Benny Goodman and a dose of Swing this weekend. Listening to this broadcast, made some 80 years ago, you wonder what the status of Popular music was during this time. Goodman represented a departure from the mainstream dance band, while still being considered a dance band, who was a reliable hit maker and record seller. But there was this other side; the small ensemble, the setup that would become an ingredient to the prototype of Jazz during the Postwar period, which would give way to Bop and the avalanche of modern Jazz to come. One significant aspect was Goodman’s breaking of the color barrier, prevalent in popular music during this period. Difficult to imagine, but commonplace at the time, were segregated recording sessions – as union session sheets clearly asked if the session were “white’ or “colored”. Goodman set a precedent, and in doing so contributed greatly to the freeing up of the exchange of musical points of view and the broadening of audiences and cultivating new and fresh ideas that would serve as the jumping off place in the years to come. But Goodman was able to do that, based on his massive popularity and clout at the time. Artie Shawm for example couldn’t, when he attempted to bring Billie Holiday into his band as singer was met with stiff resistance from club owners and radio networks alike, forcing Shaw to abandon the idea – much to our historic loss. So it wasn’t an easy road, but it was a necessary one if Jazz was to make the leap from dance music to a compelling and adventurous genre in the decades to come.
But this 1939 example gives you an idea of the immense popularity Benny Goodman had at the time for mainstream audiences. It’s interesting, and important to note, and I’ve stressed this before, the sponsor of this program was Camel Cigarettes, a company that spent heavily advertising on music and sporting events, as cigarette advertising in general was one of the biggest sources of revenue for broadcasting outlets at the time. Cigarette advertising was banned from Radio and TV, starting in 1971 – up to that point, it was commonplace to have all sorts of ads for cigarettes and cigarette manufacturers sponsoring whole shows. Even though ads for vaping are creeping into our current media (social as well as broadcast), cigarettes are still taboo. I know people object to hearing these ads, no matter how historic and significant they are in the grand scheme of things, running on posts such as these. But in order to gain a better understanding of our culture at the time, and in an effort not to censor or whitewash history as a way of rewriting it, I have left and will continue to leave cigarette advertising in – I think the historic nature of our cultural heritage, warts and all, is better served unvarnished than to portray a period of time as something that never occurred.
Now hit the play button and jump in.