MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Often on this program, I celebrate the 100th birthday—the centennial—of major jazz figures, mostly singers. But this week, I thought I would look back 100 years not simply on a birth, but on the music industry as a whole. We’re turning the clock back 100 years and asking ourselves: what songs were popular in 1921? We’ll hear some jazz standards by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and others, sung by notable singers in the decades that followed. I’ll even explore music from one of the first important all-Black Broadway musicals, which premiered that year.
It’s The Songs Of 1921, coming up next on Afterglow.
Before we get started with exploring 1921, let’s hear two songs from the previous year, 1920. We’ll begin with this song, the first notable jazz standard by Jerome Kern, sung here in 1956...
MUSIC - CHET BAKER, “LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “AVALON”
Two songs from the year 1920. Just now, the tune “Avalon,” sung there by Nat King Cole in 1958. That was written by Al Jolson, Buddy DeSylva and Vincent Rose, and became a hit for Jolson the following year. Before that, another hit song from 1921, despite being published in 1920. That was “Look For The Silver Lining,” by Jerome Kern and Buddy DeSylva, sung there by Chet Baker in 1956.
MUSIC CLIP - ETHEL WATERS, "THERE'LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE"
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the songs of 1921, 100 years ago and what you’re hearing in the background right now is a popular tune written AND recorded that year…
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This is Ethel Waters singing the song “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” by Benton Overstreet and Billy Higgins, a hit recording she made for Black Swan Records. Let’s listen to a little more...
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This particular song is notable because it’s one of the first hit songs written, performed, recorded, and produced entirely by African Americans. 1921, a difficult year in some respects, was also a landmark year when it came to Black achievement. Black Swan records, a label created by and for Black artists in New York, helped carve out a place for African Americans in the music industry. It was also the year that one of the first important all-Black Broadway musicals was produced, which we’ll discuss later.
New York City, then as now, was a major cultural hub, and much of what is considered to be the “music industry” of 1921 centers around the Big Apple, as well as a few other metropolitan centers. That New York centricity is especially true of jazz, in particular.
The recording industry was still in its infancy, and many of the recordings from 1921 sound fairly rough to our modern ears. But from a songwriting perspective, many of the tunes that were written in that year continued to have a legacy in the decades that followed. And that’s what I’ll be focusing on this hour.
Take the song “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” In the years that followed, this song kept getting recorded by other artists: the Boswell Sisters in 1932, Fats Waller and Mildred Bailey in 1939, Peggy Lee in 1947, and so on. Let’s hear a recording from Dinah Washington.
This comes from her 1956 album for EmArcy records simply titled Dinah! Here is Dinah Washington with the 1921 standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - DINAH WASHINGTON, “THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE”
Dinah Washington in 1956 with “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” a song written by the African-American songwriting team of Benton Overstreet and Billy Higgins in 1921.
MUSIC CLIP - DUKE ELLINGTON, “DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND”
Many of the songs of 1921 that became jazz standards are more known as instrumental tunes rather than vocal songs, like the one you’re hearing in the background right now.
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This is “Dear Old Southland,” by Turner Layton and Henry Creamer, based mostly on the old African-American spiritual “Deep River.” Vocal versions exist by Paul Robeson and others, but it’s more well-known in instrumental versions by Noble Sissle and Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, or the person playing right now, Duke Ellington.
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That’s the case for lots of other “standards” from 1921: “Wang Wang Blues,” “Jazz Me Blues,” or “Wabash Blues,” all popular jazz tunes, but mostly all as instrumentals. However, some vocal versions do exist of these songs. Here’s one from 1957.
This is singer Shirley Bassey with the 1921 Dave Ringle and Fred Meinken song “Wabash Blues,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SHIRLEY BASSEY, “WABASH BLUES”
Welsh-born singer Shirley Bassey in 1957 with the song “Wabash Blues” by Dave Ringle and Fred Meinken, a hit song for bandleader Isham Jones back in 1921.
What were some of the most well-known songwriters of the Great American Songbook doing in 1921? It was still early in many of their careers. Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen were still only teenagers, years away from their first hits. And it was a surprisingly lackluster year for older songwriters like Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. However, both Irving Berlin and George Gershwin did manage to write some songs that had varying levels of staying power over the decades.
Let’s hear those songs, both of these performed by Ella Fitzgerald on her respective songbook albums. First, here is Irving Berlin’s hit song from 1921, the standard “All By Myself,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “ALL BY MYSELF”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “BOY WANTED”
Ella Fitzgerald in 1959 with the George and Ira Gershwin song “Boy Wanted” from the 1921 musical A Dangerous Maid. Not the most popular Gershwin song in the world—Fitzgerald was the first to record that song, nearly 40 years after its initial performance. And this recording one her Gershwin songbook album remains one of the only recordings. Before that, a much more popular standard from 1921, Irving Berlin’s “All By Myself,” a song recorded by Bing Crosby, Connee Boswell, Nat King Cole, Kay Starr, and sung here by Ella Fitzgerald in 1958, from her Irving Berlin songbook album.
