed their name to "The Three Garlands" (and Frances became Judy); the youngest Garland emerged as the star of the act—"the little girl with the great big voice." When a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) agent heard Judy sing he signed her to a seven-year contract on the spot, recognizing in the untrained thirteen-year-old a wealth of natural talent.

1940 big bands

Today's listeners are likely to associate jazz with nightclubs and concert halls or, historically, with Chicago speakeasies and New Orleans houses of prostitution. In fact, however, the typical occupation of most jazz musicians through the 1940s was playing for dancing. For about three decades after World War I, jazz musicians were in frequent creative tension with the dance-band industry—exploiting and expanding its musical resources, learning its professional lessons, earning its wages, and chafing under its difficult working conditions and many artistic restrictions.

As dance orchestras grew steadily in number, size, and popularity through the 1930s and early 1940s, they came to be called "big bands." Like many of America's musics from the same period— Broadway and Hollywood musicals, rural blues, "folk" music—big-band music of the swing era has been weighted with a nostalgic value that is difficult to support. Since the 1950s, jazz enthusiasts have praised these years as a period of good taste, originality, and high musical standards, with correlative prominence for jazz soloists and jazz-trained arrangers. To some extent this was the case.

Dance bands of the day always fed on the work of jazz soloists: their innovations in phrasing and rhythm; their repertoire, including adaptations and assimilations from "classical" music; and, perhaps most tellingly, their own self-popularizations.

But though the improvising jazz musician provided inspiration for much of the music of the big bands, not all the better dance orchestras were strongly jazz-oriented (Ray Noble's band was one of the better examples of a musically interesting group with a low jazz quotient); and even the finest jazz bands some of the time played straightforward versions of not always memorable popular tunes. At times a piece of orchestral material was created collectively among the members of a band; the result was called a "head" arrangement. Often these heads were largely constructed out of riffs (short phrases repeated exactly or varied very slightly).

But in most cases the transformation of soloistic thought was effected by a composer orchestrator, usually called an arranger. The early history of jazz orchestral writing is still largely undocumented, but its basic direction is clear. Where dance orchestras of the 1910s usually played identical stock arrangements, commissioned and sold in numbers by music publishers, prominent bandleaders of the 1920s followed the lead of Paul Whiteman, a great success early in that decade, in emphasizing their own special arrangements.

These were usually not the product of a single author, but a band's repertoire usually incorporated a trademark sound—a musical style that was adaptable but also identifiable. The leading arrangers of the 1920s included Don Redman for Fletcher Henderson and McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Bill Challis for Paul Whiteman and Jean Goldkette, and Duke Ellington for his own group.


1939 marked a high point in the public furore over big bands, a height that could hardly be sustained. By the early 1940s, though Ellington and others continued to produce major work, a number of musical directions away from the Henderson dominated 1930’s tradition appeared. Benny Goodman began emphasizing the coloristically muted and harmonically involved scores of Eddie Sauter over the work of Henderson and Jimmy Mundy. Goodman’s small groups and the John Kirby Sextet forecast the lightweight small-group sound of bop.

Harry James added a string section to his band for Mantovani style ballads, and others followed suit. Lionel Hampton and other leaders advanced a simplified Basie style that was a strong influence on early rock ‘n’ roll. Tommy Dorsey’s band became the first of many to concentrate on a simplified version of the Lunceford style (with arrangements by Sy Oliver himself), a trend that in the hands of Stan Kenton and others would dominate the last years of the big-band craze.

The end of that craze was hardly as sudden as its beginning. 1942 was the decisive year-a year of wartime draft, wartime shortages, a wartime entertainment tax, and wartime travel restrictions, and the beginning of a two-year recording strike imposed by officials of the American Federation of Musicians.

Although bands grew steadily larger and musicians’ salaries steadily higher, by the late forties the continued existence of an industry of large dance bands in large ballrooms was in doubt, and by the early 1950s that industry was moribund.

The big bands had outlived their time perhaps artistically, perhaps economically. And though their time was not of incomparable richness that has often been painted, it was fertile enough that a great deal of its interesting work is still unheralded after many years-as the present volume clearly shows.

Helen O'Connell

There was a considerable range of styles among the hundreds of popular bands. Many of the better known bands reflected the individuality of the bandleader, the lead arranger, and the personnel. Count Basie played a relaxed propulsive swing, Bob Crosby more of a dixieland style, Benny Goodman a hard driving swing, and Duke Ellington’s compositions were varied and sophisticated. Many bands featured strong instrumentalists, whose sounds dominated, such as the clarinets of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman, the trombone of Jack Teagarden, the trumpet of Harry James, the drums of Gene Krupa, and the vibes of Lionel Hampton.

