The Big Band era began in the late 1930s. Nationally the musical sound was called "Swing." Orchestra leaders as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Count 'William' Basie and Duke Ellington each had their own style of sound. Ella Fitzgerald had a band too. These men during the Depression generation are similar to Elvis Presley and the Beatles for people who grew up in the fifties and sixties.
People in the 1930’s and 1940’s believed "It Don't Mean a Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing" as they listened through radio waves, attended movies and danced at ballrooms. Who from that era can forget thousands of "Bobby Soxers" standing, sometimes in the cold or rain, waiting to attend these affairs?
When bands played on stages in movie houses they danced in their seats, no mean feat, or the aisle nearby with mini movements so they didn't bump into the other dancing patrons. At ballrooms all couples huddled tightly with other couples close to the stage in order to see their favorites---up close. Dancers from the sides and back dance nudged them away so they could take their places. They screamed and clapped for a special favorite singer as young people do today. Remember Frank Sinatra? Their voices became hoarse and ears reverberated with the sounds they made.
The ballrooms had dress codes. Do you remember how it was funny to see a boy in a borrowed suit coat either to large or wrists sticking out from suit coat sleeves that were to short? At some places a box of "loaner" ties was at the door. Better put one on or an usher would bring one with a smile, waiting until the boy put it on.
The bands were forming and reforming in the 1930s. By the early 1940s they had come into their own wonderful place in history. Those glory days were the catalyst for a revolution in music and dance in America and thrived until the end of World War II despite the fact that many musicians volunteered or were drafted for military service. Today more than fifty years later the sounds of swing band music is still popular albeit with various changes.
Hollywood had called and the "Big Bands" had answered adding their glitz to movies along with famous stars. Glenn Miller, Harry James, Woody Herman, Kay Kyser, Xavier Cugat, the Dorseys, Freddy Martin, Ray Noble, Ozzie Nelson to name a few. A film titled "Syncopation" made with seven bands having a jam session together. ‘Stomp and Swing’, they certainly did.
A fellow named Adolph Schicklgruber was to change lives all over the world forever with his war, plus the bombing of Pearl Harbor created a firestorm on both sides of our world in America. As the bands played, many of the love songs moved people to tears. Patriotic music inspired them to do their best to put out those firestorms. When World War II started all bands lost many members to the armed forces through draft or enlistments. Most continued with the remaining band members or hired new musicians.
The big bands boosted moral through out the world. Their popularity grew with the enjoyment they provided the Armed Forces and people at home. Sammy Kaye, "Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye," along with Don Reed wrote, "Remember Pearl Harbor" the first rousing war song and recorded it ten days after the attack. Glen Miller recorded, "The White Cliffs of Dover" and Vaughn Monroe sang with the orchestra, "When the Lights Come On Again" all over the world. The Hollywood Canteen started and flourished through the efforts of bandleader Kay Kyser and stars of the silver screen, Bette Davis and John Garfield. Stars entertained, waited on tables, washed dishes and danced with service people. No officers allowed.
Celebrities toured in trains across the nation on "Victory Caravans" selling war bonds at all stops. Bing Crosby was aboard the Victory train when it arrived in Washington DC then on to the National Theatre, where all was recorded and issued as "Command Performances" to be sent to service people. Crosby continued to record with many of the big bands to the delight of fans for his singing and the music of those memorable orchestras.
The USO (United Service Organization) groups headed to every part of the world to entertain all stationed overseas. Bob Hope went with hundreds of celebrities, bands and joke telling from the master himself. They were in safe camps to hazardous areas during these tours. At one point, Hope and his party met up with a sailor named Henry Fonda, and at one Flying Fortress base in England a man who had flown many combat missions was there. Known to most as Clark Gable.
Swing music went into hibernation for a while, as vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como stole the spotlight away.
Today more than fifty years later the sounds of swing band music are heard everywhere. CD’s are selling in the millions. Current day Salsa bands such as "BadaBing BadaBoom," "Squirrel Nut Zippers," "Big Bad Voodoo Daddy" and "Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums" have introduced young people to the late-90’s version of this infectious music genre. Their curiosity has been aroused from the pioneers of the 1930s and 1940s. A new generation has rediscovered Swing and Jazz. And, it's not just a nostalgia "trip", - while the new bands are indeed playing the great standards of the Swing era, they are also writing new tunes in the Swing fashion. And the 'now' generation evokes "touch" dancing again. Yes, the wild "Lindy Hop" has taken hold on both coasts, and everywhere in between. The soft, romantic ballads are also again in vogue, with partners holding each other close and dancing a slow foxtrot to some dreamy music. It's indeed a great time to be young - and in love! Just like it was in the 30s and 40s.
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