Everything but the kitchen sink might be the best description of music during the decade of the 1940’s.
The first half of this decade was dominated by war. During the second half of the 1940’s, Americans were recovering from the first half, and heading right into the Cold War. The United States would no longer enjoy the isolationism it had for so many years. The affairs of the world would now play a part in everything that went on domestically. Mindsets changed and diversity abounded. Change was evident in everyday lifestyles and that rang true in American music as well.
The lines between black and white music were graying. What was once called “race” music just one decade before was now being embraced by the melting pot of various ethnic groups that called America their home.
Jazz and big band still reigned supreme during the early forties as signs of do-wop and rock & roll music were brewing beneath the surface. Music was deliberately designed to distract a devastated nation. Some of the iconic names in American music surfaced during these wartime years. Name like Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey were topping the charts.
Blues and early American pop were also on the forefront with greats such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, Kate Smith, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. Their various styles of music crossed over lines of genres and an entire smorgasbord of music was being served up to an ever-changing community of listeners.
From the serious heartfelt songs of war to a novelty, somewhat nonsense style of lyrics, there was literally something for everyone. A musical revolution had begun to take place. Race was no longer the barrier it had been just a few years before. The technological innovations were also responsible for music taking on new elements. Radio catapulted many unknowns to instant stardom and introduced new styles of music to more than just the region it may have been born out of, but rather to an entire nation, and more broadly, to the world.
World War II created an audience in and of itself. Many musicians of the early 1940’s devoted a lot of their talents to the men and women serving in the armed forces. Kate Smith with her famous hit God Bless America was the song that inspired many a G.I. during this era. The Andrews Sisters, infamous for their WWII hit Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy and Doris Day with I’ll Walk Alone are just a couple of the many female performers that devoted their time and talents entertaining our troops at home and abroad. Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope were the frequent male headliners offering up their talents to our military. However, Mr. Bing Crosby, probably the most famous voice of 1940’s music, was recognized as the person who did the most for American G.I. morale by Yank magazine during WWII.
As the decade progressed and the war was coming to a close, music was now very diverse in our country. Blending of many genres created new opportunities for individuals from all walks of life. New styles were being birthed out of older styles of music. Sub-genres surfaced and the most prominent form of music in modern times was officially introduced in the late 1940’s; enter in rock & roll. Although some would not accept rock music as a new genre, by the 1950’s rock & roll music would come to dominate the industry.
A collaboration of many genres, rock & roll’s roots can easily be traced to country music, blues and gospel. In the late forties, the predominate instruments in rock & roll music were the piano and the saxophone, but they would take a backstage to the guitar as the lead instrument by the middle of the next decade. Early pioneers arrived on the scene in the late 1940’s with hits like “Strange Things Happen Everyday by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Move it on Over, Hank Williams, Rock the Joint, Jimmy Preston, and The Fat Man by Fats Domino.
American music was now a recipe for variety. Sprinkle in a dash of blues, a pinch of swing, a spoonful of jazz and a cup of rock and roll and you ended up with the music of the 1940’s. Individual style was in and the boundaries were out. Music was out of the box and its future was an unfinished canvas brush stroked by some amazing musical artist that paved the way for generations to come. New mediums of technology would also change the face of music, its accessibility and its sphere of influence to a nation and a world hungry for expression.