Fads of the 1930s: For the Record

January 16, 2009

During the 1930s most individuals were able to get their groove on because they only needed access to a radio, which was quite prevalent. Improved phonograph recordings, amplifications and the invention of the jukebox in 1927 fueled the growth of music even through the height of the Great Depression.

Duke Ellington carried his success from the previous decade and created the memorable jazz song “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and became one of the popular big band jazz leaders of the decade. Tommy Dorsey with “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and Benny Goodman with “King Porter Stomp” also pushed the big band movement into full swing! Guys could be seen throwing girls around, but it was no worry, they were just doing the jitterbug.

African American singer Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, became famous for strumming his twelve string guitar. Leadbelly’s lyrics versed the experiences African Americans endured during the decade, including “Cotton Fields” and “Take This Hammer.” Woody Guthrie, a fellow singer and guitar player, became an artist known for his ballads such as “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.”

On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem for the United States of America. The lyrics were taken from a Francis Scott Key poem written in 1814, regarding the War of 1812. Prior to this designation, many deemed “God Bless America” by composer Irving Berlin the unofficial anthem of the U.S.

Music also became a star in Hollywood on the sets of musical films and Broadway musical plays. Actress Judy Garland took center stage in the 1939 release of The Wizard of Oz showcasing composer Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.” George Gershwin debuted his ambitious masterpiece, Porgy and Bess, based on the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward. Gershwin’s most notable piece in the folk opera was Summertime.

In the southern states, country music debuted in the 1920s with its roots in the state of Tennessee. Considered by many northerners as “hillbilly music,” it was not until the ‘30s that country and western music became a popular genre. This southern success was due to the music’s achievement on the radio, which then developed into success in movies. Cowboys began utilizing their vocal chords, beginning with Gene Autry. Starring on the radio, in movies, and on television Gene Autry became popular for singing country songs such as “Back in the Saddle Again,” earning him the name The Singing Cowboy. Autry later paved the way for another famous singing cowboy, Roy Rogers.

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