Introduction: the 1940-1949 era

Taking advantage of world sympathy for Germany over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, dictator Adolf Hitler began during the 1930s to assimilate his European neighbours on the flimsiest of pretexts. Eventually the whole world would be dragged back into armed conflict.

In reaching their target audience, the Nazis placed great faith in the power of propaganda, exploiting both print and radio media to full advantage. On 78 rpm records, patriotic Germans could listen to the Horst Wessel song, an anthem written by a paramilitary street-thug portrayed by the Nazis as a martyr, and others in praise of the glorious Fuehrer himself.

In England, however, Hitler was taken less seriously, with releases like Arthur Askey's 'Adolf' ('Hold your hand out, you twerp, we're all fed up with you'). German art in general was forced to confom to the Nazi ideal of Nordic purity, with jazz being scorned as the product of what they deemed 'racially inferior' negroes. However, Django Reinhardt, a famous jazz guitarist, managed to survive unscathed in occupied France through the war years despite his gypsy blood, because the local German commander happened to like jazz music.

Though sympathetic to the Allied cause, America managed to keep an isolationist stance until being attacked by Japan in 1942. As in WWI, America would gain enhanced power and prestige on the world stage at comparatively little cost in life and no collateral damage on her own soil.

The American record industry was to suffer some setbacks during the war years. A shortage of shellac, a substance produced by a species of Asian beetle and the main ingredient for the coating on records, but which was also critical in the manufacture of electrical products, caused a rationing of that product among record manufacturers. After a nationwide plea, millions of old records were brought in for recycling.

Vinyl began to catch on, being well suited to the 12" microgroove LP, introduced in the late 1940s. A strike by the musicians' union in 1941 brought problems to studio recording sessions. Some records were made with vocal backup instead of the usual orchestra, the dispute over royalty fees remaining unsolved until 1943.

Secular blues and gospel music had already provided nourishment for Dixieland jazz, which had died with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression years. This rich compost now fed the roots of rhythm and blues which in turn would give birth to be-bop, doo-wop and, eventually, rock and roll.

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