Photography for this article provided by Google Images - Titling by F.B. Noodleman
Part I (1903 – 1948)
By Felicity Blaze Noodleman
The history of “Pop Music”, (popular music) is much longer than you may think. Madonna and Michael Jackson are “Old School” in the eyes and ears of today’s younger crowd who crave a host of newer cultural schools in the genera’s which are now merging into the main stream to become the latest generation of music pop “Idols”. This article will explore Pop from the Stars themselves to the media of the day which brought their names and faces to the nation and the world to become not only America but to become the biggest “World Pop Idles” of all time!
Before the turn of the twentieth century in what was called the “gay 90’s”, as in 1890’s, popular music was heard on “Nicholodians” or player pianos in Honky Tonks and Music Halls, Theaters or even in the streets by “Organ Grinders” Instead of a music down load from iTunes and CD’s people bought sheet music to be played at home on Organs, Pianos, Banjo’s, Ukulele’s or whatever the family instrument was. Song writers were the pop stars of that era. That all changed with the “Victor Talking Machine” in 1901.
Thomas Edison invented the first talking machine in 1877. “Mary had a little lamb” were the first words ever recorded on a cylinder wrapped with tinfoil. The recording process would undergo a number of changes resulting in the 78 rpm platter (disc) developed by the “Gramophone” company of Germany which incorporated in the United States and eventually became the “Victor Talking Machine Company”. With its studio in Camden, New Jersey they were now making commercial records and mothering a brand new industry. Thus; we now have the term “Grammy” for the music industry awards.
The list of pop stars in the music industries almost seems to be endless throughout the years. Record, Radio and Motion Pictures have all played a part in the discovery of pop stars. The remainder of this article will be devoted to the Pop stars of their time and will side light the technical improvements made in the recording industry during the time of those stars.
DO YOU KNOW WHO THESE POP STARS WERE?
Enrico Caruso – He was the father of the modern Pop Star. Enrico was already a world renound Opera star of the theater when he made his first recording for Victor. The crude acoustic, nonelectrical method of recording in to a megaphone relied on a very loud source from which to record. Orchestra and robust Operaetic vocalist would reproduce a somewhat faint recording which was suitable for sale and became the new amusement of the day. The musical Phonograph Record was born. This style of music would be the standard until the birth of radio. Caruso’s’ career in recording lasted from 1902 until his death in 1921 releasing 290 recordings and earning millions back in the day when a dollar was really worth a dollar and you could buy a 10 cent cup of coffee.
Rudy Vallee – Discovered by Radio, this was the new medium of entertainment. This was the time of the “Charleston” the“Flapper” and easy money in the roaring ‘20’s. Herbert Hoover was President and there was no end in sight for the country. Playing with his band “The Connecticut Yankees”, Vallee performed at the Savoy Hotel in London and later in the United States he began his recording career for Columbia Records in 1928.
Singing through a megaphone with his wavering high tenor voice gave Vallee a distinctive quality and style. He is credited for being the first example of the 20th. Century mass media pop star. He sold out live performances and was mobbed by the public at every performance. Rudy Vallee’s last hit recording was in 1949 but continued his entertaining career until his death in 1986. He was an actor and entertainer in movies and television. It can also be said that Vallee originated the forerunner to “music video” in movies. By this time the new electronic radio method of recording from Western Electric was incorporated into recording studios and motion pictures bringing “the talkies” to the world and now Hollywood was also in the music business.
Al Jolson - Began his career in 1911 by selling out shows at the Winter Garden Theater in New York for nine performances in a row worked on stage until 1928. He appeared in the first talking motion picture, “The Jazz Singer” for Warner Bros. Vitaphone pictures. His vaudevillian style of music and comedy made him a natural for the new medium of sound in films. He made some 80 hit recordings during his career and appeared in 26 motion pictures and shot subject films. He was also active in Vaudeville and Burlesque until his death in 1950.
Hollywood and Jolson would later be criticized for making a movie about a white actor in “black face” doing an impersonation of a Negro minstrel singer. As the old expression has been so often quoted, “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. Americans find many things from outside the main stream to be amusing whether they come from German, Russian, South American, India or Asian cultures. All have been impersonated at one time or another and are usually not meant to be hurtful or in hatred. The “Jazz Singer” suited Jolson’s comedic style and he carried it off with perfection. Even today we have comedians who do Impressions. Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence impersonate black woman and I suppose that is what makes it funny.
Judy Garland - As one third of the “Gum Sisters”, Judy began her career in Vaudeville as a child and was signed to MGM studios as a teenager. Her unique Contralto singing voice and hard working devotion to her craft made her a mega star at a young age.Miss. Garland died at a very early age. She quite literally worked herself to death. Drug problems which she publicly blamed on studio doctors hastened her death in 1969 at the age of 47. She had worked for 45 of her 47 years. The new film medium of Technicolor motion pictures and the recording industry were still very new mediums.
