Category Archives: Popular music

A British Prime Minister; a German Chancellor and a USA Ambassador in the background – and we can listen to music!

 

We now read and write today in the year 2018 – but for today I want to take you back 80 years to the year 1938 and see what was happening in Britain.

On 17th January 1938 Joseph P Kennedy had been appointed United States Ambassador to the UK while, on 20th February, Anthony Eden had resigned as Foreign Secretary over Chamberlain’s policy towards Italy.  Lord Halifax took over Eden’s role and just under 2 months later, on 16th April 1938, the Anglo-Italian Treaty and Britain recognised Italian government over Ethiopia in return for Italian troops withdrawing from Spain.

In a different field – from the 13th to 20th August 1938 – Great Britain and the United States contested the inaugural Amateur World Series in baseball, played in the north of England. Britain won every match! This was closely followed on 23rd August when English cricketer Len Hutton scored a record Test score of 364 runs in a match against Australia.

Let’s finish this look at 1938 from a different angle that we shall return to later.

On 13th September 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in an attempt to negotiate an end to German expansionist policies.  On 29th September Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement and a resolution with Germany determining to resolve all future disputes between the two countries through peaceful means. On 30th September Neville Chamberlain returned to the UK from Munich, memorably waving the resolution signed the day earlier with Germany, and later in Downing Street giving his famous ‘Peace for our time’ speech.

We’ll have to wait for the stories above for different places but we can clearly enjoy the musical delight that was available in the year of 1938…

Just outside the top 5 were “A Gypsy Told Me” by Ted Weems and his Orchestra with Perry Como; “Cry, Baby, Cry” by Larry Clinton and “Don’t Be That Way” by BennyGoodman.

In 5th place we have Roy Acuff with the ‘Wabash Cannonball’. – In 4th place are Bob Hope & Shirley Ross saying ‘Thanks for the Memory’ while in 3rd place has Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb telling us all about ‘A-Tisket A-Tasket’.   At number 2 we find, we find  the Andrew Sisters going German with ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ and, at number one we have Artie Shaw telling us all to ‘Begin the Beguine’.

BUT – when we look at the music of 1938 in a different way – the creators – we get a different scene.  There we find: “The Biggest Aspidistra in the World” by Tommie Connor, W. G. Haines & James S. Hancock and “Boomps-A-Daisy”, with words and music by Annette Mills.  There is also “Cinderella, Stay in my Arms” with words by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Michael Carr.

“Dearest Love”;   “I went to a Marvellous Party”;   “The Stately Homes of England” and “Where are the Songs we Sung?” were in words & music by Noël Coward.

You’re what’s the Matter with Me” was on words and music by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr and was introduced by Harry Richman and Evelyn Call in the film ‘Kicking the Moon Around’

Next week we could be kicking something much more serious.

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Music and other aspects of the 1930s

For a great many the 1930s were remembered for mass unemployment with unemployment in Britain at the start of 1933 at 22.8%.  However, by January 1936 it had eased to 13.9% and in 1938 it was down to around 10%.  There was still a semi-permanent depression area in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales but new industries, such as car and aircraft manufacture, and new electronics were prospering in the Midlands and the South of England where unemployment was relatively low.

The 1930s were the great age of cinema going in Britain with many people going at least once and sometimes twice a week. The early films were black and white but in the 1930s the first colour films were made – although it was decades before all films were made in colour.  Radio broadcasting had begun in 1922 in Britain when the BBC was formed and by 1933 half the households in Britain had a radio. Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting.

From the mid-1920s to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands. The British bands never quite adopted the kind of USA “Swing” and “Big Band” jazz and during the 1930s the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands – quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally sweeter.  Non-the-less Billy Cotton began in the 1930s and still had a prime-time TV programme until the late ’60s and Ted Heath’s fame lasted until 1964. Many others carefully adjusted as time passed.  For instant – Jack Hilton’s band was “hot” until 1933, but then became sweeter as their success grew.  Some of the lead singers also enjoyed fame on their own. Most famous were Al Bowlly and Leslie `Hutch` Hutchinson.

