1930s: Music

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1930s: Music

During the 1930s, the country enjoyed the emergence of a range of distinctly American musical sounds. The radio introduced Americans to more types of music than they had ever heard before. Radio continued to do so when the Great Depression (1929–41) caused declines in phonograph-record sales. Jukeboxes spread music throughout the country in taverns, soda fountains, and "juke joints," especially after the repeal of Prohibition (1920–33).

Though musicians suffered because of the Depression, the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) supported musicians as never before. The federally sponsored Works Progress Administration Federal Music Project sponsored radio programs, commissioned new work from composers, and sought out unique American musicians to feature in recordings.

Though the Jazz Age had ended, during the 1930s jazz continued to mature as a musical form. Jazz music changed to a sweeter sound. Big bands began transforming it into danceable swing music. Several famous female vocalists got their start as jazz singers in the 1930s, including Ella Fitzgerald (1918–1996) and Billie Holiday (1915–1959).

In the urban areas, especially Chicago, Illinois, the blues was a dominant musical style in the 1930s. Singers, many from the Mississippi Delta, strummed guitars and sang the blues about their current situations. Their music was sought out and appreciated by the many Southern blacks who continued to migrate northward during the decade. These "bluesmen," including Charley (Charlie) Patton (1891–1934), Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897–1929), and Robert Johnson (1911–1938), were cheap to record, making blues record sales quite profitable. Boogie-woogie, gospel, and swing music were all influenced by the blues.

Hillbilly music, a folk music from the Appalachian Mountains and the Southeast, became popular through artists such as the Carter family (now known as the Original Carter Family: A. P. Carter, 1891–1960; Sara Carter, 1899–1979; and Maybelle Carter, 1909–1978); Jimmie Rodgers (1897–1933), "the Singing Brakeman"; and Roy Acuff (1903–1992) and the Smoky Mountain Boys. Hillbilly music benefited especially from radio programming like the National Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts and Mexican radio stations that could be heard in forty–eight states. These folk musicians influenced the later bluegrass music of the decade.

Another style of music that developed during the decade was distinctly "Western" in form. By the 1930s, the American West with its cowboys and open country had become legendary. This new style of Western music capitalized on the range with its "singing" cowboys. Singers such as Gene Autry (1907–1998; nicknamed the "singing cowboy") and Roy Rogers (1911–1998) sang songs like "The Last Roundup" and "The Call of the Canyon" with Texas or Oklahoma accents and dressed in elaborate cowboy costumes. The center of this new western music was Texas, where taverns with new jukeboxes or stages for traveling groups entertained patrons. With the repeal of Prohibition and the resulting increase in the number of taverns that sprang up, western music became more danceable and rowdy by the end of the decade, giving rise to honky-tonk and western swing music.

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1930s: Music