Recording in Judy’s era was a long and difficult process. Hollywood and the recording industry employed an army of technicians, songwriters, and musicians who backed the solo artist. Before the first wax master could be cut the song was rehearsed to perfection. There was no editing or over dubbing. Each song recorded was literally a live performance. Also consider that each song had to be rerecorded again for film and then factor in radio performances which were also live until the discovery of magnetic recording tape.
Many of Judy’s films were Technicolor productions and the only means of shooting a color movie. The “Eastman Negative” process would not be established until the 1950’s. Technicolor required special lighting, make up, and a very large and bulky camera to shoot the three color matrices which were then sandwiched together on the print by exposing the film for each of the three matrices. It was a very complicated process at every level. “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) filmed in Technicolor was plaiged with all kinds of problems.
MGM had built new and bigger studios to accommodate sound and now their “sound stages” were also being setup with the massive Technicolor equipment and lights. Sets had to be as lifelike looking. Makeup in itself was a problem. Some actors in the film almost lost their lives and had to be replaced while others suffered injuries from the new and untested makeup’s. Songs and scenes were added and cut. The film was almost uncompleted for a number of reasons. Judy had to exercise a great deal of patience beyond her years to follow the project through to completion.
Judy Garland made more than 24 of the most beloved American films of all time and recorded a truly astounding catalog of music. She has won the Oscar for a wide range of achievements. She has also won awards for recording, television and stage. Judy set the bar for all who would follow including her daughter Liza Minnelli and other mega stars such as Lena Horne, Julie Andrews, Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross and Madonna.
Bing Crosby – Probably one of the two biggest pop stars of all time. Bing began his career singing career in high school during 1923 and would sing with several other groups until joining the “Rhythm Boys”. Singing for the Whitman Orchestra Bing and the Rhythm Boys produced their first number one recording in 1928. Crosby soon became a soloist. His bass-baritone voice and easy going style made him very different for his time. Warm and sincere he would accomplish so many firsts and would remain at the top of his profession until his death in 1977. He worked in radio during the period of live broadcasts. There were no recordings used in radio because the quality was to poor for broadcast. He worked an unrelenting schedule of recording, films, radio and live appearances for most of his life and in television also becoming a TV producer.
WWII saw Crosby supporting the boys as an entertainer. It was near the end of this war that allied forces discovered a new German invention – The Magnetic Tape Recorder. It soon made its way to recording studios, radio and Hollywood sound studios. Tape opened the door to a host of new recording techniques. Crosby was the first to be featured on this new medium. The quality was far superior to the old wax master recordings used for 78rpm records and significantly reduced the time needed to produce a recording. It also ushered in the 33 1/3ird. Long Play album and the advent of High Fidelity sound and eventually Stereo. Bing holds the number one and three spots for most popular singles of all time – “White Christmas and Silent Night”. Crosby has appeared in 85 movies and has also done a number of “short topic” films.
* It is at this point I feel the need to make a very strong statement. I really, really don’t like the terms “race, black or African music when they are used to define American music. I strongly detest it! Great Pop artist have come from every segment of American society. Pop stars merge into the main stream of pop music for one reason and one reason only. They are truly the best at their craft. Stars like Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Count Basie and B.B. King only to name a few were all acknowledged by their contemporizes and all received acclaim in the main stream of pop music.
Frank Sinatra – “The Chairman of the Board” and simply “The Voice” were his nick names. Sinatra began his career singing for the Big Bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey during what was dubbed as the “Swing Era”. He became a solo Mega Monster Superstar and was signed to Columbia records in 1943. Franks unusually rasp sharp singing style interpreted his musical lyrics like none before him. His generation of fans were known as the “Bobbie Soxers” and he stirred pandemonium where ever he performed and at the openings of his film debuts. A star of Stage, Recording, Screen, Radio and Television he did it all. A very dynamic man in his own right Frank was also active in supporting charity and political fund raising.
Sinatra experienced many problems during his career but always seemed to redeem himself in the industry and with his fans. By this time he was known as “Old Blue Eyes” and was one fourth of the “Rat Pack” with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. He started his own record label, “Reprise Records” and spent much time working in Las Vegas. His song “Love and Marriage” became the title song for the “Married with Children” Fox TV show of the 1980’s and he remained very popular until his death in 1998.
Both Sinatra and Crosby solidified the “Crooner” style and would inspire entertainers up through the 1960’s such as Dean Martin, Perry Como, Andy Williams and Tony Bennett who is still performing today. His records have sold over $150,000. and has made or appeared in over 50 motion pictures.
I’m Felicity and next week we will be back with part two of this article, Pop Music, from 1948 thru today. So until then, as the popular AM syndicated radio host Casey Kasem of “American Top 40” would say “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars”!