The popularity of many of the major bands was amplified by star vocalists, such as Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly with Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb, Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing with Count Basie, Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest with Harry James, Doris Day with Les Brown, Toni Arden and Ken Curtis with Shep Fields and Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman. Some bands were society bands that relied on strong ensembles but little on soloists or vocalists, such as the bands of Guy Lombardo and Paul Whiteman.

By this time the Big Band was such a dominant force in jazz that the older generation found they either had to adapt to it or simply retire - with no market for small-group recordings (made worse by a depression-era industry reluctant to take risks), some musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines fronted their own bands, while others, like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, lapsed into obscurity.


Elvis Presley was more influential as a performer, and only as a performer, than any other musician in world history. In some respects Elvis resembled other influential performers, including the famous Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) and the Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Like them Elvis was ‘wild’: an exciting, charismatic, and enormously successful performer. Liszt was the firstEuropean performer to attract groupies: young women who followed him wherever he went.

Elvis also had his groupies, thousands of them. Unlike Liszt and Paganini, however, Elvis did not compose any of his own music. Yet the ways in which he performed the songs he sang, all of them written by other people, transformed twentieth-century popular music worldwide. As John Lennon, a member of the Beatles, once said: “Before Elvis there was nothing.”

Insofar as the history of rock music goes, Lennon was more or less correct. Elvis was born Elvis Aron (or ‘Aaron’) Presley on 8 January 1935 in Tupelo,Mississippi, a small town in the Deep South of the United States. Elvis’s family was poor; his father was often unemployed and once went to jail for fraud. Except for a little instruction on the guitar, Elvis was entirely self-taught as a performer. As a child he listened mostly to gospel music and later sang in several gospel choirs as a member of the First Assembly of God Church.

He also listened to the hillbilly music associated with poor white Southerners and their social problems. In 1948 the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, a good-sized city famous for Beale Street, a fourblock- long collection of hotels, bars, restaurants, and other venues for Black (African American) music-making. After graduating from high school in 1952, Elvis took a job driving a truck. Two years later, in 1954, he came to the attention of Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records. In June of that year Elvis—together with local musicians Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass)—recorded “That’s All Right, Mama” and several other numbers.

Elvis Jail house rock

Suddenly his recordings caught on; their blend of Black and White (Caucasian American) musical elements, combined with his unusually flexible and playful vocal style, rapidly transformed American popular music and led to the global success of rock. Almost before he knew it, Elvis was travelling throughout the American South giving concerts.

By the end of 1956, unquestionably the most important year of his professional life, he had appeared a dozen times on national television and sold millions of records. The same year Elvis became a movie star when he appeared in Love Me Tender, the first in a long series of motion pictures; the film’s title was taken from a song he had recorded the previous year.

Meanwhile his powerful stage presence challenged the values of many conservative Americans, who perceived his glamorous bad-boy appeal as ‘dangerous’. Although Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and Kid Creole (1958) earned money for their producers, the songs Elvis recorded for their soundtracks failed to achieve critical acclaim.

After serving in the army for two years (1958-1960), Elvis made movies and records with gradually diminishing success. Furthermore, even such hits as “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “It’s Now or Never”, which he recorded after returning to civilian life, marked Elvis’s willingness to retreat from more ‘dangerous’ and culturally challenging music, and to adopt a more familiar and conventional performing style. The so-called British Invasion of American pop in 1963-1964 and the subsequent success of younger stars, including the Beatles, temporarily ended Elvis’s fame as an innovative musician.

In 1968, however, he staged a comeback, performing many of his older songs live before a small, informal audience. This performance, televised throughout the United States and known today as the Singer Special (because the programme was sponsored by the Singer Sewing Machine Company), revitalised Elvis’s reputation. So did “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds”, hit songs he recorded in 1969 and his first hits since the early 1960s.

The bebop style of drumming occurred in the 1940's. The drummers that were associated with this new way of playing completely revolutionized jazz music and their influences are still with us today. But before we can examine "bop" we must first understand its origins. Jazz evolved from a fusion of European harmonies and African rhythms around the turn of the century.

From about 1900 to 1920 the beginnings of jazz were present in a form of a New Orleans popular music called "ragtime". This music was closely associated with vaudeville. The style of drumming during this period was more similar to a military way of playing than the traditional jazz approach.

All of the rhythms were played mostly on the snare and bass drum with emphasis on beats two and four. Sometimes these patterns were played on a wood block or rim. Cymbals were mainly used to accent the end of phrases. One of the techniques used was called double drumming. W.F.L. explains "The bass drum was placed to the right of the player with the cymbal of top.