I’ll close off for this week with something very different from music – but something that people could nibble while they listened their music of choice …..

This decade also saw sales of ice cream boom and many new kinds of sweets introduced. Jaffa cakes had gone on sale in 1927 and Twiglets and Crunchy Bars in 1929.  Milky Way had been on sale in 1923 in the USA and arrived in Britain in 1935. Other UK arrivals included:  Snickers (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltsters and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937).

Roy Fox – an American-born British dance band leader

Roy Fox, an American-born British dance band leader, was born in Denver, Colorado on 25th October 25 1901.  His period of greatest popularity was in England during the British dance band era of the 1930s.

Roy and his musician sister Vera were raised in Hollywood in a Salvation Army family. Roy had begun playing a cornet when he was 11 years old, and by age 13 was performing in the Los Angeles Examiner’s newsboy’s band. Soon after he was playing bugle for a studio owned by Cecil B. DeMille!

His first major association came at the age of 16 when he joined Abe Lyman’s orchestra at the Sunset Inn in Santa Monica. There he played alongside many of the established artists and developed a soft style of playing which earned him the nickname, “The Whispering Cornetist”. In 1920 he put together his own band and, in 1925, scored a gig on radio broadcasting with Art Hickman’s orchestra.  After some time in New York City, Roy and Abe reconvened in Hollywood, working at the Ambassador Hotel, and Fox continued to broadcast with his own bands. During this time he also did a number of film soundtracks!

As time and reputation moved on 1930 found Roy Fox being invited to perform in London.  His first performance was on Monday 29th September 1930.  In that same year Roy recorded on the BBC and, when his band returned to the USA in the Spring of 1931, Roy remained behind, recording with a new group for Decca Records and accepting an engagement at the Monseigneur restaurant in Piccadilly.  Unfortunately Roy fell ill with pleurisy in 1932 and travelled to Switzerland for a stay at a sanatorium. During his convalescence the band was led by its pianist, Lew Stone but, on his return to London, Roy resumed the control.

However, when the Monseigneur contract came up for renewal that autumn Roy was unable to agree terms and, as a result the restaurant’s owner then offered the residency to Lew Stone. With the exception of trumpeter Sid Buckman, the band decided to go with Lew!  In response Roy took out an injunction on the grounds of breach of contract against his singer Al Bowlly which prevented Bowlly performing with Stone’s band on the first night.  On Tuesday, 25th October Roy Fox applied for an extension of the injunction against Al, but at a hearing in chambers Mr. Justice McCardie denied Roy Fox’s application on the grounds that ‘the contract related specifically to the ‘Monseigneur’ lost his action.

Roy now formed a new band with Sid Buckman as trumpeter and vocalist, and secured a residency at the Cafe Anglais in Leicester Square.  Roy also performed in Belgium as well as other locations in the UK.  At Christmas he played a variety of instruments in this band.  In 1933-4 Roy made the films On the Air and Big Ben Calling; recorded for HMV in 1936, and toured Europe until 1938, when he fell ill again.

In later years Roy moved to Australia, where he led the Jay Whidden Orchestra and visited the U.S. for a few tours with small groups.  In 1946/47 he led a band in England  with appearances at the Isle of Man and London’s Potomac Club. He went into semi-retirement after 1952, when he opened his own booking agency. He died in London in 1982, aged 80.

1930 Britain and musicians from Grenada and South Africa

There had been mass unemployment in the 1920s in Britain with most of the decade it hovered between 10% and 12% unemployed.  However that was nothing to the early 1930s when the economy was struck by depression. By the start of 1933 Britain’s unemployment was 22.8% but over the following years unemployment fell substantially and by January 1936 it stood at 13.9% and by 1938 it was around 10%.  However, although a partial recovery took place in Britain in the mid and late 1930s there were semi-permanent depression areas in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales.  Depression and unemployment are one side of the story – but there is another side. During this decade most people with a job found that living standards rose significantly.

