Benny Goodman and His Orchestra – CBS Radio – Camel Caravan – November 18, 1939 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Benny Goodman for this Holiday weekend. 80 years ago this was the state of Popular Music in America. Big Band Swing was in its heyday and Benny Goodman was one of its principle practitioners. This series, sponsored by Camel Cigarettes (who sponsored a LOT of music and variety shows throughout the 1930s and 40s) was one of the most popular at the time. In addition to Goodman, there were numerous guest artists appearing, forming a virtual who’s who of Big Band Jazz in the 1930s.
It wasn’t until our entry into Word War 2 in 1941 and the subsequent recording bans that Swing eventually began to lose it’s appeal. But shows like this were essential, not only to be re-broadcast to the Armed forces, but also as a way of keeping Pop music fresh and vital during those periods of commercial inactivity. Complicating matters was the sudden drop in personnel of these bands by way of the military draft which drained many bands of talent. Some musicians performed in the service, or in cases such as Glenn Miller, had bands formed for them as a way of boosting morale.
Needless to say, the state of Popular music during this period was in flux. Bear in mind that Big Band Swing was the equivalent to Rock n’ Roll of a later generation. Not only were the musicians of draft age, but so were most of the audience. Music would go through enormous changes after the war years. But for right now, for November 1939 with a war going on in Europe and America not involved (for the moment), Swing was at its height and Benny Goodman was its acknowledged King.
The Camel Caravan shows are an amazing glimpse of the time – because the sound of this broadcast is so good, it peels away the layer of dim-distant antiquity many artifacts of the past are straddled with. You can, if you care to imagine, put yourself in the middle of it, listening to this broadcast as if it were made earlier in the day and not 80 years ago.
Sometimes history does that.