Swing Music

Kelly Mitchell

            During the mid-1930s, jazz came as close as it has ever come to being America's popular music. It was now called Swing, and its impact was revolutionary. Although some disagree, swing music is basically a type of jazz. It grew and took its shape in Harlem dance halls but could be heard, and seen through swing dancing, just about everywhere by 1936. In The Birth of Bebop, Scott DeVeaux writes: "We tend now to think of swing as a form of jazz and to reduce it to its music--the solos and arrangements carefully preserved on shellac. But this was only part of the package. Swing bands were still dance bands, playing in ballrooms to publics that might dance to Count Basie or Jimmie Lunceford one week and Kay Kyser or Guy Lombardo the other... And by inheriting vaudeville's place in theaters, swing thrived on clowning and physical entertainment. Whether crisscrossing the continent, appearing over the airwaves, or providing the soundtrack for Saturday night good times on the local jukebox, the name band simultaneously embodied all of these delights, its appeal cutting across divisions of age, class, race, and region."
            Originally played by musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and other black jazz icons, swing music reached new, white audiences when musicians like Benny Goodman began playing swing in ballrooms and theaters in major cities in the 1930s.
            Swing provided Hollywood with its theme music and offered entertainment, elegance and escape for people down on their luck. In 1932, just 10 million records had been sold in the United States. By 1939, that number had grown to 50 million. The recording industry had pulled itself out of the Great depression. Even though the Great Depression was the initial cause of big bands and swing music. Because of the Great Depression, people had pent up emotions and were physically not ready for any music. When Swing music came along, it had an electrifying effect on people. Swing music swept the country and that to when it was not any easy situation people were undergoing. It unleashed the
feelings and excitement that no one was ready for. It was a music that was just for pleasure and meant to be particularly for people who were under tremendous pressure of the Great Depression.
Swing had become the defining music for an entire generation of Americans. Radios and jukeboxes could be heard playing swing along every Main Street in America, providing the accompaniment for a host of exhilarating new dances: the Big Apple and Little Peach, the Shag and Susy Q, and the dance that had started it all -  the Lindy Hop, now called jitterbugging.



William P. Gottlieb, Portrait of Tommy Dorsey, Record Store in Washington D.C., between 1938 and 1948


Works Cited

Gunnell, Noreen. "Swing Music in America During the Great Depression." Bright Hub Education. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.brighthubeducation.com/history-homework-help/87939-swing-music-during-the-great-depression/>.

"Technology and Swing." Technology and Swing. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~asi/musi212/emily/etech.html>.

"The Great Depression." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/jazz/time/time_depression.htm>.


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