“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out”
b/ Bessie Smith
— Margaret Bourke-White
Jazz, blues and country (“hillbilly”) were new. All had been recorded in the late teens and throughout the 20s, but had remained mostly segregated. Now (1929), with a migration to the more concentrated, urban north, the different musics started to collide, as the populations did.
It was jazz and its improvisational freedom that influenced all others:
Bing Crosby‘s version of
“Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” was one smoking record, thanks to
The Dorsey Brothers, who contributed even hotter brass backing to
blackface Georgian Emmett Miller‘s
YES, BLACKFACE — Barnstorming medicine shows
still provided work for white string and black jug bands
minstrel and ragtime influences remained present.
Traditionalists like the
Carolina Tar Heels and
G.B. Grayson still recited murder and work ballads from the early 1800s.
— Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music,
Country singers mimicked the blues.
Gene Autry (22)
The distinction between “country” and “blues”
was mostly skin color.
Charlie Patton and African American hokum songsters like
Bogus Ben Covington sound as much like hillbillies as to
Bessie Smith or
Ethel Waters, whose show blues had begun crossing over to Broadway and Hollywood.
Actual jazz artists —
Fats Waller — were reaching pop audiences as well.
Although hurting so-called “respectable” live music, Prohibition did foster an appreciation of underground speakeasy race music.
By The Crash
rock ‘n’ roll was knocking in 1929.
The mixing of white and black rhythms, in Pinetop Smith’s and Cow Cow Davenport‘s boogie-woogie piano,
Parallel traditions are sampled, too: Cajun, Hawaiian steel guitar, late-period British music hall, Balinese Gamelan (recorded for the first time), Mexican proto-narcocorrido (Trío Garnica-Ascencio’s “La Marihuana”).
But of course, on Black Tuesday, everything crashed. A few selections here (from Bessie Smith, Bentley Boys, Almoth Hodges) express palpable economic desperation, and the mix ends with two dark if ultimately hopeful spirituals. But probably only “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” which Blind Alfred Reed shellacked in early December 1929, was a direct comment on the Great Depression rolling in. The exuberance of the rest of this music might hint at what was lost.
About this playlist
Welcome to The 50, a Napster scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks — presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set — has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.