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Music & Entertainment
in the 1930s



music styles
Jazz had its beginnings in New Orleans in the 1890s. What was mostly a southern phenomenon became a nationwide craze in the 1920s when black musicians came to northern cities during the Great Migration. In the 1930s, jazz became more adventurous as it moved from regulated tempos and blues lyrics to the improvisational style known as "hot" jazz.

The migration of blacks to northern cities during the 1920s resulted in the Harlem Renaissance: a flowering of black culture in New York City that lasted through the 1930s. Black literature and theater flourished, but it's the music for which the era is best known.

In the late 1930s, jazz that was written for dancing broke off into its own musical style...swing music. Performed by big bands with predominantly white musicians, swing would become the most popular music style in the 1940s.

God Bless America
Jazz Timeline 1930s
Photographs From The Golden Age Of Jazz
Strange Fruit
Talking Dust Bowl Blues

songs about the Depression
Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Wolf?
Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries
Happy Days Are Here Again
Keep Your Sunny Side Up
Talking Dust Bowl Blues (Woody Guthrie)

----- dancing
There were many popular dances in the 1930s, including the sophisticated Continental and Carioca, the carefree Lambeth Walk and Big Apple, and the Latin-inspired Rumba and Conga.

Beginning in the late 1920s, dancers at the Savoy Ballroom enjoyed doing an energetic dance they called the Lindy-Hop. Critics called these gyrating dancers "jitter-bugs," and in the late 1930s the name was applied to the dance itself. What was now known as the Jitterbug was also called Swing, and would remain popular into the 1940s.

Archives Of Early Lindy-Hop
Jazz Era Vintage Dances
Origins Of Swing Dancing

music moments
*"God Bless America" was written by Irving Berlin, and made its radio debut in 1938 on The Kate Smith Hour. The song became Kate's signature tune for the rest of her life.

*In 1936, Billboard magazine introduced Chart Line, the first official listing of the most popular songs of the day based on radio airplay.

*After 20 years of Congressional debate, "The Star-Spangled Banner" became our national anthem in 1931.


Hit Songs Of The 1930s

Mood Indigo (Duke Ellington)
Putting On The Ritz (Fred Astaire)
But Not For Me
Can This Be Love?
Dancing On The Ceiling
Embraceable You
I Got Rhythm
Love For Sale
Bidin' My Time

Putting On The Ritz
Fred Astaire (midi)

----- 1931
99 Out Of A Hundred Wanna Be Loved (Rudy Vallee)
Minnie The Moocher (Cab Calloway)
Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (Bing Crosby)
Where The Blue Of The Night Meets The Gold Of The Day (Bing Crosby)
When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain (Kate Smith)
All Of Me
Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
Dancing In The Dark
Dream A Little Dream Of Me
Lady Of Spain
I Found A Million Dollar Baby (In A Five And Ten Cent Store)
Of Thee I Sing
When Your Lover Has Gone
You're My Everything

It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) (Duke Ellington)
April In Paris
42nd Street
I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan
Louisiana Hayride
Night And Day
You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me

It's Only A Paper Moon
Have You Ever Seen A Dream Walking?
Stormy Weather
Shadow Waltz
The Gold Diggers Song (We're In The Money)

It's Only A Paper Moon

Anything Goes
Autumn In New York
I Get A Kick Out Of You
You And The Night And The Music
You're The Top
You're A Builder-Upper

The Music Goes Round And Round
Red Sails In The Sunset
You Are My Lucky Star
Lullaby Of Broadway
I'm In The Mood For Love
Moon Over Miami

The Way You Look Tonight
Goody Goody
Pennies From Heaven
It's De-Lovely
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter
Gloomy Sunday (Hal Kemp & His Orchestra w/Bob Allen)

It Looks Like Rain In Cherry Blossom Lane (Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians)
Ebb Tide
Harbor Lights
Where Or When