From about 1925 to 1946 the most popular form of music in the UK was that produced by dance bands.   The British bands never quite adopted the kind of “Swing” music that was generally associated with American “Big Band” jazz. It was quite tame compared to American jazz and was generally more sweet.  Billy Cotton had perhaps the longest fame, as he still had a prime-time TV programme until the late 1960s while the fame of Ted Heath lasted until 1964. Fans tended to divide them into “Sweet” such as that of Ambrose; Geraldo and Victor Silvester and the “Hot” of Harry Roy and Nat Gonella.  The Jack Hylton’s band was “hot” until 1933 – and then became sweeter as their success grew.

Some of the lead singers enjoyed fame on their own – and two of the most famous of the time were Al Bowlly and Leslie “Hutch” Huchinson.  Let’s take ‘Huch’ first:

Leslie Huchinson was born in Grenada in 1900 to George & Marianne Hutchinson.  As a child Hutch took piano lessons.  In 1916, he moved to New York City with the intent to study for a degree in medicine – he had won a place due to his high aptitude – but instead he began playing the piano and singing in bars.  He joined a black band led by Henry “Broadway” Jones, who often played for white millionaires such as the Vanderbilts.  This attracted the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan and, in 1924, Hutch left America for Paris.  There he had a residency in Joe Zelli’s club and became a friend and lover of Cole Porter.  There were regular visitors from England and, in 1927, Huch was encouraged by Edwin Mountbatten to come to England in 1927 to perform in a Rogers and Hart musical.  ‘Hutch’ soon became the darling of British society and the population in general. Hutch became a favourite singer of the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) and became one of the biggest stars in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s – and was, for a time, the highest paid star in the country.

He was regularly heard on air with the BBC and one of his greatest hits was “These Foolish Things”.  However – in spite of his popularity – Hutch could not escape racial prejudice.  He bought a Rolls-Royce, a grand house in Hampstead, patronised London’s best tailors, spoke five or six languages and was on friendly terms with the Prince of Wales – but he was still a black man in an era of racial discrimination. When he entertained at lavish Mayfair parties, his fee was large, but he was often obliged to go in by the servants’ entrance. This embittered him.  None-the-less Hutch stayed on in England and we’ll come back to him at a later time.

Albert Allick Bowlly was a Mozambican-born South African/British singer/songwriter, composer and band-leader who became a popular jazz crooner during the British dance band era of the 1930s. He later worked in the United States and is recorded as making more than 1,000 records between 1927 & 1941.  He was born in Lourenco Marques, in what was then the Portuguese colony of Mozambique to Greek and Lebanese parents who met en route to Australia and moved to South Africa. He was brought up in Johannesburg and, after a series of odd jobs across South Africa in his youth, including being a barber and a jockey!  He gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa during the mid-1920s. However, he fell out with Adeler and was fired from the band in Indonesia and, after a spell with a Filipino band in Surabaya he was employed by Jimmy Liquime in India. Bowlly worked his passage back home by busking.  Next stop was Berlin where he recorded Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with Edgar Adeler! Bowlly arrived in London for the first time as part of Fred Elizalde’s orchestra – but he nearly didn’t make it after foolishly frittering away the fare money he had sent to him by Elizalde.

That year, “If I Had You” became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well, and Bowlly had gone out on his own by the beginning of the 1930s. First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive. In the 1930s, he signed two contracts—one in May 1931 with Rox Fox, singing in his live band for the Monseigneur Restaurant in London, the other a record contract with Ray Noble’ orchestra in November 1930.

During the next four years, he recorded over 500 songs and by 1933 Lew Stone had ousted Fox as bandleader, and Bowlly was singing Stone’s arrangements with Stone’s band. After much radio exposure and a successful British tour with Stone, Bowlly was inundated with demands for personal appearances and gigs – including undertaking a subsequent solo British tour – but continued to make the bulk of his recordings with Noble.] There was considerable competition between Noble and Stone for Bowlly’s time as, for much of the year, Bowlly would spend all day in the recording studio with Noble’s band, rehearsing and recording, only then to spend the evening playing live at the Monseigneur with Stone’s band.

