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Big Band Era of the 1930s

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The Big Band Era of the 1930s

The Big Band Era of the 1930s
Introduction- The Great Depression during the 1930s was an extreme struggle for all Americans, but the music of the Big Band Era lifted the spirits of struggling citizens. I. Revival of music during the Great Depression A. Effects of the Great Depression on the music industry B. How music started to regain its popularity during harsh times C. The role of technology in reviving the music culture II. Impact of the Big Band Era A. Evolution of Jazz into Swing B. Characteristics of the swing culture
III. “Big Bands” of the Big Band Era A. How the jazz genre began B. The components of a “big band” C. Louis Armstrong: prominent music icon of the 1930s
Conclusion- The Big Band Era during the 1930s helped many Americans escape the hardships of their every day lives during the Great Depression and has left a huge impact on America which still resides in people today.

The Big Band Era of the 1930s Music affects the lives of people all around the world, and it plays a major role in the development of all cultures. People use music to express themselves, an event, or thoughts in a way simple, ordinary words cannot. Because people are constantly changing, music also changes throughout the times. Many different eras of music are well known, but one very prominent timeframe in music is America’s Big Band Era of the 1930s. The Big Band Era uplifted the broken spirits of Americans suffering many hardships during the Great Depression.

Revival of Music During the Great Depression The Great Depression was a time of suffering for many Americans, and African Americans were impacted the most by the depression (Great). During the early 1930s, many bands were struggling to find venues where they could perform (Kindig). The music industry was dangerously close to collapse because people no longer had the time or money to appreciate the art of music. Most record companies went out of business, but the few that still powered through were only selling around six million record copies a year when they used to sell over one hundred million copies every year. The depression hit so hard that, “shivering jobless men burned old phonograph records to keep warm” (Great). It was not until the mid thirties came along when jazz became the genre of music that everyone would listen to (Dickstein 425). The depression showed no signs of lifting, but jazz was getting closer to becoming America’s popular music, and by 1939, fifty million records would be sold because of swing music (Great). In order to create more jobs, the federal government placed artists, musicians, actors, and writers in a variety of projects as part of the public relief program of the New Deal (Kindig). Once Prohibition ended in 1933, many people were able to enjoy going to nightclubs again, and this event caused the beginning of swing (Dickstein 425). Swing music first gained its popularity with teenagers. These teenagers wanted to go out dancing and have a good time, away from all of the worries the Great Depression brought upon them, and soon adults also joined in on the fun which led to many sold out events (Gordon et al.). Swing music and dancing became such a hit that there were around 2,000 dance bands in America by the end of the decade (Dickstein 425). Duke Ellington’s multiple performances at the high society Cotton Club in New York also helped to make big band jazz even more popular (Dickstein 419). Advancements in technology, such as the radio, allowed people easier access to the constantly changing culture (Kindig). At first, radio networks struggled because the musicians who were forced to work for the radio had constant time restraints, commercial interruptions, and limitations on their music, but it would all change very soon (Dickstein 425). The radio became very popular and common in most households because radio networks allowed people to listen to music in their own living rooms without spending a penny (Kindig). More music was played on the radio because it became the only type of entertainment most people could afford, free (Gunnell). Now people who would not normally be able to listen to jazz at upper class clubs could listen to jazz in the comfort of their own home (Dickstein 425). The number of people who listened to the radio increased from sixteen million in 1925 to sixty million in 1930 (Dickstein 425). More advancements in technology changed the quality of the music broadcasted on the radio, and it led to the decline of people buying their own personal recordings on discs. In 1933, Homer Capehart unveiled the world’s first jukebox, which allowed Big Band music to become more successful because it allowed music to be played in speakeasies everywhere. Speakeasies were popular public places including diners, ice cream parlors, and drug stores (Gordon et al.). Jazz and swing music became much more widely accessible to the public by the introduction of the radio and jukebox and also by ballrooms and big bands (Dickstein 425).