The player would strike the bass drum and cymbal with the snare stick, then quickly pass to the snare drum for the afterbeat with an occasional roll squeezed in."1 This technique still existed through the 20's.

Although variations of the bass drum pedal appeared in the late 1800's, it did not really begin to be used until the 1910's. This invention made double drumming obsolete. The suspended cymbal holder was invented in 1909 by C.B. Wanamaker.2 The ragtime drum set consisted of snare, bass drum (large), cymbal (Chinese), and accessories called "traps".

These accessories included woodblocks, cowbells, and Chinese toms. It is believed the reason for the Chinese influence was due in part because of the great many Chinese people that settled in the large American cities. These instruments would be readily available. The early ragtime drummers included James Lent, William Reitz, Buddy Gilmore, Tony Sarbaro and the infamous Baby Dodds.

Vic Berton drummer 1940 music

By the 1920's some major changes began to take place. First the jazz scene moves from New Orleans to Chicago; second the ensembles become larger (thus the term "big band"); third drum solos become common; and fourth new innovations in the drum set.

At the turn of the century ragtime was spreading across the US. The bands of New Orleans would travel to other big cities to play. Jazz groups began to pop up all over the US. One of the major cities for this to occur was Chicago.

It was here that drummers such as Vic Berton and Gene Krupa revolutionized drum playing and it was here that big band became popular. With the advent of the bigger ensembles new techniques had to be developed. Drummers now began playing the bass drum on all four beats and playing, what is know referred to as the jazz pattern(ding-ding-da-ding), on the cymbal. Vic Berton is considered to be the first to use this technique. The pattern would be played either as a choked cymbal or on the hi hat.


Until the 1930's jazz was rarely considered a medium designed to display virtuoso drum performances, but during the 20's the drum solo came into being and by the late 20's the extended solo became common. Because of this, the technical demand on the drummer was much greater.

Drummers such as Gene Krupa became famous for their technical prowess. Major changes in the drum set started to occur. Drummers discarded the Chinese cymbal in favor of the European model.

The most popular size ranged from ten to thirteen inches in diameter. Drummers such as Zutty Singleton began to use a device by Ludwig called "Bick-a-da-Bock Hand Cymbals". This would later become the hi hat cymbal. The first hi hat pedal cymbals appeared around 1927. In 1937 Leedy advertised a tom-tom which contained separate tension adjustments for both the top and bottom heads. Other drummers from this era included Chick Webb, Sonny Greer, and Jonathan "Jo" Jones.

kenny Baker Jazz


1 March 1921, Withernsea, Yorkshire, England. After taking up the trumpet and playing in brass bands, Kenny Baker moved to London, in the late '30s, to become a professional musician. During the next few years he established himself as an outstanding technician capable of playing in any jazz or dance band.

In the early '40s, he played in the bands of Lew Stone and George Chisholm before joining Ted Heath in 1944. He remained with Heath until 1949, and was featured on many recording sessions and countless concerts. In the early '50s he was regularly on the radio, leading his own band, the Baker's Dozen, on a weekly late-night show which lasted throughout the decade.

In the '60s he led his own groups and recorded film soundtracks, all the while building his reputation as one of the best trumpet players in the world even though he played only rarely outside the UK. At the end of the decade he was featured in Benny Goodman's British band.

Baker's career continued throughout the '70s, with appearances as co-leader of the Best of British Jazz touring package, and with Ted Heath recreations and the bands led by Don Lusher and other former colleagues. In the early '80s, Baker turned down an invitation to take over leadership of the Harry James band after the latter's death.

He could still be regularly heard playing concerts and club dates and was also on television, usually off-camera, playing soundtracks for Alan Plater's popular UK television series THE BEIDERBECKE AFFAIR and THE BEIDERBECKE TAPES.

In 1989, he took part in a major recording undertaking which set out to recreate the classic recordings of Louis Armstrong using modern recording techniques. Baker took the Armstrong role, comfortably confounding the date on his birth certificate with his masterful playing. A fiery soloist with a remarkable technical capacity which he never uses simply for effect, Baker is one of the UK's greatest contributions to the international jazz scene.

He formed the 'Best of British Jazz' which was a show with Don Lusher and Betty Smith. This group toured regularly in 1976 and after the death of Harry James in 1983, he was asked by the James Foundation to take over their orchestra. A small 'fighting cock' of a man (he once elbowed Benny Goodman out of the way for persistently mis-judging the tempo of a Baker feature on British concerts) he was a world-class lead trumpeter, solo performer and improviser.

