The decade of the 1920’s witnessed the dawning of the phenomenons we know today as consumer spending and popular culture; as the 2020’s decade is now upon us, it may go down to those who research it a hundred years from now as one of the decades during the Technology Age. Obviously, I wasn’t around for the last one…. my dad was born in the last year of the 1920’s, and my mother missed it by three years (but at 86 years of age and still kickin’, she is now witnessing her 10th decade!)… and I won’t be around for the next one; but as I begin living in my seventh decade, I wondered what it was like a hundred years ago – and of course, since this is a music blog, what the music was like back then.
What was invented in the 1920s? Lots of major inventions occurred during the decade; some of them were: Radio stations– the first U.S. radio station debuted in October 1920, and with it came a whole new concept to marketing, as well as the promotion of music and the artists that made it, as well as being the forefather to television. By the late ’20’s, more than half of households reportedly had a radio.
The lie detector was invented in 1921, and probably no-one is happier for its’ presence than Maury Povich. The first self-winding wristwatch was invented in 1923; also invented in 1923 was the instant camera – it also self-developed film. In 1924, the loudspeaker system was invented, and in 1925, the television was invented- it didn’t become a mass-produced item until some time later. The automobile was first introduced in 1908, but the automobile industry took off, thanks to the prosperity many people were experiencing, in the 1920’s, and bringing with it the drive-in restaurant in ’21, the convertible in ’22, and the stoplight in ’23, not to mention other industries like the gas station. Finally, in 1927, the first selective jukebox was introduced to the world, and the first “talking” movie appeared – The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, arrived in ’27, and ended the silent movie era.
What were the big events of the 1920’s? Two of the events defining the 1920’s occurred at the beginning and end of the decade. In August of ’20, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote, and of course, 1929 witnessed the collapse of the Stock Market, sending the country into The Great Depression. There is a nice timeline created for most of the big events of the decade; you can check it out here:
Most importantly, what kind of music was popular in the 1920’s? Coming into the 1920’s, the popular music of the day was still Orchestral music, along with music from the theater, mainly Broadway. The decade is remembered as the Jazz Age, as the style, largely created and performed (at least initially) by Black artists, began to take over the American musical conscience. It followed Ragtime, which is perhaps an early version of what came to be known as Jazz; that style dated back to end of the 1890’s through the 1910’s. Many detractors of Jazz referred to it as the “devil’s music” and completely dismissed it; however, it became popular enough that White musicians appropriated the style and created essentially a sub-genre of it that would put a White face on it and make it palatable to White audiences (this phenomenon still occurs today!). Two of its’ biggest stars were Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington; often, Black artists could play in clubs where Black patrons couldn’t go, as was the order of the times- and they could play, but they couldn’t stay if the venue was a hotel.
Similarly, Blues also became part of the musical landscape; it was also performed mainly by Black artists (who else could claim having the “blues” but Black people back then? Maybe Eastern and Southern Europeans, but they were ultimately accepted, and decided to band against Blacks like everyone else)… This fact led to the music being referred to as “Race music”, although White audiences later appropriated this style, as well. Early stars of the Blues were women: Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith; among early male stars was Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Dancing was a big part of the scene, with the biggest dance of the decade being “The Charleston”. Check out this clip of the legendary Josephine Baker doing the dance in this clip from 1925…
So will these 20’s roar??? I believe they will, for both similar and dissimilar reasons the 1920’s roared. The advances made during the 1920’s were revolutionary for the times; no-one in their wildest imagination, however, would’ve predicted then where technology has taken us today. We have some idea for where technology is going in the immediate future, but ultimately no idea where technology will be in year 2120 (if man will not have already destroyed everything by then). My kids, if they live into their 80’s, will witness the beginning of the next century, but they’d have to live past 100 to see 2120 -their kids will live to tell the tales about how we used to use something called the internet to stream music and movies, and how our cars had to actually be driven by us to get from place to place, and how our big appliances like refrigerators had to stay in one spot, connected by a rubberized cable to an electrical outlet. What we’re experiencing now will be ancient someday, and people will look back on it and laugh, saying to themselves “I couldn’t have lived like that!”…. But today, year 2020, and for the next ten years, they will ROARRRRRRRR…
The 62nd GRAMMY Awards will be broadcast on January 26th. From the list of nominees, there are 16 albums that I reviewed last year (and a couple that actually came out in 2018) that are nominated for at least one award; in the cases of Khalid, Billie Eilish, and Lizzo, they’re nominated for multiple awards in some of the most prestigious categories, like Song of the Year, Album of the Year, etc. Gary Clark Jr. was nominated in two distinctly different categories, for Rock Album of the Year and Contemporary Blues Album of the Year for This Land. Ella Mai, whose album garnered multiple awards last year, is up for a couple more this year, from the same album. For the complete listing of nominees, check out the following link:
The Best Music of 2019 (to MY ears)
During 2019, Now Hear This! issued 17 posts, and reviewed 77 albums; there were numerous other albums that I listened to, but didn’t review for the blog. Of those 77 albums, here are my 10 Best of 2019 – they’re in no particular order:
The third album from British bassist and producer Walker continued his forays into a wall of sound style of trippy, dubby Soul/Jazz/Funk. Put on some headphones and prepare to nod ya head.
Chase & Status
RTRN II JUNGLE
After stepping away from the scene for a while to do some different styles of music, this British duo + MC come home to the scene where it started for them; in the process, they explored the roots of Jungle/drum & bass, taking it all the way back to its’ Ragga roots. The results were incredible… as evidenced by it being awarded the Best Drum & Bass Album of 2019 at the D ‘n B Arena Awards last month.
A Journey to You
The debut album from Zurich, Switzerland-based producer is low-fi, mellow, jazzy, and soulful Hiphop-ish grooves, not unlike 90’s Trip-hop. And with no slight to the man that uses the name, these are the REAL Swiss beatz!
You’re the Man
The “lost” 1972 album that was to be the followup to the landmark What’s Going On? finally saw the light of day after 47 years, and it made me wonder what was going on… with Berry Gordy for not releasing this back then – lots of good music here.
Gary Clark Jr.
The third studio album from Bluesman Clark flirted with controversy for the subject matter of the title track, but was also his most fully realized, versatile album to date… so good, it received nominations for a GRAMMY for best album in two different genres!
Durand Jones & the Indications
American Love Call
The sophomore album from these college friends from Indiana University showed off their finely-honed chops in the sound of vintage Soul a la The Delfonics and Dramatics.
The Black Keys
The Keys latest album was pure Rock ‘n Roll, putting a hold on talk that the genre was dying, showcasing styles that harkened back to 70’s Top 40 and album Rock, and early New Wave like The Knack or The Romantics. Rock on!
The debut album from Cincinnati native, L.A.-based singer, composer, and fiddler straddles the line between her more organic, early releases that more prominently featured her primal violin over tape loops, and her leanings into more of an Alt-Soul diva. She is, in my opinion, easily the most interesting artist in that crowded field.
Our Native Daughters
Songs of Our Native Daughters
This Black woman Folk supergroup, the brainchild of Rhiannon Gidddens, brings together four banjo-wielding sistas singing important historical stories of the female of color’s experiences through time.
The latest project from London-based Brazilian Drum & Bass producer was another album that explored the roots of Jungle; he went so far as to even retrofit his studio to analog equipment prevalent in the mid 90’s in order to recreate the sound- the results were spot-on. This one was nominated for Best Drum ‘n Bass Album at the D ‘n B Arena Awards, and deservedly so.