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The `20s Come Alive

By oldwinebottle in Culture
Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: music, lifestyle, flappers, fun, k5 (all tags)

The roaring '20s - where jazz took over from ragtime. It was the era of wonderful nonsense, of celebration. The decade of the flapper, the hoodlum and feats of endurance. Sound movies began and great composers created a new kind of musical theatre.

These were the years of Louis Armstrong, Jerome Kern, of George and Ira Gershwin, of Richard Rodgers and Lornez Hart, of Vincent Youmans, and Cole Porter.

The Birth Of Jazz

New Orleans has always been considered the birthplace of jazz. It was here as a port city on the mighty Mississippi, that many cultures such as those from Africa, Spain, Italy, South America and France, all came together and had an influence in the development of "New Orleans Jazz" style.

The black working class used this New Orleans style jazz for dances, weddings, and parades. It could also be heard blaring out of brothels and gambling joints.

Following a migration of the black population to Chicago for better job opportunities and lifestyle, the music and musicians also moved north. Louis Armstrong, Joe "King" Oliver, and Jimmy Noone, were but a few that began to gain national recognition through their recordings and live performances. These black musicians also attracted white players who would form their own bands.

Eventually, jazz also found its way to Kansas City and finally to New York City.


Women's skirts became shorter and shorter, finally reaching the knees. Their hats went from broad brims that curved down on the sides to tight-fitting and bell shaped. Flappers were rolling their stockings, slopping around in unbuckled galoshes, hence the name "flapper. Both sexes wore coonskin coats. Gilda Gray shimmied, Ann Pennington did the Charleston and dancers everywhere followed suit. Elbows and knees flailing, arms and legs buckling epitomized the dance-mad attitude of the "jazz age."

In the 1928 film, Our Dancing Daughters, Joan Crawford did the Charleston so vigorously that it took her to stardom.

 The song "Charleston" was written for a Negro revue, Runnin' Wild, by James P. Johnson, an outstanding jazz pianist who was Fats Waller's idol and teacher.

There were victrolas in the parlor and crystal radio sets in the bedroom. Ouija boards became popular, mahjongg and  crossword puzzles came next.  

People began hearing about Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. He once stated:

"It is a mistake to believe that a science consists in nothing but conclusively proved propositions, and it is unjust to demand that it should. It is a demand only made by those who feel a craving for authority in some form and a need to replace the religious catechism by something else, even if it be a scientific one. Science in its catechism has but few apodictic precepts; it consists mainly of statements which it has developed to varying degrees of probability. The capacity to be content with these approximations to certainty and the ability to carry on constructive work despite the lack of final confirmation are actually a mark of the scientific habit of mind." -- Freud

One of the most well known gangsters at this time was Al Capone. Money laundering, speakeasies, brothels and gambling houses were all part of his resume.

Capone had ordered many deaths and even did some of his own killing, Capone was not tried for most murders or other crimes he was involved in as he always had an alibi. With the Valentine's Day Massacre, his alibi -  he was in Florida at the time this happened. He did have a soft side to him though, as he was the first to open soup kitchens and ordered merchants to give clothes and food to the needy following the 1929 stock market crash, at his expense.

Al Capone was finally found guilty of tax evasion and ended up in Alcatraz. Following his release, he developed syphlatic dementia. He lived a relaxed and quiet life at his home in Palm Island in Biscayne Bay near Miami until he died on January 25, 1947 of pneumonia following a stroke.


Vaudeville prospered with Singer's Midgets, Ben Bernie, Bill Robinson, Sophie Tucker, Smith and Dale ("Dr. Kronkite"). On Broadway, Al Jolson reigned at the Winter Garden, Abie's Irish Rose ran for 2532 incredible performances, Marilyn Miller glittered through Sally and Sunny, Ed Wynn played The Perfect Fool, George White introduced his Scandals and Earl Carroll his Vanities.

Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude was so long that the curtain went up at four in the afternoon and time out was allowed for dinner.