The man’s called BING

Harry Lillis Crosby – better known as Bing Crosby – was an American singer, actor, and song writer that achieved great popularity in radio, recordings, and motion pictures. He became the archetypal crooner of a period when the advent of radio broadcasting and talking pictures and the refinement of sound-recording techniques made the climate ideal for the rise of such a figure. His casual stage manner and mellow, relaxed singing style influenced two generations of pop singers and made him the most successful entertainer of his day.

He had acquired the nickname ‘Bing’ when he was in elementary school although it is unclear whether it came from a prank on a teacher or from a love for the comic strip of the time The Bingville Bugle. He came from a musical family and began to sing and to play the drums while studying law in Washington.  In the late 1920’s he was singing with the Paul Whiteman orchestra and, in 1931, he appeared in the early sound film King of Jazz. In 1932 he got his own program on the CBS radio station in New York City and began appearing in more films, so much so that by the late 1930s his records were selling millions of copies.

But let us take him back the late 1920s.

Bing and music really began when he started singing and playing drums in a small band called ‘Musicaladers’ that played at school dances and in social functions.  Bing and Alton Rinker – the brother of singer Mildred Bailey – dropped out of college in 1925 to try to make a success as a singing duo. Their target was West Coast – the home of Mildred and vaudeville theatres!  Mildred had contacts and introduced Bing and Alton to ‘a very big theatrical agent’ – they were on their way.  Some 18 months later the pair was hired by Paul Whiteman – at the time the leader of the most popular dance orchestra in the country!

Soon the two became three when Harry Barnes – a singer-pianist – joined them.   The Rhythm Boys developed a lightly swinging, easy-going vocal style that soon became one of the most popular elements of Paul Whiteman’s stage shows – AND his radio programs and recordings.

Bing had the most distinctive voice of the trio and, increasingly, was given chances to ‘go solo’ within the three.  He began developing a following from the younger members of the audience – so much so that he was assigned a key solo spot in a major production number.  The number was ‘Song of the Dawn’ which the Whiteman band filmed in Hollywood in 1930.

But …… things didn’t quite go to plan – but we’ll worry about that next week!

Singers and songs are moving on towards the 1930s.

Albert Alick Bowlly [Al Bowlly] was born to Greek and Lebanese parents who had met en- route to Australia.  They moved to South Africa and their child was brought up in Johannesburg! After a series of odd jobs across South Africa, including being a barber and a jockey!  At the same time Al gained his musical experience singing for a dance band led by Edgar Adeler on a tour of South Africa.  That tour expanded to Rhodesia, India and Indonesia during the mid-1920s but in Surabaya, Indonesia Al fell out with Adeler and was fired from the band. After a spell with a Filipino band in Surabaya he was then employed by Jimmy Liquime in India. Al worked his passage back home by busking and, in 1927he had a date in Berlin, where he recorded Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with Edgar Adeler.

Albert’s next move was to London for the first time as part of Fred Elizade’s orchestra. That nearly didn’t work as Al foolishly frittered away the fare money sent to him by Elizalde!  However – that year “If I Had You” became one of the first popular songs by an English jazz band to become well known in America as well.  First, however, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 resulted in Al Bowlly being made redundant and returning to several months of busking to survive.

In the USA a male singing duo began performing together in 1925.  In late 1926 they were recruited by Paul Whiteman to join his band. They were called The Rhythm Boys and were now three as, in 1927, pianist/singer/song writer Harry Barris had joined the pair of Al Rinker and one Bing Crosby. They made a number of recordings with the Whiteman Orchestra and released singles in their own right with Barris on piano. In Mau 1930, after three and a half years with Paul Whiteman the ‘Rhythm Boys’ moved on – and we’ll come back to them later.

