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Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015

Big band era 'big deal' to many from 1936 to 1945

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And the big band era plays on. The "Readers Digest" pamphlet continues . . .

It began in 1936 and came to an end in 1945. All in all, there were 37 famous bands and 120 top tunes during that time.

Huge ballrooms, often lavishly designed, were an essential part of the big band era. Two of the most famous were the Aragon and the Trianon in Chicago, Ill.

One of the ballroom landmarks on the west coast was the Palladium in Hollywood which could pack in almost 7,000 dancers.

I remember when I was in high school in Fort Scott, they had a dance hall down in Croweburg, east of Arma, Kan. You guessed it, it was called the Trianon.

A couple of the bands they had were "Harry and His Hot Shots" and the "Louie Kinman Band." They played every Saturday night, and a bunch of us kids would pile into a car, packed in like sardines, and head to the Trianon to dance the night away.

We had more energy than we knew what to do with, and we jitterbugged, slow danced and had one whale of a time.

We also spent many happy hours at the Blue Moon Ballroom in Arma.

And now for a little background for 1937.

Labor's battle to organize big industry reached its peak with a succession of bloody encounters during the United Automobile Workers' sit-down strike against General Motors, and the strike of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee against the adamant 'little steel' companies.

Employment, which had picked up slightly since the darkest days of the Depression, fell off again, creating what was politely termed a "recession."

The German dirigible Hindenburg, making its first transatlantic flight, burst into flames just as it reached Lakehurst, N.J., killing 36 people.

Charlie McCarthy, a figment of Edgar Bergen's ventriloquial skill, was the nation's favorite radio personality.

Joe Louis, when he took the title from James J. Braddock, became the most authoritative heavyweight champion since Jack Dempsey.

Dale Carnegie wrote the book that told Americans "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Swing, which had been building all through the year 1936, reached fever pitch this year. When Benny Goodman's band performed, doubling from the Manhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania Theater on March 10, young fans were lining up at six in the morning.

They stayed in the theater all day, cheering, jitterbugging in the aisles and passing the time between stage shows at the candy counter, which took in a one day record of $900 dollars.

Artie Shaw (still billed as Art Shaw) gave up his strings in the face of Goodman's popularity and formed what he called 'the loudest band in the world."

And this year even the ballads were beginning to swing -- Bob White's "Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?" made this evident.

Leaders of the once unchallenged sweet bands were becoming edgy at the arrogance of some of the swing band followers.

"If playing the melody is corny," Kay Kyser said, "I want to be corny."

And Guy Lombardo accused the average musician of being "swing crazy."

In Chicago they were saying that the young singer with Ted Weem's band at the Trianon Ballroom, Perry Como, sings more like Crosby than Bing himself."

More next week.

Marilyn Miller
The Old Grey Mare