In the movies, the Marx Brothers played in The Cocoanuts, Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan made The Kid, Harold Lloyd risked his neck in Safety Last, Lon Chaney turned himself into The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, Douglas Fairbanks leaped through The Thief of Bagdad. Movie theatres became grander and grander and increasingly rococo.

Feats of endurance held the public attention, feats that ranged from the sublime (Charles Lindbergh flying the Atlantic Ocean alone, Gertrude Ederle swimming the English Channel) to the ridiculous - marathon dancing, flagpole sitting(Shipwreck Kelly), cross-country walking (C.C, Pyle's Bunion Derby).

More Sounds of the 20s

'Way Down Yonder in New Orleansis a lively reflection of the Mardi Gras spirit and was written by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton. Paul Whiteman was "King of Jazz" at this time. This tune is still popular today.

Margie (Davis-Conrad-Robinson) and Louise(Whiting-Robin) were two of the favourite girls of the 20s, in songs at least. "Margie" was also a very real girl as she was Eddie Cantor's daughter Marjorie, who was five years old when she provided the inspiration for this song which Cantor, understandably, sang with great enthusiasm. "Louise," on the other hand, had a more sophisticated background. Maurice Chevalier sang it in his first American motion picture,

Innocents of Paris, in 1929. It was this song that established the Chevalier charm and the Chevalier accent on this side of the Atlantic.

Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me (Conrad-Clare), another tune by one of the composers of "Margie", Con Conrad, was first heard in a Broadway revue Midnight Rounders. A lively, sassy lilt that was one of the identifying characteristics of many songs of the '20s - a brisk, happy-go-lucky feeling that has kept these songs popular down through the years. Since WW11 Pearl Bailey had added her unique touch to "Ma."

I Can't Give You Anything But Love(McHugh -Fields) This is one example of the instant inspiration that so often seems to strike a spark for songwriters. Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields had finished the score for a revue, Blackbirds of 1928, but they felt that it still lacked a real hit tune. Passing a famous jewellery store, they overheard a young pair of window-shoppers. "Gee, honey," the boy said, looking longingly at the rings on display, "I'd like to buy you that sparkler. But right now I can't give you nothin' but love." Out of that came a song that has made the journey through time.

And then the stock market crashed. Variety's headline, "Wall Street Lays an Egg," signaled the end. No more wonderful nonsense. No more jazz age. A very different world was just around the corner.


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Related Links
o The roaring '20s
o Jazz
o Flappers
o Charleston
o victrolas
o Sigmund Freud
o Al Capone.
o Vaudeville
o rococo
o Charles Lindbergh
o Gertrude Ederle
o Shipwreck Kelly
o Pyle's Bunion Derby
o stock market crashed.
o Also by oldwinebottle

Display: Sort:
The `20s Come Alive | 25 comments (24 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
i liked 'o brother where art thou' too nt (2.00 / 2) (#1)
by circletimessquare on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 12:03:46 PM EST

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

I did also. (none / 1) (#8)
by oldwinebottle on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 12:43:07 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Grandma Crawford had one of those flapper hats (1.50 / 2) (#2)
by MichaelCrawford on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 12:20:56 PM EST

We have a picture of her in one, taken when she was young. But I doubt she was a flapper - she was a very devout Seventh Day Adventist.

Looking for some free songs?

HELLO (1.50 / 6) (#3)
by TITS OR GTFO on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 01:17:25 PM EST

[ Parent ]
she was a flapper in the photos i saw (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by zombie HollyHopDrive on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 05:00:27 PM EST

OMG i just got trolled by the crawf

[He blew]inside..m..e.. [and verily] corrected a deviated septum and cauterized my turbinates. - MichaelCrawford
[ Parent ]
Yes, my Grandma had one also. I don't know where (none / 0) (#9)
by oldwinebottle on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 12:44:09 PM EST

it went after she passed away.

[ Parent ]
The Gay 90's called... (none / 1) (#5)
by givemegmail111 on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 05:11:53 PM EST

They want their music back.