His career saw him play with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Bennett. He also performed on James Bond soundtracks and with The Beatles. In addition to this, he was also heard on hundreds of TV programmes including The Muppet Show, through his involvement with the Jack Parnell Orchestra, which played for the now-defunct ATV company.

In 1962, he recorded a light jazz set with Petula Clark at the Pye Studios at Great Cumberland Place live and late at night with the Kenny Baker Trio. This has now become a classic set and has regularly been re-issued on CD. This set is entitled In Other Words .. Petula Clark.

doris day 1950s

 In 1940, a song plugger told bandleader Les Brown about Doris Day, the girl singer with Bob Crosby and the Bobcats. “I went and saw the show,” Brown said, “went backstage and hired her …. The band started cooking, you might say.” Before long, though, Day left to get married. The marriage soon soured when her husband began to abuse her.

At the same time, Brown had his first hit recording, a novelty by Ben Homer and Alan Courtney called “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” based on DiMaggio’s record fifty-six game hitting streak in 1941. In 1943, Day had finally had enough; she divorced her husband and rejoined the band.

A year later, Homer took Brown another song on which he was working. Within a half hour, the band leader changed the rhythm of the verse and added a bridge to complete the song. He gave the melody to his publisher, Buddy Morris, who had three different lyricists try their hands. Brown described what happened next: “Buddy was reading a travel book written by an Englishman and it was called “Sentimental Journey,” about this guy going all over Europe.

He mentioned the inns he was staying in.” Morris thought it would make a good title for a song and mentioned it to Bud Green, who had added the nonsense words to the jive classic, “Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy Floy.” Brown said, “But Green wrote a nice lyric. He even had to make up a word to rhyme with “journey:” “Never thought my heart would be so yearny . . .” This nostalgic tune evokes memories of the 40s, in a way few others can do.

The vocal was sensitively done by Doris Day, despite unfounded fears of the extreme vocal ranges required. Some in the band first thought that the song was not going to connect with the kids, but at its debut in the Hotel Pennsylvania's Cafe Rouge the kids went crazy! It was finally recorded at the Les Brown Band's first session after the infamous recording ban. Even now, nearly 60 years later, the song still pleases... and still calls to mind the names of Les Brown and Doris Day. The recording was released by Columbia Records, with the flip side "Twilight Time".

The record first reached the Billboard charts on March 29, 1945 and lasted 23 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1. Doris Day’s recording of “Sentimental Journey” became one of the defining anthems of return for soldiers taking a “sentimental journey home.” Like other train songs from the Swing era, the 2/4 rhythm and strong beat fit the clickety-clack of a train, here punctuated by a line that echoes the whistle’s wail: “Seven … that’s the time we leave at seven.”

Aretha Franklin 1950

She is known the world over by her first name and as the undisputed, reigning “Queen Of Soul,” Aretha Franklin is peerless. This 2005 recipient of a Presidential Medal Of Freedom honor (the U.S.A.’s highest honor), 17 Grammy Awards (and counting), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Grammy Living Legend Award. She has received countless international and national awards and accolades. Aretha has achieved global recognition on an unprecedented scale.

She has influenced generations of singers from Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole and Mary J. Blige to “American Idol” winner Fantasia Burrino and Oscarwinning Jennifer Hudson. Her ever-distinctive soulful, to-the-bone vocal style has graced the music charts for over four decades and while her ‘live’ performances have touched the hearts of literally millions since she began her musical journey as a gospel-singing child prodigy, it is her rich legacy of recordings that are a testament to the power, majesty and genius of this one-of-a-kind artist of the first order.

Beyond the timeless classic hits such as “Respect,” “A Natural Woman,” “Chain Of Fools,” “Think,” “Daydreaming” and “Freeway Of Love” among the dozens of chart-topping records that have established her as a cultural icon, Aretha Franklin’s catalog of over forty albums informs listeners of her unmatched, unparalleled artistry as an interpreter of song, bar none.

Her elevation to ‘royal’ status is indeed not just a function of her hitmaking ability but of her unique inventiveness as a musician who fuses art and soul seamlessly. Indeed, it’s often been said that Aretha could take ‘happy birthday’ and turn it into a veritable opus and while those who know her will testify to her culinary skills in the kitchen, it is her mastery as a musical chef that is evident on each and every one of those forty-plus albums, many of which have achieved gold and platinum status.

As is widely known, Aretha – born in Memphis, reared in Buffalo but a longtime resident of Detroit – began her personal musical journey singing at her much-revered father Reverend C.L. Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church at a very young age.

While she was unquestionably influenced by the presence of such gospel luminaries as Clara Ward (a strong influence), Mahalia Jackson and the Reverend James Cleveland in the Franklin household, it was secular performers such as Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke (also visitors to the Franklin residence) who helped shape Aretha’s wide-ranging interest in popular music.