A Tisket, A Tasket (Ella Fitzgerald)
God Bless America (Kate Smith)
Flat-Foot Floogey With The Floy Floy
Begin The Beguine (Artie Shaw)
Says My Heart (Ozzie Nelson)
Jeepers Creepers (Louis Armstrong)
Thanks For The Memory (Bob Hope & Shirley Ross)
You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby
Whistle While You Work
Falling In Love With Love (Frances Langford)
My Heart Belongs To Daddy (Mary Martin)
September Song (Walter Huston)
One O'Clock Jump (Count Basie & His Orchestra)
This Can't Be Love (Eddie Albert & Marcy Westcott)

Begin The Beguine
Artie Shaw (midi)

I Git Along Without You Very Well
Wishing (Will Make It So) (Glenn Miller)
Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)
Deep Purple
Over The Rainbow
Stairway To The Stars
Three Little Fishes



song & dance

The floor show at the Cotton Club was known as the "Cotton Club Parade"

The chorus girls at the Hollywood Cabaret
in New York City


in concert

From Spirituals To Swing
In 1938 and 1939, John Hammond staged two concerts at Carnegie Hall entitled From Spirituals To Swing. These landmark performances demonstrated the history of African-American music to mostly white audiences, and featured the era's top jazz, blues and gospel artists.

Amateur Night At The Apollo
Between 1914 and 1934, the Apollo Theater in New York was a burlesque house for white patrons. In 1934, the theater was renovated and the girlie shows were replaced by variety revues aimed at black audiences. The new format brought a popular new show: Amateur Night At The Apollo. One of the winners that first year was a skinny teenager named Ella Fitzgerald....perhaps you've heard of her?

Marian Anderson At The Lincoln Memorial
Marian Anderson was an African-American opera singer of extraordinary talent. In 1939, when her manager attempted to book her into Washington D.C.'s Constitution Hall, he was refused. The Daughters Of The American Revolution (DAR), who owned the hall, had a "white artists only" policy. In response, the Secretary of the Interior invited Anderson to give an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Her performance on Easter Sunday before 75,000 people was a legendary step forward in the fight for racial equality.


the circus
In the 1930s, the circus came in two sizes: small truck shows and large shows that traveled by train. The Barnes/Sells-Floto Circus was a popular small-time show with a long history behind it. The Cole Brothers Circus used 35 double-length railroad cars, and was the home of the Clyde Beatty animal act. The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus was a colossal extravaganza that required 100 railroad cars.

Large or small, these shows all had one thing in common....tradition. Circus parades still made their way down Main Street and shows were still performed under the canvas Big Top.

the sideshow
Sideshows featured all sorts of attractions: human freaks and oddities, performers with exotic or unusual talents, and dime museum curiosities. Some shows traveled alone or were located at amusement parks, but most were part of a circus or carnival. Although they never disappeared completely, the 1930s were definitely their last hurrah.

Why was this? Better medical and prenatal care reduced the number of babies born with birth defects. The general public was also beginning to view sideshows as a cruel form of exploitation. In this era of movies, newsreels and the first television broadcasts, it was also getting harder to lure people to the phony, old-fashioned world of the ballyhoo.

Between the 1880s and the 1920s, vaudeville was the most popular form of live entertainment in America. These touring stage shows featured singers, dancers, comedians and variety acts. Before the nickelodeon was introduced in the mid 1900s, it was also where many people saw their first motion picture. In the 1930s, vaudeville was being rendered obsolete by radio shows and the motion pictures they once featured.

wild west shows
In the 1880s, Buffalo Bill Cody invented the wild west show. The idea was very popular, and soon there were over 100 imitation shows touring the country.

Believe it or not, during the 1930s you could still see:
1) Tiger Bill's Wild West
2) the Buffalo Ranch Real Wild West
3) the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show
4) Tim McCoy's Real Wild West & Rough Riders Of The World.

None of these shows would survive the decade, however....they were eclipsed by the new popularity of the rodeo.

From Spirituals To Swing
Time Magazine: Spirituals To Swing
Marian Anderson At The Lincoln Memorial
Historical Sideshow Links
Circus History Photos
Novelty Performers & Showfolk
Historical Sideshow Images


The Record & Radio Industry

radio networks
The two biggest networks in the 1930s were assembled in the 1920s: CBS, owned by William S. Paley, and NBC, owned by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). NBC was further divided into two separate networks, Red and Blue. The Mutual Broadcasting System was a smaller network that was formed in 1934.

