gramophone tinfoil

During the thirties American music was forever changed by new technologies and industrial processes. The improved fidelity of phonograph recordings, electrical amplification, jukebox, radio and film coupled with aggressive marketing techniques fostered the exponential growth of the entertainment industry and the commercialization of popular music.

Bing Crosby Bing Crosby Bing Crosby

Electrical amplification allowed singers like Bing Crosby to deliver powerful and catchy vocal performances that could be heard over the big bands of the early thirties and shifted the focus of public attention from dance bandleaders to the popular singers of the day. The 1933 Repeal of Prohibition led to the opening of drinking establishments, which in the mid-thirties would make use of the recently improved technology of the jukebox to entertain and attract patrons and dramatically increase record sales. The processes of the recording industry fused with the technology of the radio, jukebox, and phonograph altered the music of black and white vernacular musicians from the southeastern and western states.

Bing Crosby ad for Wurlitzer Advertisement for Wurlitzer Jukeboxes

Many regionally popular players of traditional music who were from the underclass began to see the opportunity for a new career recording their songs for a national audience. Phonograph records, jukeboxes and radio allowed the musical styles of regional musicians from all over the country to "cross-pollinate" with each other combining approaches, styles and instrumentation in new ways.

Cheek to Cheek Over the Rainbow

Okeh 78 label Victor 78 label The infrastructure of the entertainment industry became established during the early part of the decade as record distribution networks improved along side the burgeoning networks for film distribution. The record industry capitalized on the increasing popularity of films to make recordings by movie stars. Hollywood likewise invented the form of the movie musical to generate massive profits for the studios and extend the fame of their contracted performers as patterns of cross marketing developed that would increase the wealth of both the recording and film industry.

Not until the mid thirties would the recording industry began to metabolize its tenuous relationship with radio and fully recover from the economic strain of the Depression. Recording opportunities simply vanished for many underground musicians during this downturn in the industry. But the doors had been opened and it would not be long before the labels recalled the profit potential in the marketing of traditional, vernacular and ethnic musical expressions.

Victor 78 Label Decca 78 Label

Record company executives chose which artists to record and what material was worthy of release. In many ways these men and others helped to shape the American identity by selecting which "memories" were appropriate and marketable and even influencing the generation of musical styles by integrating vernacular or underground forms of expression with mainstream forms of music such as country, rhythm and blues and swing.