American society was much less homogeneous during the Great Depression (1929–1941) than it became after World War II. There were still quite sharply defined classes, divided along economic, geographic, and ethnic lines. There were the literate, largely urban whites of the East, North, and pockets in the rest of the country; there were the rural whites of the South, Midwest, and Southwest, mostly of English, Irish, and Scottish descent; there were the blacks of both urban and rural areas. Each group was affected by the Depression, but in different ways and to different degrees. Each had its own tradition of popular song, and a sampling of these from the thirties can give a vivid picture of how each fared and how it reacted to the almost universal adversity of that decade.
The financial boom of the decade following the end of World War I can be seen in retrospect as too speculative, based on credit and on paper assets. It was also decidedly top-heavy: sixty thousand families controlled assets totaling those of the twenty-five million families at the bottom of the economic ladder; seventy-eight percent of America’s families had a yearly income of less than three thousand dollars. The Roaring Twenties roared for only a fraction of Americans; even at the peak of the apparent prosperity of the decade, genuine poverty was a hard fact of life for many millions.
Within a year of the overwhelming election victory in 1928 of Herbert E. Hoover, Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge, financial disaster struck the country. Warning signals of economic softness appeared in the summer of 1929. Then, on October 29, the New York Stock Exchange experienced its greatest single-day decline in history. Paper profits vanished overnight, and in desperation sixteen million shares of stock were thrown on the market for whatever they would bring. Within weeks the effects of the crash were felt throughout the country. Desperate individuals and corporations rushed to retrieve money from banks before it disappeared. Banks, in turn, without sufficient cash to honor the flood of withdrawals, foreclosed mortgages and took other steps to get their hands on cash they had loaned or invested; many could not make good on their obligations and failed. Corporate dividends were suspended, foreign trade fell alarmingly, factories closed, and by 1930 unemployment rose to eight percent.
American society was much less homogeneous during the Great Depression (1929-1941) than it became after World War II. There were still quite sharply defined classes, divided along economic, geographic, and ethnic lines. Each group was affected by the Depression, but in different ways and to different degrees. Each had its own tradition of popular song, and this carefully compiled sampling of recordings from the thirties gives a vivid picture of how each fared and how it reacted to the almost universal adversity of that decade. (Preee release)
In the Golden Days of the esoteric LP, the New World label concentrated on American music. Among its best sellers was a single LP titled “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime: American Song During the Great Depression.” Most happily, it is again available on CD (80270-2). Using only original recordings of the era, the producers have included 16 numbers. Most of them, naturally, lean towards the pessimistic: the title song, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “All in Down and Out Blues,” and “The Coal Loading Machine.” Just as naturally, there are songs of either ignoring reality (“We’re in the Money,” “On the Good Ship Lollypop,” “Love Walked In”) or hoping for better times around the corner (“The White Cliffs of Dover”).
Among the singers, we have Bing Crosby, Deane Janis, Kenny Baker, Dick Powell, and Woody Guthrie. Never mind the fact that educators should pounce on this CD as living history. Perhaps the hopes and fears expressed in these echoes from the past will help us get through our own traumas. (…) Grab this one and soon. (F. Behrens)
Bing Crosby With Lennie Hayton And His Orchestra:
01. Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (Harburg/Gorney) 3.15
Deane Janis With Hal Kemp’s Orchestra:
02. The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (Dubin/Warren) 3.13
Rudy Vallee And His Connecticut Yankees:
03. Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries (Brown/Henderson) 3.21
Glen Gray And The Casa Loma Orchestra:
04. In The Still Of The Night (Porter) 3.18
05. Love Walked In (G.Gershwin/I.Gershwin) 2.46
06. On The Good Ship Lollypop (Whiting/Clare) 2.29
Big Bill Broonzy:
07. Unemployment Stomp (unknown) 2.42
08. The Gold Digger’s Song (We’re In The Money) (Dubin/Warren) 3.16
Uncle Dave Macon:
09. All In Down And Out Blues (Macon) 2.34
The Delmore Brothers:
10. Fifteen Miles From Birmingham (Delmore) 2.51
The Evening Breezes Sextet:
11. The Coal Loading Machine (Korson) 2.48
12. NRA Blues (Cox) 2.57
13. I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore (Guthrie) 2.50
14. The Death Of Mother Jones (unknown) 2.46
The Almanac Singers And Pete Seeger:
15. All I Want (Lampell) 3.05
Glenn Miller And His Orchestra:
16. The White Cliffs Of Dover (Burton/Kent) 2.58