08 March 2010

Arts and Music: The Roaring 20s

By Isabel Roman

Many people say that the 1960s were the 20th century's time of peaceful revolution. Free sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But have you forgotten the 1920s? The Roaring 20s. They roared in a revolution like the world hadn't before seen. An evolution of fashion, thought, politics, and most especially music.

In the 20s, hot jazz, sultry blues, and upbeat tunes such as "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "No, We Have No Bananas Today," finally found their way into mainstream society. Women's skirts rose for the first time in over 3,000 years, and their knees knocked as they danced to the Charleston.

People lined up to pay $3.50 a seat to watch such Broadway hits as the Ziegfeld Follies.

But one of the most important evolutions in music happened because of a political change that threw subversive music into a little thing called the speakeasy. Liquor had been prohibited and the rise of the gangster happened because the drug of choice was booze. Everybody wanted it, nobody could get it. More than just serving a glass of moonshine, people wanted an experience.

The smart criminal established private lounges with secret passwords and pseudonyms for drinks. And offered a venue to the struggling young musician. Alternative music was heard here, jazzy, fast, up-tempo: keep the customer happy and dancing, and they'd keep drinking. Anything and everything went, and from these crime ridden, illegal dens, popular music was born.

We have to give credit to the roots of the music, most likely a hybrid of old southern slave songs, African-American music, and Latin beats.

Bessie Smith, the Andrews Sisters, and the rise of the Big Bands drew crowds like no other. Thanks to the 1920s, and the musicians who pioneered that sound, we have the music we do today. Everyone from Fergie, to Madonna, to Prince has these 1920s musicians to thank. They were the revolutionaries of rhythm.