MUSIC CLIP - "AIN'T WE GOT FUN"
An even more popular standard from 1921 comes from songwriters Richard A. Whiting, Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn. Their song “Ain’t We Got Fun” was first performed in 1920, but wasn’t published until 1921, when it really became famous. Egan and Kahn’s carefree lyrics have become synonymous with the Roaring Twenties. It’s even mentioned in the novel The Great Gatsby. However, if you dig into the lyrics, they’re written from the perspective of someone who definitely does not have Gatsby’s level of prosperity, despite their levels of fun.
Here’s a recording from 1958. This is Peggy Lee and Nelson Riddle with the song “Ain’t We Got Fun,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “AIN’T WE GOT FUN”
Peggy Lee in 1958 with the song “Ain’t We Got Fun,” written in 1921 by Richard A. Whiting, Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn.
I mentioned earlier that “Ain’t We Got Fun” is referenced in the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby, and it’s in fact not the only song from 1921 that shows up in that novel. Another is the standard “The Sheik Of Araby” by Ted Snyder, Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler.
MUSIC CLIP - "THE SHEIK OF ARABY"
This particular tune has an infectious melody, so it’s clear why it became a hit tune among jazz bands from New Orleans to New York. It’s certainly endured over the decades—several different sources cite it as the most covered song from 1921.
Its lyrics, on the other hand—which use the outdated term “Araby” to refer to the Arab World, and describe an Arab ruler who has a disturbing way of finding love—are questionable, to say the least. The lyrics were inspired by the plot of the 1921 film The Sheik, starring Rudolph Valentino, which was itself based on the 1919 salacious novel of the same name. The novel, film, and song have inspired lots of controversy over the years for lots of reasons: their portrayal of women, Arab culture, and sexual assault. While I’m not certain we’ve come a long way as a culture in the past 100 years, I think collectively we can at least more easily recognize the many issues with this song.
Nevertheless, here it is, infectious melody, problematic lyrics and all. This is Fats Waller in 1938 with the jazz standard “The Sheik of Araby,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FATS WALLER, “THE SHEIK OF ARABY”
Fats Waller in 1938 with, perhaps, the most popular tune from 1921, the Ted Snyder, Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler song “The Sheik of Araby.”
MUSIC CLIP - BENNY GOODMAN, “WANG WANG BLUES”
Another 1921 song in the background right now, Benny Goodman performing “Wang Wang Blues.” And we’ll have more songs from 1921 in just a bit, stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - EDDIE CONDON, "THE SHEIK OF ARABY"
MUSIC CLIP - THE DORSEY BROTHERS, "I'M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY"
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring music written in 1921, 100 year ago.
The song that we heard just before the break, “The Sheik Of Araby,” may be one of the most popular songs from 1921, but it wasn’t the music that had the largest impact. That distinction may go to the 1921 musical Shuffle Along.
Shuffle Along wasn’t the first all-Black Broadway musical or the first successful all-Black Broadway musical—others existed before 1921. But it was certainly the most influential. It helped introduce jazz syncopations into the world of musical theatre, and exposed white audiences to on-stage Black romance, something then unheard of. It also jump started the careers of Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall, Florence Mills, Paul Robeson, and even years later, Nat King Cole.
The music was written by jazz musicians Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, and ran for over 500 performances at Broadway’s 63rd Street Music Hall. The plot was extremely thin, the racial stereotypes were shocking from today’s view (many of the characters drew heavily from minstrel tropes, popular at the time). But the music and dancing were electric, creating a buzz around the city. It was performed before a desegregated audience—something unheard of at the time—and it proved to many theatre producers at the time that audiences both black and white were willing to pay to see Black talent on Broadway. Langston Hughes said that Shuffle Along made Black artistry vogue in Manhattan, and cited the show as the event that kicked off the Harlem Renaissance. An adaptation of it premiered on Broadway in 2016, which combined the original musical with the story of its origin and its lasting effects.
Many of the songs from the show are forgotten today, although one in particular remains in our collective memory. That’s the song “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” However, it’s unfortunately known today less as a groundbreaking song about the on stage love between two black characters, and mostly as the campaign song for former President Harry S. Truman in 1948. It’s unclear if Truman even knew about the song’s origins!
Let’s listen to a version of that song from two decades after Truman’s campaign and nearly 50 years after Shuffle Along. This is Sarah Vaughan in 1967 with the Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle song “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, “I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY”
Sarah Vaughan, from her 1967 album It’s A Man’s World, with the song “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” a song from the groundbreaking 1921 musical Shuffle Along by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake.