McDonalds: i'm lovin' it
Start your day tastefully with a Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddle, only at McDonalds.
Rusty fix my sig, dammit!
Not so sure (none / 1) (#10)
by LilDebbie on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 12:45:07 PM EST

Last I went, they played a lot of Madonna and Cher.

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
They play lots of gay music. (none / 0) (#13)
by givemegmail111 on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 02:55:10 PM EST

McDonalds: i'm lovin' it
Start your day tastefully with a Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddle, only at McDonalds.
Rusty fix my sig, dammit!
[ Parent ]
The 20's? (3.00 / 9) (#6)
by United Fools on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 06:52:26 PM EST

They are still 13 years away!

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
i want to know the united fools story (none / 0) (#7)
by circletimessquare on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 11:09:01 AM EST

who the hell are you? a/s/l?

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
Damn, we are fools! (none / 0) (#22)
by United Fools on Mon Feb 05, 2007 at 03:06:00 PM EST

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
[ Parent ]
Quite interesting (none / 1) (#11)
by Tyfooon on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 12:50:44 PM EST

All I can say is that I'm looking forward to the next chapter. :)

Thank You. (none / 0) (#12)
by oldwinebottle on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 01:01:04 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I didn't see this in editing (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by B0sk on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 12:44:58 AM EST

but the focus could narrow a bit - ie. just music of the twenties.

I like the twenties as much as the next guy, but the capone and frued bits are kind of, "what the heck is that doing there?" -0- I didn't read any more after that.

Talk about Gene Kruepper - he ROCKS!

Wikipedia power structure (illustrated)

Yes, I understand what your saying. It didnt (none / 0) (#15)
by oldwinebottle on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 12:58:42 AM EST

stay in editing as long as it should have. I dont know why. Next set I do, I will just have the musicians and all. Thanks for the advice.

[ Parent ]
you mean Gene Krupa (none / 1) (#16)
by trane on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 06:49:21 PM EST

[ Parent ]
One of the greatest drummers of all (none / 0) (#21)
by oldwinebottle on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 11:45:28 PM EST

time, if not the best.

[ Parent ]
I've been listening lately (3.00 / 3) (#17)
by trane on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 06:55:24 PM EST

to Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven recordings. Those are among the bona fide classics of jazz.

There were also other musicians very influential in the 20s, such as Bix Beiderbecke, Fletcher Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton of course, Bessie Smith...

There is also no mention made of Prohibition, which gave rise to Al Capone basically.

And never forget that Louis Armstrong was arrested for pot and had to do a day in jail (I would like to provide quotes here but the public library is not letting me access the sites on the search list because they involve drugs!).

Oh Yes, Louis Armstrong, a master. (none / 1) (#18)
by oldwinebottle on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 07:24:20 PM EST

There were many jazz musicians for sure. Yes, I didn't get into Prohibition with Al Capone. I was going to, but it would have been very long. Maybe I will do one just on that in the future.

[ Parent ]
Here is a site with a letter about his "pot: (none / 1) (#19)
by oldwinebottle on Sun Feb 04, 2007 at 07:46:23 PM EST

Louis Armstrong pot days.

[ Parent ]
of course, it's blocked in the public library (none / 0) (#23)
by trane on Wed Feb 07, 2007 at 06:25:40 PM EST

can they do that, under the first amendment? how am i supposed to research my defense in my upcoming court case for possession of marijuana when I can't access any sites advocating marijuana in the public library?

[ Parent ]
nice nice story. (3.00 / 2) (#24)
by wampswillion on Fri Feb 09, 2007 at 08:24:18 PM EST

thanks.  for taking the time.  

Baldrson = 1920s still alive (none / 0) (#25)
by Lode Runner on Sat Mar 31, 2007 at 01:11:49 AM EST

You want to see the 1920s come alive? Then look no further than any of Baldrson's posts. He's said nothing that Madison Grant and Henry Ford hadn't beaten him to by at least 80 years.

The `20s Come Alive | 25 comments (24 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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