Let’s end this session with two individuals whose names still ring in Britain today. 

Noel Coward was stage struck from childhood and, by the age of 20, was already writing plays.  By 1923 he enjoyed his first West End success with ‘London Calling’ and over the next 20 years, enjoyed continues success.

Our other is Gertrude Lawrence who had many similarities to Noel Coward.  Her multi-talent was ‘discovered’ by the time she was 18.  She made her name in Coward’s ‘London Calling’ in 1923 and then shared top billing with Beatrice Lillie in ‘Charlotte’s Revue’ in New York in 1924.  A true product of ‘the revue’ she had that ‘star’ quality that made her popular across the entertainment spectrum.

 

The wars are over and a new world begins

With the end of the conflict both sides of the Atlantic took a deep breath and moved on.  The third decade of the 20th century- the 1920s – looked exciting.  It would be the decade that marked the beginning of the modern music era. The music recording industry was just beginning to develop and a myriad of new technologies was coming along.  That would help to create the way music would be made and distributed.

By the 1910s the first commercial public radio stations had begun broadcasting in the United States and, once radio became widespread and popular, the worlds of radio and recorded music began to merge. The music recording industry’s profits dropped with the proliferation of commercial radio and, beginning in 1923, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) required licensing fees to play their music on the radio. A final influence on the music industry came near the end of the decade when silent movies turned into “talkies”, incorporating recorded sounds and creating a whole new venue for the distribution of popular music. Movie versions of Broadway musicals became extremely popular and introduced different types of music to audiences across the world.

What we all know is that the modern music industry developed wider skills in the 1920s with all of the new technologies that were created and used to make and distribute music. The music world was wide open, making way for the popularization of genres like Jazz, Blues, Broadway and Dance Bands.

The gramophone had been created in the late 1880s; become popular in the early 1900s and developed the way the music was recorded in the mid-1920s. As the recording process improved, a number of independent record labels began to appear and, in doing so, helped to expand the modern music industry.  For many this expanded in the harbour city of Charleston in South Carolina.

The Charleston was a dance with rhythm that had popularized the mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 composer/pianist – one James P. Johnson.  It was called “The Charleston” and had originated in a Broadway show ‘Running Wild’ and became one of the most popular hits of the decade.  The show itself only ran from 29th October 1923 to 28th June 1924 but the Charleston, as a dance by the public, peaked in the mid-1926 to 1927.

The Charleston – and similar dances such as the Black Bottom which involved “Kicking up your heels – were very popular through to the end of the 1920s

Jazz music had begun in the early 1900s within the New Orleans community and reached the mainstream in the 1920s when Southern African American musicians began moving up to Chicago looking for work. The Twenties are often called the Jazz Age because the popularization of that music had an enormous cultural effect.  The music was important because it influenced fashion, dances, accepted moral standards, youth culture, and race relations. It was one of the first types of music to be culturally appropriated by the American white middle class and Jazz scholars often separate the music into “Jazz” and “White Jazz”. This marked a difference in style and meaning between original African American jazz artists and popularized white jazz artists. Jazz music was also popular on the newly booming radio networks and it was one of the ways that white musicians appropriated and popularized the music as many national stations refused to play records by black artists at the time.

Two predominant black artists that had popularity and played in jazz bands. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were two, while one influential white jazz artist at the time was Bix Beiderbecke. Jazz gained popularity and spread through the country in clubs, speakeasies, and dance halls where Jazz bands would play their new music.

We’ll have a looks at Britain’s music work next week!

Ragtime begins to change our music

Ragtime became central to the development of jazz in both America and Britain around the turn of the century.  The term ‘ragtime’ comes from the syncopated or ‘ragged’ rhythm and had its origins in the African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis. One of the first pioneers and composers of ragtime was Ernest Hogan. He was the first composer to have his ragtime pieces (or “rags”) published as sheet music, beginning with the song “LA Pas Ma LA” published in 1895.  More important, though, could be the fact that he has been credited for coining the term ragtime.  Ben Harney, another Kentucky native, has often been credited for introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon but You Done Broke Down”, helped popularize the style. However – the composition was published in 1895, a few months after Ernest Hogan.

