Author Perseverance Press News Songs California in 1940 Swing Music Scrapbook
 
Too Dead To Swing Home

SWING MUSIC

The Ultra Belles perform three songs during the murder mystery Too Dead To Swing. And like all the hits from the Swing Era, they're published in sheet music with colorful, graphic covers. "Walking On Eggshells" is an up-tempo dance number with a powerful beat. "Remember To Forget" is a wistful ballad evoking a long-lost romance. "Yours 'Till Dawn" is a rather intellectual paean to the one-night stand.

 The three song sheets are available as a set, for $20, including postage,

 from Audio-Playwrights.

 

 Click the image to hear a clip of Walking on Eggshells.

Click the image to hear a clip of

Remember To Forget.

Click the image to hear a clip of Yours 'Till Dawn

**If needed, RealPlayer7 is available for free at  www.realaudio.com** 

 

Sheet Music Swing Music Women In Swing Swinging Soundies
Swing Music
a pair of Jitterbugs dancin'For twenty years, Swing was the most popular form of popular music among youngsters.  From the mid-1930s until rock 'n' roll emerged in the '50s, kids who took to Swing in a big way were nicknamed "jitterbugs."

The uptempo steps that are called East Coast Swing or West Coast Swing today originated in the late '20s with the Lindy Hop.  By the early '40s the most popular Swing routine was called the Shag, and dancers liked working it up with high-energy, off-the-ground moves.

A few musicians and critics complained about the noisy crowds that Swing bands attracted, but most bandleaders delighted in playing for the jitterbugs.  As Tommy Dorsey told Look magazine in February 1940:

a page from a magazine featuring Tommy Dorsey"The jitterbug isn't the wacky kid he's painted to be.  He may Shag all over the place to a hot number, but he gets just as much enjoyment from a ballad.  There's no more shame in the Shag or Lindy of today than there was in grandma's waltz.  The younger set has become musically smart, and knows when something is good.  And when it's good, they let you know it.  They shout with joy; they yell approval of a soloist's fast licks.  The dictionary defines jitters as 'extreme nervousness,' and a jitterbug is a person who, hearing the right kind of music, becomes so nervous that he or she can't help dancing it out of his system."

 

Women in Swing

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Of all the women's Swing bands in the 1930s and '40s, a few were famous coast-to-coast: mainly Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears, and Phil Spitalny's "Hour of Charm" Orchestra, so named for its weekly radio broadcast.The All Woman Brass section of Ina Ray Hutton's Melodears  Most bands, though, were regional, like Babe Egan and her Hollywood Redheads in the West, or the Flo Burnside Quintet in the East.  Some of the best all-female bands, such as the Harlem Playgirls, were all-Black too; and a few bands were integrated, most notably the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

Women who played Swing in those days were at a disadvantage, however, since men got the most prestigeous gigs, and nearly all of the publicity.  And some important critics were unashamedly sexist.  In "Too Dead To Swing" Katy laments an editorial that ran in the February 1938 issue of Down Beat magazine, and which was headlined "Why Women Musicians Are Inferior."  It said, in part:

"The woman musician never was born capable of sending anyone further than the nearest exit . . . .  [Women are] as a whole, emotionally unstable . . . [and] could never be consistent performers on musical instruments."  When saxophonist All Girl Band Illustration and bandleader Peggy Gilbert tried to refute those charges, Down Beat published her letter the following April -- but under the headline: "How Can You Play a Horn With A Brassiere?"

In the 1970s Gilbert put together a band called the Dixie Belles, featuring several of her friends from the Los Angeles local (47) of the American Federation of Musicians who'd been playing since the '30s and '40s. Gilbert's Web site (www.rivergraphics.com/dixiebelles) includes some vintage photos, downloadable sound clips in the RealAudio format, and a 1995 interview with her on her 90th birthday.

The pioneering book on this subject is "American Women in Jazz" by Sally Placksin (Wideview Books, 1982), which profiles dozens of musicians and bandleaders from the 1920s through the '70s. It's out of print; but copies can still be found in used-book stores and from antiquarian booksellers; try one of their cooperative sites, such as www.abebooks.com.

The newest treatment, by Sherrie Tucker, is "Swing Shift: 'All-Girl' Bands of the 1940s" (Duke University Press, 2000 www.dukeupress.edu). Tucker focuses on the War years, when women were both celebrated and distrusted for taking on jobs that had long been regarded as men's work.

And there were female Swing bands in other countries too. See "Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of Australia's All-Girl Bands and Orchestras, To the End of the Second World War," by Kay Dreyfus (Currency Press, Australia: www.currency.com.au).

Swinging Soundies

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Panaram Movie Jukebox"Panoram is a movie jukebox. You put in a dime and get a three-minute movie short, with sound, called a 'soundie.'" That's how the November 19, 1940 issue of Look magazine described the newest business venture of F.D.R.'s son Jimmy Roosevelt. Having made a fortune in insurance, he started bankrolling the production of soundies. "By 1941," according to Look, he and his partners "expect to have 30,000 of these miniature movies in taverns, hotels and restaurants -- each averaging $50 in dimes and paying $10 film rental a week."

Soundie BandIn Too Dead To Swing, Eileen hopes the Ultra Belles can break into Hollywood through gigs in "movie shorts." She knows that soundies, as Look noted, "may serve as a screen test for much undiscovered talent. Regular [studio] screen tests are hard to get because they cost around $1,000." The article featured stills from several of the first soundies, including "Sweet Sue," one of six tunes performed by "Lorraine Page's all-girl band."

World War II, however, crimped civilian manufacturing; few of the giant Panoram jukeboxes survived. And the post-War television boom undercut the economics of short films generally. But three-minute musical shorts -- including a few of the original soundies -- were used as fillers around TV programs, especially in small or regional broadcast markets, until the early 1960s.

Today, some of the only surviving sound films of female Swing bands from the '40s are those soundies produced for Panoram jukeboxes. Most of the original 16mm footage is in collections maintained by film and music historians; but several compilation volumes are available on videocassette.

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