Music of the Great Depression

Connor Kehl

            When the stock market crashed in 1929 the United States went through one of the most dramatic and fastest changes in history. The previous decade and been filled with lively spirit of freedom and youth, and in a matter of days the entire mood of the country changed bringing everything with it, including music. Popular music that had been overwhelmingly positive and free-spirited gave way to earthier expressions of heartache and desperation. Music changed from the upbeat “Happy Days Are Here Again” to much more mellow songs like “Brother, Can You Spare Me a Dime?” as quickly as a syncopated percussion beat written by Gene Krupa (Lawarence). There were a few exceptions like “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” by Rudy Vallee, which is a much more comical and lighthearted song about looking at the bright side of life and forgetting about your troubles.

            During the mid-1930s the Great Depression didn’t seem to be getting any better and Jazz became one of America’s most popular styles of music. Its new name was swing and its impact was revolutionary. In just 7 years, this Harlem born style had grown from 10 million records sold to 50 million records sold (Ward). Swing started to move towards big band instrumentation producing major hits such as “Sing Sing Sing” by Louis Prima and Benny Goodman. Radios and jukeboxes could be heard playing swing in every restaurant and club. It became the theme music for Hollywood and provided entertainment and escape for those who were feeling uneasy in life (Ward). The song “We're in the Money” is in the opening scene of the 1933 movie Gold Diggers and is the perfect example of how the depression was the central topic for music and films in Hollywood.

            Music is an outlet to express feeling and emotion. The Great Depression caused a major change of emotion throughout the entire country and the music of the nation was bound to follow. Music is a living and breathing thing that will be affected by everything the humans that create it do, and the Great Depression is no exception.



Works Cited

Lawarence, . "How the Great Depression Gave America the Blues." History Magazine. 2008: n. page. Print.
Ward, Geoffrey, and Ken Burns. Jazz: A History of America's Musician. 2000. Print.