Nun-the-less – it is neither of these that keep Ragtime in our memory.  That composer is Scott Joplin who became famous through the publication of the “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 and was followed by “The Entertainer” in 1902.  Despite this Scott, and many others of the time, were later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados.  It was not until a major ragtime revival in the early 1970s that brought them to the fore.

So what’s happening in Britain at this time?  Well – not too much with regard to day-to-day music it would appear.  Many of the earliest parlour songs were transcriptions for voice and keyboard of other music.  Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, for instance, were traditional “folk” tunes with new lyrics by Moore.  Many arias from Italian operas, particularly those of Bellini and Donizetti, had become parlour songs, with texts either translated or replaced by new lyrics. Various other genres were also performed in the parlour, including patriotic selections, religious songs, and pieces written for the musical stage.  However – excerpts from blackface minstrels, arranged for voice and keyboard, were particularly popular.  Also we we have a handful of the better-known songs, such as Schubert’s “Serenade”, that became part of the parlour repertory. Lyrics written for parlour songs often have sentimental themes, such as love songs or poetic meditations.  We’ll come to these at a later time.

However – the following has been tracked down as being the top 10 pieces in 1901 to 1910. Starting at 10th best – and heading to number one – we have:

Arthur Collins (1902) we have ‘Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home’.

Harry MacDonough with Miss Walton (1909)‘Shine on Harvest Moon’.

Hayden Quartet (1903) ‘In the Good Old Summer Time’.

Bill Murray in 1905 ‘Yankee Doodle Boy’.

Billy Murray (1904) ‘Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis’.

Byron Harlan (1907) ‘School Days (When We Were a Couple of Kids)’.

Bill Murray (1905) ‘Give my Regards to Broadway’

Hayden Quartet (1908) ‘Take me out to the ball game’.

Hayden Quartet (1904) ‘Sweet Adeline (You’re the Flower of My Heart)’.

And at number one for the years 1901 to 1910 we have:

Bill Murray (1906) ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag (aka ‘The Grand Old Rag’)’.

A story from Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll

I first started pulling the pieces of this story together some 15 or so years ago.  At that time I was a tutor/speaker for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and, among many other courses I presented, I offered ‘From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.   In due time I moved on, my activities changed and ‘FRT to R’n’R’ went on the back boiler.  I now feel that the time is right to bring it back to life.

I hope you will enjoy it as much I am sure I will.

Ragtime music came from the work camps linked to the railway’s expansion in the USA.  The words of Max Morath an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor and author who was best known for his piano playing .  He was referred to as “Mr. Ragtime”. – ‘Scorned by the establishment as ephemeral at best, trashy at worst, Ragtime was the fountainhead of every rhythmic and stylistic upheaval that has followed in a century of ever evolving American popular music’ – summed up his view of the establishment’s view of the new music.  But, as we shall see, this response to new popular music repeats itself time & time again.

Very few people ever listen by choice to music that they don’t like so, for music to be popular, it has to match or reflect the desires, feelings, conditions and attitudes of its listeners potential and real. Therefore, no commercial composer or performer can afford to ignore their chosen market.  As a result all, strands of composed music can be taken as a reflection of the social environment of the listeners the composer expected.  For the purposes of this course we are interpreting ‘popular music’ as music with mass appeal to the ‘man and woman in the street’ – the ‘Person on the Clapham Omnibus’.  This first session laid the foundations for our exploration of this look at our social history.  What I want to do is tell the story of the popular music as created, released and, above all, enjoyed.

Very few people ever listen by choice to music they don’t like so, for music to be popular, it has to match or reflect the desires, feelings, conditions and attitudes of its listeners potential and real. Therefore, no commercial composer or performer can afford to ignore his chosen market.  As a result all strands of composed music can be taken as a reflection of the social environment of the listeners the composer expected.