The Mutual Broadcasting System
Radio Transcriptions
WNEW Plays Records

live vs. transcription
In the mid 1930s, playing recorded music on the air during non-network hours was gradually becoming acceptable. However, playing prerecorded shows was still controversial.

Beginning in 1928, some programs were recorded on transcription disc for syndication to radio stations. CBS and NBC refused to air transcriptions, so these syndicated shows were broadcast during non-network hours or by non-network stations.

In 1937, NBC made an exception when they aired the recording of the Hindenburg explosion. During World War II, both networks aired prerecorded speeches and news reports. Otherwise, both networks continued to broadcast only live programs until the late 1940s.

live shows
Many live radio programs were performed before a studio audience. Both Ed Wynn and Eddie Cantor have been credited with being the first radio performers to use a live audience. Many shows were also done twice, for listeners in different time zones!

entertainers embrace radio
During the 1920s, few musicians and vaudeville performers appeared on the radio. They were afraid that their songs and variety acts wouldn't sell if they were overplayed on the air. In the mid 1930s, when the novelty of radio wore off, the opposite was found to be could actually boost the sales of a song.

radio vs. records
Record sales in the late 1920s were poor, due to the new popularity of radio. A rivalry soon developed between the two industries. Throughout the 1920s and most of the 1930s, radio stations were reluctant to play recorded music on the air.

By the mid 1930s, this attitude had softened, and playing records gradually gained acceptance. Of course, NBC and CBS continued to ban recordings....the only records you would hear on a network program were prerecorded sound effects.

Announcers who played records often referred to their shows as make-believe ballrooms. During the 1930s, KFWB in Los Angeles and WNEW in New York pioneered this format.

transcription discs
Beginning in 1929, live radio shows were recorded for reference purposes on transcription discs. These discs were 16 inches wide, and were first made of uncoated aluminum. Later, they were made of lacquer-coated aluminum, shellac, wax, acetate and even glass! They were recorded at the "professional speed" of 33 1/3 RPM, and were extremely fragile.

what's on?
In 1932, the content of a typical radio station consisted of 63 percent music, 21 percent educational, 12 percent literature, 2.5 percent religious and 1.5 percent novelty and comedy.

racism on the radio
There were unwritten rules regarding the portrayal of blacks on the radio. Any black character in a drama had to be a servant, buffoon or comical person. Black guests on variety shows couldn't be introduced with the title of Mr., Mrs. or Miss. Some performers had enough star power to defy the rules. Bing Crosby shocked sponsors when he introduced one of his guests as "Mister Paul Robeson."


Radio Shows
Radio shows followed a daily schedule, which was published in magazines and newspapers. When your favorite show came on, you gathered around the old Crosley (or Zenith, or Atwater-Kent) and listened attentively, allowing the stories to unfold in your head. Adults could choose from comedies, thrillers and late night dance music. For the kids, there were westerns and outer-space adventures.

radio classics

A Christmas Carol
Lionel Barrymore portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge almost every year from 1934 until his death in 1953

Listen to Lionel Barrymore in
"A Christmas Carol" from 1939!


The Cinnamon Bear
This much-loved serial was first broadcast in 1937.
Read about it!

1937: The Hindenburg Disaster
This was possibly the most famous news broadcast in history. A radio correspondent from WLS (Chicago) was in New Jersey, reporting on the arrival of the German airship Hindenburg. His comments were being recorded on a transcription disc for later broadcast when the airship burst into flames.

Listen to it! (RealAudio)

Amos n' Andy
This program was incredibly popular. During each 15 minute show, streets were deserted and telephone use dropped by 50 percent. Movie theaters played the show over the loudspeaker between features, or waited until the show was over before starting the film.

Who's On First?
In the late 1930s, Abbott & Costello introduced their classic "who's on first?" routine during an appearance on The Kate Smith Hour.