Impact of the Big Band Era The Big Band Era stretched from the 1920s to the 1950s, but its peak was during the 1930s and 1940s (Gordon et al.). Jazz began its evolution into swing in Harlem (Gunnell), and dancing to swing music became a hot topic (Kindig). Louis Armstrong was known as the “ambassador of swing” (Gunnell), and he was one of the people in the 1930s who changed jazz and blues into swing (Pick). Swing music became revolutionary and its massive impact saved the recording industry (Great). 1930s pop culture was defined by swing music, but swing was not just a genre of music, it became its own culture. Swing culture was a youthful opposite to the ordinary restrictions of living a mediocre, middle class life (Tap). Local bands attracted a mix of both black and white audiences (Kindig). Before, it was unheard of for there to be integrated bands, and one time the singer Billie Holiday was forced to darken herself with greasepaint so she could blend in on stage with black men. Benny Goodman was the first to integrate his band in 1936, and he was well respected by all musicians. Swing music was thought to bring together black and white audiences and musicians, but the top jazz magazine at the time reported there still was a clear racial division with the fans (Tap). Asides from the racial division, many swing musicians were recognized by the younger fans as celebrities (Gunnell), and young people were inspired by these musicians and tried to follow their careers (Great). Swing music created new dances such as the Lindy Hop, Big Apple, Little Peach, the Shag, and the Suzy Q (Great). Music and dancing was a cheap way to escape hard times for everyone (Gunnell). Jitterbugging was a form of the Lindy Hop, created in Harlem, which was a big part of swing culture, and it was based on improvisation and had many set moves and repeated motions (Tap). Swing music could be heard everywhere in 1936, and many people enjoyed the different types of swing dancing. Dance contests became popular and attracted many teenagers and young adults where they would commonly dance the Jitterbug or the Suzy Q (Gunnell). Swing music was a great force created in America that was heard in theaters and ballrooms all over the country. “Swing music became the defining music for an entire generation of Americans” (Great).

“Big Bands” of the Big Band Era The genre of jazz started during the Jim Crow era when black and Creole people came together because of segregation. Jazz music was created in America with roots in improvisation and was played by slaves using mostly handmade instruments like the banjo and washboard (Gunnell). Self taught African Americans bought decommissioned military instruments, and their unconventional, fresh sounds laid the foundation of the growing musical genre of ragtime. Big Band jazz started in New Orleans during 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War (Gordon et al.) and was originally played by black musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, but swing was played by white musicians as well such as Benny Goodman (Gunnell). Big Band jazz was heavily influenced by ragtime’s blues notes and off beat harmonies, but it was mainly characterized by improvisation of soloist. Later, the unorganized style changed into a prearranged and nicely prepared music style as bigger venues needed more arrangements, but it still had room for improvisation. The bands commonly had ten or more musicians, and the main instruments of these bands were part of the brass family such as the saxophone, trumpet, and trombone, which were accompanied by pianos, guitars, bass, and drums which composed the rhythm section. The bold sounds of brass instruments and its fun percussion family made people want to dance to its rhythmic beat (Gordon et al.). Swing music included many repeated rifts to give it a catchy and rhythmic tune (Tap). Brass, woodwind, and all types of instruments produced the unique sound of swing music (Gordon et al.). Louis Armstrong was an icon during the Big Band Era, and his artistic genius changed his life and inspired Americans everywhere. Bing Crosby called Armstrong, “the beginning and end of music in America” (Pick). Armstrong was first recognized as a jazz soloist in the 1920s, and after his first big breakthrough in 1929 with his song “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, he became recognized outside of the jazz world. In the 1930s, he became a mainstream musician, entertainer, and the first black entertainer to host his own radio series. During his stay in California, he seriously started to write ballads like “Body and Soul” which showed his diverse, deep emotions. His best jazz pieces, “I’m A Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” and “Memories of You”, were recorded in the 1930s. With his unique singing voice and virtuoso skills for playing the trumpet, he became an established international star by the end of the decade (Pick).

The Big Band Era of the 1930s helped many Americans escape the hardships of their every day lives during the Great Depression. New music was not just a genre, but it became a whole new culture enjoyed by many. Music provided suffering Americans entertainment, and without it America’s history could have been changed for the worse. The music of the Big Band Era has left a huge impact on America, which still resides in people today.

Works Cited
Dickstein, Morris. Dancing in the Dark. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print.
Gordon, Jacob, et al."The Big Band Era and its Impact Worldwide." FSU World Music Online. N.p., 25 Apr. 2011. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.
"The Great Depression History in the Key of Jazz." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.
Gunnell, Noreen. "Swing Music and the Great Depression." Bright Hub Education. N.p., 5 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
Kindig, Jessie. "Culture and Arts During the Depression." The Great Depression in Washington State. N.p., 2009. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.
Pick, Margaret. "Louis Armstrong in the 30s: A Tribute to the Life and Music of Armstrong in the 30s." Riverwalk Jazz Collection. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.
"Tap Your Knowledge Box the Swing Era." Between the Wars: The Swing Era. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Feb. 2015.…...

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