The Great Depression
Thousands of banks fell during this stock market crash as many simply ran out of money. The Federal Reserve had a tight money policy that included increasing their rates to 5% from the previous 3.5%. Raising the discount rate made it extremely difficult for banks in trouble to borrow money. This in turn affected those with vested interest in banks, such as millionaires.
The stock market crash of 1929, saw many of these millionaires becoming unemployed, selling fruit on street corners and sleeping in alleys or flop houses. Some investors also committed suicide. The Great Depression had now begun in North America.
"The Great Depression." in Canada was also blamed on the failed wheat crops, starting back in 1928. In 1933, a drought brought down more crop failures.
Volunteers and church organizations set up soup kitchens for those who could no longer afford food or shelter. Following a meal, these men, who once had a home and employment, went back to the streets and alleys looking for a place to sleep, hoping the next day would be better.
Relief camps were set up in northern Ontario and British Columbia where single, jobless men who were unable to receive unemployment insurance or social assistance, were sent. They at least had food and shelter.
Grasshopper infestation and Russian Thistle, also plagued the farmers during the `30s. The grasshoppers were so thick they blackened the skies like storm clouds. The land became so dry it was like a desert and blew to dunes 20 feet high at times. Russian thistle ran rampant.
Along with such vivid reminders of the reality of breadlines and fruit sellers on street corners, there were efforts to look on the brighter side of life. The songwriters of the day closed their eyes to the world around them and filled the air with music.
Life Goes On
Miniature golf courses appeared on vacant lots to help pass the empty hours. Radio, which cost nothing, gained more and more listeners, making stars of Amos `n' Andy, Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Movie theatres offered double features, Jean Harlow's platinum-blonde hair, rowdy comedies with Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery, the lightness and grace of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the elusive glamour of Greta Garbo, the curly-haired cuteness of Shirley Temple, and the sophisticated with of William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Women's skirts descended halfway to the ankles from their previous kneecap height for day wear. Empress Eugenie hats perched jauntily on their heads. Adults began to dance the rhumba and the younger generation became jitterbugs, responding to the call of Benny Goodman and the swing bands.
The Statute of Westminster established complete legislative equality of the Parliament of Canada with that of the United Kingdom. The Welland Ship Canal was officially opened. And then, on top of the Depression came the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, civil war in Spain, Japan's attack on China.
As labor organized in industrial unions, there came strikes in steel and motors. A protest movement of unemployed workers in Western Canada turned into a riot in the capital city of Regina, Saskatchewan.
King Edward VIII gave up the British crown to marry "the woman I love," Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Dale Carnegie revealed How to Win Friends and Influence People and Margaret Mitchell created her gigantic novel, Gone With the Wind
The Sounds of the Times
Jimmy McHugh, who wrote I'm in the Mood for Love, which appeared in the 1935 film, Every Night at Eight, which starred George Raft, Alice Faye, Frances Langford and Patsy Kelly. McHugh started out in the music business on a bicycle - pedaling around to theaters and to dime-store music counters to sing and play songs. From plugging various songs for publishers at $8.00 a week, he went on to become a prolific and successful composer.
I Only Have Eyes For You was sung by Dick Powell to Ruby Keeler in Dames, a 1934 movie which also starred Joan Blondell. Written by Harry Warren who was involved with films even before he became a songwriter. He worked as a property man, extra, assistant director and the piano player who supplied mood music for actors in studios. After the movies began to "talk," he moved to Hollywood where he did most of his work after 1930.
Although The Jazz Singer was the first feature length film to use spoken dialogue in films, it was not the first movie to use sounds. Sounds were previously added by singers, choirs and other devices in the late 1800's.
Bei Mir Bist Da Schon was the most successful song ever written for a Yiddish musical on this Continent. It was composed in 1932 for I Would If I Could, presented at one of the Yiddish theatres on lower Second Avenue in New York. Following the translation of the lyrics to English, the Andrew Sisters career was launched with this song about five years later.
The full flavor of an old-time New Orleans march, South Rampart Street Parade, was created in Chicago in the late `30s while Bob Crosby's orchestra was playing at the Blackhawk Restaurant. The genuine New Orleans flavor was injected by Ray Baudue, who was Crosby's drummer, came from New Orleans. Bob Haggart, the band's bassist (a native New Yorker), gave it the big-band Dixieland concept that he had helped to create for the Crosby band. Of all the Dixieland tunes that have become lasting favorites, "South Rampart Street Parade" is the only one that was composed after 1930.
Lazy River marked a turning point in Hoagie Carmichael's career as a composer; he was turning away from his early, jazz-inspired writing. Even "Stardust," one of his earliest tunes, was originally written and played as a lively, jazzy piece. "Lazy River," too, had been played both fast and slow-it works either way. Carmichael wrote it with Sidney Arodin, a New Orleans jazz clarinetist who spent most of his career in his hometown.
Smoke Rings was the haunting signature theme of the Casa Loma Orchestra and was written by the band's banjoist and arranger, Gene Gifford. In the early 1930's, the Casa Loma band usually played hard-driving instrumental numbers that forecast the coming of the Swing Era and Benny Goodman by five years. Gifford left music and went working on advanced methods of sound reproduction.
As the `30s ended, their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada. Only months later, on September 10, 1939, Canada declared war on Germany. The first Canadian troops landed in the United Kingdom on December 17th.
A very different world lay ahead once again.