Listen to it! (.mp3)

----- Martians attack!
On the night before Halloween in 1938, Orson Welles and the cast of The Mercury Theater On The Air presented a very realistic version of the H.G. Wells sci-fi thriller The War Of The Worlds. So realistic, in fact, that it created a panic when listeners assumed that America really WAS being attacked by Martians!

Why the strong reaction? The 1898 story was rewritten to take place in modern times, and the plot unfolded through a series of fictitious "news broadcasts." The use of actual town names also made it seem very real. Many listeners didn't hear the beginning of the program....they tuned in about ten minutes later, during a break on the Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy show. Consequently, they missed the announcement stating that the program was only fiction.

The Historical Perspective
About The Radio Broadcast
The Script

Listen to the entire

show openings
"Can a girl from a little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?"
--Our Gal Sunday

"Hi ho everybody, this is Rudy Vallee and company..."
--Royal Gelatin Hour, Fleischmann Hour

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny talking, and this is my first appearance on the air professionally. By that I mean I'm finally getting paid..."
--Jack Benny, 1932

tune in your favorite shows

Jack Benny Radio Archives
Radio Spirits Online Radio Shows
Radio Lovers: Free Online Radio Shows
Yesterday USA
Free Old-Time Radio Shows
My YouTube Playlist: 1930s Radio

Bill's Old-Time Radio Page
Radio's Forgotten Years

stars on the radio
Judy Garland
Cary Grant
The Marx Brothers
Orson Welles
Bing Crosby

popular radio shows

mystery, suspense, crime
The Shadow
Lights Out
Charlie Chan
Spy At Large
Dick Tracy
Sherlock Holmes

adventure & kids
The Lone Ranger
The Green Hornet
Little Orphan Annie
Flash Gordon
Terry & The Pirates
Captain Midnight
Buck Rogers
Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy
The Air Adventures Of Jimmy Allen
Tom Mix Ralston Straightshooters

Jack Armstrong,
All-American Boy

One Man's Family
Vic & Sade
Our Gal Sunday
Myrt & Marge
Girl Alone
Joyce Jordan M.D.
The Romance Of Helen Trent

George Burns & Gracie Allen

Lux Radio Theater
First Nighter
Campbell Playhouse
Hollywood Playhouse
Mercury Theater On The Air

other programs
The Pepper Pot
Don McNeill's Breakfast Club
Jurgens Journal
History's Headlines
Kate Smith Speaks
Cavalcade Of America
Betty Crocker Cooking School Of The Air
The March Of Time
Mystery Chef
The Passing Parade

situation comedy
Amos n' Andy
Fibber McGee & Molly
Ozzie & Harriet
Lum & Abner
The Goldbergs
Baby Snooks
Molasses n' January
Stoopnagle & Budd

Jack Benny &
Mary Livingstone

just for laughs
Fred Allen:
-------Linit Bath Club Revue
-------Town Hall Tonight
Bob Hope:
-------The Pepsodent Show
George Burns & Gracie Allen
Jack Benny:
-------The Jell-O Program
Ed Wynn:
-------The Texaco Fire Chief
The Happiness Boys

Charlie McCarthy

Lucky Strike Hit Parade
WLS National Barn Dance
Bing Crosby:
-------Kraft Music Hall
Grand Ole Opry
NBC Minstrel Show
Hour Of Charm
Manhattan Merry-Go-Round
Ziegfeld Follies Of The Air
Let's Dance
The Voice Of Firestone
Kay Kyser's Kollege Of Musical Knowledge
Jitterbug Jamboree
Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra
The Sammy Kaye Show
The A&P Gypsies
New York Metropolitan Opera

Eddie Cantor:
-------Chase & Sanborn Show
-------The Eddie Cantor Show
-------Eddie Cantor's Camel Caravan
-------Texaco Town
Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy:
-------The Chase & Sanborn Hour
Raleigh & Kool Show
Rudy Vallee:
-------Fleischmann Hour
-------Royal Gelatin Hour
Chase & Sanborn Amateur Show
Good News
Kate Smith Hour
Major Bowes Amateur Hour
Rippling Rhythm
Five Star Theater

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