Vaudeville was once America's most popular form of entertainment. Audiences flocked to the theaters to watch an array of performances ranging from standard singers and comedians, to shadow puppets and a man who eats weird stuff. A few savvy businessmen recognized vaudeville's popularity early on, and ruthlessly built vast networks of theaters. They transformed popular entertainment, for the first time, into big business. Listen as Trav S.D., the author of, No Applause—Just Throw Money, guides us through Vaudeville's humble beginnings, to its eventual abandonment for new forms of entertainment. This episode is sponsored by Bedphones.
In 1915, Joe Hill, a Swedish-American labor activist, was unjustly convicted and executed by the State of Utah, but not before leaving behind a body of work that would inform the next generation of American folk music. Listen as we discuss the Industrial Workers of the World's most prolific songwriter with William Adler author of the Joe Hill Biography titled, "The Man Who Never Died," and Clayton Simms, a criminal defense attorney working to get Joe Hill exonerated more than a century later. Please sign the petition to exonerate Joe Hill.
Every Sunday since the end of World War II, musicians journeyed to Washington Square Park to sing folk-songs. Until one Sunday—after the City of New York denied the musicians a singing permit—they decided to protest instead. What resulted was a violent confrontation with authority. Listen as historian & museum curator Stephen Petrus, documentary filmmaker Dan Drasin, Folklore Centrum proprietor Izzy Young, and the editor of WashingtonSquareParkBlog.com Cathryn Swan discuss this formative moment in folk-music history.
In 1897, the city of New Orleans created a legal red-light district nicknamed Storyville. Prostitution, gambling, and drinking were all legal in the district. Wherever you went you could hear the sounds of a new emerging style of music called Jazz. Listen as curator of the Hogan Jazz Oral History Archives at Tulane University, Bruce Raeburn, discusses Storyville’s role in fostering Jazz music.
Jingles are traditionally defined as short songs about a product that are written for TV or radio, but—with songs like Poo-Pourri’s “Imagine Where You Can Go” being released on the internet—does the traditional definition need to be expanded? Listen as Tim Taylor, author of “The Sounds of Capitalism” and Helen Zaltzman, the host of The Allusionist, take us through the century long history of ad music, and examine what jingles sound like in the internet age.
It's hard to believe, but only a few centuries ago, young boys were castrated for the sole purpose of preserving their high-pitched singing voices. These boys—commonly referred to as Castrati—started out singing the high parts in church choirs, but, with the surging popularity of opera, soon amassed fame reminiscent of our modern pop stars. Listen as Between the Liner notes talks with Castrati expert Martha Feldman and Switched on Pop's Charlie Harding about this unique piece of Europe's musical past.
Ten years before hippies grew their hair long and twenty years before rock stars like David Bowie began wearing makeup, Tiny Tim did both. His unique appearance complimented his high-pitched falsetto singing and small ukulele. Like a performer out of step with time, Tiny’s repertoire featured songs from an era of music most people had forgotten. The audience didn’t know what to think; some people thought Tiny was one red rubber nose away from being a clown, others saw a sincere musician channeling the spirit of a bygone era. The only thing everyone could agree on was that they could not take their eyes off Tiny Tim. Here is a link to Justin Martell's book: Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life Of Tiny Tim
Taps is a 24 note bugle call that was composed during the American Civil War. It is the only piece of music that is required to be performed at a United States military funeral. Oddly, when it was written it was never intended to be played at funerals. It was supposed to tell soldiers when to go to sleep. Here is a link to Jari Villanueva's website: TapsBugler.com
Ramón Sabat once owned Panart Records, the largest indie label in Cuba. Legendary Cuban vocalists like Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot made their first recordings with Panart. Nat King Cole recorded his first Spanish album in Panart Studios. Success, however, did not come easy to Panart. Ramón Sabat had to overcome the dirty tactics of a rival American-owned record label and surmount the prohibitive poverty that barred many Cubans from owning a record collection. The only force strong enough to stop Panart Records was the Cuban National Government. This episode was co-produced by Judy Cantor-Navas
Jennifer Nelson is a documentary film maker who wanted to make a movie about the song “Happy Birthday to You.” When she inquired about using the song in her film the owners of the song forced her to pay for it, and she did. However, while Jennifer Nelson was doing research for her film she uncovered some evidence that could prove that the people she paid may not actually own the song, and never did.
Imagine if all your favorite songs were banned from the radio. Well, that actually happened during the Great Radio Boycott of 1941. The United State’s most famous songwriters collectively decided to pull their catalogues from the public airwaves. This was their response to the radio stations refusing to pay a fair price for the music they broadcast. The boycott lasted for only ten months, but the consequences were far reaching, especially for one entertainer named Sharkey. Sharkey was forced to watch as his radio career became collateral damage in this historic battle.
In 1981, no one thought MTV was a good idea. Cable companies had little interest in a network that broadcast music videos 24-hours a day. Record labels scoffed at the idea of giving music videos away for free. As a last resort, the fledgling cable channel decided to risk the ire of the cable companies and air the now iconic “I Want My MTV” advertising campaign. The campaign implored teenagers to call their local cable company and demand their MTV. Call they did and the rest, as they say, is history.
Back in the day, all the A-list philosophers and scientists argued over the best method for tuning a musical instrument. The battles they fought were some of the fiercest intellectual scuffles the western world has ever seen. In 2003, Stuart Isacoff published a book about those scuffles. The book focused on the history of one particular tuning system called Equal Temperament and how it emerged from the tuning-wars more popular than ever. In a weird twist of historical irony, when Stuart Isacoff published his book about Equal Temperament he found himself caught in the middle of a tuning scuffle of his own.
In the aftermath of World War II, the United States Military assigned a tech savvy GI named Jack Mullin the mission of investigating secret inventions left behind by the Nazis. Mullin’s journeys around Germany led him to a makeshift radio studio that had a device called the Magnetophon, the first reel-to-reel tape recorder that realistically recorded sound. After overcoming numerous obstacles, Jack Mullin managed to ship two machines back home to San Francisco. When he was released from military service, he demonstrated the Magnetophons for all the movie studios in Hollywood, but faced rejection from each one. Eventually, a famous crooner gave him a shot and invited Mullin to a trial by fire audition that would change recorded sound forever.