Introduction: the 1930-1939 era

The Wall Street Crash in September 1929 signalled the onset of the Great Depression in North America, its repercussions being felt on a worldwide scale. Sales of non-essentials like phonograph records dried to a trickle. Larger record companies were forced to amalgamate. Even the giant Victor Corporation was swallowed up by RCA; smaller ones simply vanished.
With widespread unemployment, many middle-class people found themselves unable to hang on to their homes and material possessions. Those on society's fringes, like blacks, share-cropping farmers and others such as artists and musicians who were dependent on discretionary cash, perhaps suffered most.

In the cities, bread and soup lines became a common sight. Thousands of people took to hitch-hiking the roads and railways, criss-crossing the continent in a desperate, hopeless search for non-existent jobs. Life became a fight for survival. On cold nights, in their makeshift shanties or bush-dwellings, hoboes would burn anything combustible, even records, to keep themselves warm.
Jazz, the musical expression of the hedonistic spirit of the twenties, died with the Great Crash.

Without money for records and radios, people found ways to make their own music. 'Country and western,' the grassroots voice of the white rural poor, came into its own as people tried to forget about hard times by coming together for a barn dance. The voice of the black rural poor found expression in 'country blues,' where the solo artist on acoustic guitar dealt with the twin social disadvantages of being both poor and black.

As the decade wore on, sophisticated 'swing' music became increasingly popular. Jazzmen like Clarence Williams adapted to the times and provided a syncopated rhythm suitable for more sedate forms of dancing. The brassy sound made by powerful 'big bands,' which could only be accommodated in big city dance-halls and auditoriums, was a good fit with radio and the promotional advertising that supported it.

The onset of the Second World War in Europe placed America in the position of being a supplier of materiel, which re-energized her moribund industry and once again provided economic prosperity.

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