Almost everybody has a favorite tune or song, something that can instantly bring back a very special memory – good or bad.  However, the power of music to bring back that personal past is not limited to a single tune – or even a single event.

‘If music be the food of love, play on’ from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night conjures up one social aspect of music and Noel Coward’s comment in 1930 that ‘Strange how potent cheap music is’ from Private Lives gives musical meaning a different slant.  I think us, though, should start our path to understanding and enjoying the social underpinning of popular music with Ragtime and Scott Joplin’s 1899 Maple Leaf Rag

New Orleans was its birthplace – 1896 legislation created institutionalized segregation and tended to drive classically trained coloured musicians into the black community.  Changing work patterns took the black population north to Chicago, and the 1919 prohibition act created the illegal, gangster owned speakeasies.  Ragtime morphed into Jazz – music that was an integral part of this; music that was variously described as ‘the ultimate in rugged individualism and the creative process incarnate’ and ‘a manifestation of a low streak in man’s taste that has not yet come out in civilization’s wash’

In Britain we had our Music Halls that developed out of do-it-yourself pub entertainment & reigned supreme as the source of popular entertainment. The ‘Halls’ were frequented by ‘sporting aristocrats’ as well as the ‘working classes’, and made performers like Marie Lloyd national idols.

We’ll come to those next week and hope you do too!I first started pulling the pieces of this story together some 15 or so years ago.  At that time I was a tutor/speaker for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and, among many other courses I presented, I offered ‘From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.   In due time I moved on, my activities changed and ‘FRT to R’n’R’ went on the back boiler.  I now feel that the time is right to bring it back to life. I hope you will enjoy it as much I am sure I will.

I

Buddy and ‘Peggy Sue’ leave memories

In my younger days – the 1950’s that is – I was one of those thousands, or maybe millions, of British teenagers who latched on to the US ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performers. Elvis was my number one with Buddy Holly a close second.  I can remember hearing – and then getting dad to buy – ‘Peggy Sue’ as Christmas got close in 1957. It reached number 6 in the charts – Harry Belafonte was at number 1 from 22nd November until Jerry Lee Lewis took the number one slot on 10th January1958!  Buddy had 3 hits in 1958 – ‘Listen to me’ [2 weeks & peaking at 16]; ‘Rave On’ [14 weeks & peaking at 5] and ‘Early in the Morning’ [4 weeks & peaking at 4]. In January 1959 he had a brief – one week hit – ‘Heartbeat’. While I was enjoying ‘Heartbeat’ – and hoping that Buddy would be over here soon – Buddy was getting on a plane and moving on to another show.

He was in ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour that had begun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23rd January 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems.  The distance between the venues had not been considered and, adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses broke down twice in the freezing weather.  Added to this was Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized for frostbite to his toes which he had suffered while aboard the bus!  As a result Buddy decided to organise other form of transportation so, before their next appearance – planned for 2nd February in Iowa – Buddy chartered a four-seat Beechcraft from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City with Jennings, Allsup, and himself.  His idea was to depart after the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom show and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota.  This would allow them time to rest and wash their clothes.  It also meant that they could avoid a rigorous bus journey.

It was just before midnight when the Clear Lake show ended just before midnight.  There were some discussions on who was joining Buddy in the flight.  Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Ritchie Valens – he took out a brand new half-dollar and Ritchie called heads. Heads it was. Richie reportedly said “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.”  Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called ‘Heads Up’. Waylon Jennings also voluntarily gave up his seat – this one to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.

Roger Peterson, the pilot, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only.  Shortly after 1:00 am on Tuesday 3rd February 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after take-off. The bodies of the entertainers were all ejected from the plane on impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled in the wreckage.  Buddy Holly had sustained fatal trauma to his head and chest and numerous lacerations and fractures of his arms and legs.

We will be attending the funeral in a few days time.