Young Aretha also heard the doo-wop sounds of Nolan Strong and The Diablos, The Moonglows, The 5 Royales and The Satins as well as popular ‘50s hitmakers such as Johnny Ace, Little Willie John, Jackie Wilson, Big Maybelle and Little Esther on the radio. Aretha’s interest in a wide range of popular music became evident when she began her own recording career at Columbia Records, although it should be noted that her powerful, emotive style was first heard on a gospel recording made in 1956 with her father and released by Chess Records in the mid-‘60s.

With the support of her father, Aretha traveled to New York City in 1960 and after a demo which contained her version of a Helen Humes tune titled “Today I Sing The Blues” made its way to the ears of executive John Hammond (responsible for signing such artists as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Bob Dylan), Aretha was signed to Columbia in 1960.

Cajun music 1950

Traditional Cajun music is a blend of instrumental sounds and playing styles that were first learned from Louisiana's early settlers and later on from incoming immigrants. Black Creoles contributed rhythms and percussion techniques and improvised such instrumentation as washtubs for drums, kitchen soup spoons and washboards. The Spanish contributed the guitar.

The violin and musical triangle have been credited to settlers from France. German-Jewish merchants imported the accordion from Austria right after it was invented in the early 19th century. Acadians and Creole musicians learned how to coax familiar tunes and invented new ones on this music-making contraption.

The Irish and Anglo-Americans contributed new fiddle tunes and dances such as reels and jigs; and all of this eventually became a gumbo of musical sounds that were perfected into what is now Cajun music. It has a distinctive pattern, different from most other folk music.

Finally, because Cajun music is dance music, one of the most essential elements is rhythm. Cajun musicians were greatly influenced in the 1930s and 1940s by country-western singers and instrumentation. The accordion was not always the lead instrument in a Cajun band, and many groups still include an intermix of sound from string, and/or steel and electric guitars to entertain their dancing audiences and to accompany the vocalist.

Today, a typical Cajun band may include the sounds from accordions, fiddles, rhythm-bass-steel or electric guitars, drums and other percussion instruments such as the steel triangle, modified kitchen soup spoons and even a musical washboard.

Pete Seeger

The folk music revival is sometimes said to have begun with Pete Seeger. The Weavers, formed in 1947 by Seeger, had a big hit in 1949 with Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene". This hit was probably one of the first glimmerings of the folk music revival. Although carried along by a handful of artists releasing records, the folk-music scene's development was still only as a sort of cult phenomenon in bohemian circles in places like New York City (especially Greenwich Village and North Beach), and in the college and university districts of cities like Boston, Denver, Chicago and elsewhere.

It was hip, but not terribly widespread. In the 1950s and after, acoustic folk-song performance became associated with the coffee houses, private parties, open-air concerts and sing-alongs, and college-campus concerts. It blended, to some degree, with the so-called beatnik scene, and dedicated singers of folk songs (as well as folk-influenced original material) traveled through what was called "the coffee-house circuit" across the U.S. and Canada.

Lead belly

The folk revival is closely associated with the career of The Weavers, formed in November of 1948 by Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert of People's Songs, of which Seeger had been president and Hays executive secretary. People's Songs, which disbanded in 1948-49, had been a clearing house for labor movement songs (and in particular, the CIO, which at the time was one of the few if not the only union that was racially integrated), and in 1948 had thrown all its resources to the failed presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, a folk music aficionado (his running mate was a country music singer-guitarist).

Hays and Seeger had formerly sung together as the politically activist Almanac Singers, a group which they founded in 1941 and whose personnel often included Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Lead Belly, Cisco Houston, and Bess Lomax Hawes.

The Weavers had a big hit in 1950 with the single of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene". This was number one on the Billboard charts for many months. On its flip side was Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, an Israeli dance song that concurrently reached number two on the charts.

This was followed by a string of Weaver hit singles that sold millions, including "So Long It's Been Good to Know You" (by Woody Guthrie) and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine". The Weavers' career ended abruptly when they were dropped from Decca's catalog because Pete Seeger had been listed in the publication Red Channels as a probable subversive.

Radio stations refused to play their records and concert venues canceled their engagements. A former employee of People's Songs, Harvey Matusow, himself a former Communist Party member, had informed the FBI that the Weavers were Communists, too, although Matsuow later recanted and admitted he had lied. Pete Seeger and Lee Hays were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Despite this, a Christmas Weaver reunion concert in 1955 was a smash success and the Vanguard LP album of that concert, issued in 1957, was one of the top sellers of that year, followed by other smash albums.

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