MUSIC CLIP - "CARELESS LOVE"
Another popular song from 1921 comes from the pen of blues legend W.C. Handy, although the exact origins of this next song are a bit murky. The tune in question is the great jazz and blues standard “Careless Love.” “Careless Love” is actually a traditional 19th-century standard of unknown American origins. It’s been adopted by blues, jazz, folk, and even country artists. W.C. Handy took the traditional folk melody and combined it with new lyrics and a new verse in 1921, publishing it under the new title “Loveless Love”—the first publication of the tune. It was recorded by James P. Johnson and Noble Sissle that year.
Five years later, the song was revised again, this time under its original title “Careless Love,” with more changes made by lyricists Spencer Williams and Martha Koenig. This was famously recorded by Bessie Smith in 1926 for Okeh Records.
Over the years, “Careless Love” has been adapted and re-adapted countless times, with slightly different versions recorded by Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Dinah Washington and even Lead Belly. Although on occasion, an artist has recorded that original 1921 version “Loveless Love” by W.C. Handy.
Here’s one recording now. This comes from the 1954 album Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy, this is Armstrong and vocalist Velma Middleton with “Loveless Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “LOVELESS LOVE”
MUSIC - JOHNNY MERCER, “MARGIE”
Johnny Mercer and Paul Weston’s Orchestra in 1944 with “Margie,” a song that comes from the pen of vaudeville performers Con Conrad and Benny Davis, along with ragtime pianist J. Russel Robinson. That was first recorded by Robinson’s band, the groundbreaking jazz ensemble known as The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, back in December 1920. Although, it didn’t become a hit until 1921. Before that, a song that was first published in 1921, W.C. Handy’s “Loveless Love,” a tune derived from the traditional standard known as “Careless Love.” That recording comes from Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton in 1954.
One of the most famous performers in the year 1921 was vaudevillian Al Jolson, who dubbed himself “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” You may know Jolson as the star of the first “Talkie” The Jazz Singer, in 1927. In 1921, he starred in the Broadway musical Bombo, produced by members of Broadway’s famous Shubert Family, with music by Sigmund Romberg. Being a Jolson musical, it featured the star performing in blackface—traditional at the time, although shocking in retrospect. And being a Jolson musical, it also attracted some of the best songs. The success of Bombo led other songwriters in New York to add their songs to the production over the course of its run. That pushed all of Romberg’s tunes to the margins, but also helped introduce two songs that became jazz standards.
First up, here’s a song from the show Bombo written by Louis Silvers with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva. This is Judy Garland in 1956 with the song “April Showers,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUDY GARLAND, “APRIL SHOWERS”
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “CALIFORNIA HERE I COME”
Two songs introduced in the 1921 Al Jolson musical Bombo. Just now, we heard Ray Charles in 1960 off of his album The Genius Hits The Road with the song “California Here I Come,” a song credited to Al Jolson, Joseph Meyer and Buddy DeSylva. That tune that almost became the state song of California. Before that, the song “April Showers,” sung there by Judy Garland in 1956, and written again by Buddy DeSylva, this time with Louis Silvers. I think that makes four songs this hour with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva.
In addition to Al Jolson, one of the big stars of 1921 was Fanny Brice, a comedienne and singer who later became the subject of the Barbra Streisand-led musical Funny Girl in 1964. Brice became a star on radio in the 1940s, but in the 1920s, she was a star on Broadway. Her first big break came alongside impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, who featured her as part of his Ziegfeld Follies way back in 1910.
She performed again with the Follies in 1921, and that year, she introduced American audiences to the song “My Man,” which would become one of her signature tunes. The song, originally titled "Mon Homme,” came from France, a popular song among the Parisian revues. It was adapted into English in 1921 by lyricist Channing Pollack, and Brice performed it in the Follies that year. She also recorded it that year for the record label Victor, becoming her best-selling song, and eventually earning her a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
MUSIC CLIP - FANNY BRICE, “MY MAN”
“My Man” also took on a life of its own outside of its association with Fanny Brice. Notably, it became a signature song for Billie Holiday. She first recorded it in 1937, a recording that also was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
MUSIC CLIP - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “MY MAN”
Holiday continued to perform it over the entire course of her career. To close off this tribute to the songs of 1921, let’s hear that song performed by Holiday late in her career.
This is Billie Holiday in 1952 with the 1921 song “My Man,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “MY MAN”
Billie Holiday in 1952 with the song “My Man,” originally a French song, and popularized in English at the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 when it was performed by the great entertainer Fanny Brice.
Thanks for tuning in to this look at the songs of 1921 on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - BIX BEIDERBECKE, “JAZZ ME BLUES”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.