Is there a better known, more revered songwriter, even today, than Irving Berlin?
We think not.
But it’s intriguing to read the following profile, which dates from 1935. Berlin was already a giant in the world of music and theatre, but many of his greatest accomplishments still lay ahead of him.
In fact, of the dozens of titles of Berlin’s hit songs mentioned in this profile, very few were familiar to us (and we bet you’ll find them as unfamiliar as we did).
It was quite a life that Mr. Berlin led. And quite a career.
Phil Spitalny was a very popular orchestra leader who experienced success as a recording artist, on the radio (his was the house orchestra on The Hour of Charm, a program hosted by Arlene Francis that aired on CBS and then NBC from 1934 to 1948), the movies (he appeared in a number of musical shorts and in two features), and even television.
But he achieved his biggest success based on what some considered a gimmick: Beginning in 1934, his orchestra (and later an added chorus) was composed entirely of women.
This profile, from 1935, captures Spitalny just months after he first launched his all-girl outfit, which he would lead successfully for twenty years. And if you read all the way to the end, there’s an historic epsiode of the Hour of Charm awaiting you. It’s the broadcast from the evening of Dec. 7, 1941—the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The sound quality’s not ideal, but we think you’ll agree it’s well worth a listen.
Though he would go on to work with other composers (and have his songs be nominated for the best original song Oscar nine times), Mack Gordon spent the 1930s paired with English pianist and composer Harry Revel. The duo were very successful indeed, penning a string of popular songs that included “Underneath the Harlem Moon,” “College Rhythm,” and our personal favorite Gordon-Revel tune, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?”
This Snapshot in Prose captures the pair in 1934, at the height of their shared success. Read to the end of the piece, and you’ll find some of our favorite renditions of a few Gordon-Revel compositions.
For those who think outrage over lyrics and rhythms in popular music began with those decrying gangsta rap, with Tipper Gore‘s penchant for warning stickers, or even those fuddy-duddies who were outraged by the onstage antics of Elvis Presley and other rockers in the 1950s, what follows may come be an eye-opener For, while Snapshot in Prose usually profiles a popular Cladrite Radio performer at a particular point in his or her career, this week, we’re sharing a 1934 essay from Popular Songs magazine bemoaning the intrusion into the popular music and radio broadcasts of the day by would-be moral arbiters armed with newly sharpened censor’s scissors.
It’s interesting to note that the article mentions the “purification” of movies, too, given that 1934 was the year that Breen Production Code began to be strictly enforced by Will Hayes and his associates.
We’ve been aware of the Casa Loma Orchestra for nearly as long as we’ve been fans of the music of the 1930s and ’40s—which is to say, a long time. And we were aware that this entertaining outfit eventually came to be known as Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra.
But we never knew what inspired the change. Was Glen Grey brought in to replace a former leader of the band, a baton waver who preferred not to be cited by name?
Well, as we learn from this week’s Snapshot in Prose, a 1934 profile of the band, the answer to that question is: no.
Actually, violinist Hank Biagini fronted the band onstage for the first few years of its existence, and for a while, the baton was handed off to violinist Mel Jenssen.
Finally, in 1937, Gray was convinced to lead the band, and he would eventually come to control the very name “Casa Loma Orchestra.”
The Casa Loma Orchestra, which was formed in 1927, lasted till 1963 (quite a run for a dance band), though they stopped touring in 1950, limiting themselves to recordings only, and from the late ’30s on, Gray’s name was included in the band’s name.
But in the early days of the group, before he became the orchestra’s leader and conductor, Gray was voted the band’s president. A swinging dance orchestra that had a president (and a vice president and a secretary)? That’s right, and if you’ll read on, you’ll learn how that came about.
And if you read all the way to the end, you’ll have the chance to give a listen to a couple of our favorite Casa Loma recordings.