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The King of Clarinet

Born in 1910 as Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York City, Artie Shaw grew up in the city of New Haven, Connecticut, where he faced antisemitism from the locals. He was attracted to the saxophone around the age of 12 but switched to the clarinet at the age of 16. He developed musical skills at a young age, but his local bandleader did not hire him because he couldn’t sight-read music. Shaw went away to learn sight-reading and was back in a month. He soon quit school to play tour on the road full time.

At the beginning of his career, Artie was a performer who worked with many bands and orchestras, where he earned a good reputation as a director and arranger of bands and orchestras. He worked as a studio musician, in which he performed commercial music that he often didn’t like. However, he was handsomely paid during the height of the Depression. One of his musical projects was hiring Billie Holiday (an African American singer) for his band and touring the South. During a time of segregation, this was a significant move, making him one of the first white musicians to break the racial barrier at the time. During the peak of his career, he was earning $60,000 per week, which in today’s dollars would be about $600,000.

When the Second World War broke out, he enlisted in the US Navy and formed a band during his military service. He used his talent in entertaining Navy personnel of the Pacific theater to raise the troop morale. However, due to performing multiple events a day, Antie came to a state of physical exhaustion and received a medical discharge.

Two tendencies defined his career in music. The first was his ability to form and manage a band to produce the best records and material that were widely loved by audiences. He was much like a serial entrepreneur; he would create a band, develop the band to produce songs that would satisfy the audiences of the time, and then disband the group. His second tendency was his unorthodox taste in music and his inclination to innovate with the themes of his time. An example of this is when he gained attention for his “Interlude in B-flat” at a swing concert at the Imperial Theater in New York. The show combined elements of jazz and classical music and was very well received. But because the sound was not commercial, he was forced to dissolve that band.

The commercial aspect was one thing that Shaw did not love about the music business. He found commercial music to be boring and was not passionate about his work. He didn’t get to make the music that he wanted; instead, he had to play the music that others wanted. In combination with his distaste for fame and celebrity status, this fact made him quit the show business in 1954. While he was involved in some projects after his retirement, his career has shifted from music to writing, which he loved very much.

Artie can be seen as an example of someone who succeeded in something he didn’t love. He tried to retire from the music business three times as it did not seem to fulfill his desire for innovation. Yet, he still succeeded at it with his skill, hard work, and his ability to form successful bands. While he did retire early, his work was significant as his fans often called him at the time “The King of Clarinet.”

Photo – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Artie_Shaw_(Gottlieb_07771).jpg

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The Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service

Between the years of 1911 and 1918, in the small town of Mound, Minnesota, the Andrews Sisters were born to become one of the most popular blues and swing band groups in America. Patty, LaVerne, and Maxene started their musical journey when they were relatively young, winning their first prize for a talent contest at a local theater in Minneapolis. When their father’s restaurant failed and collapsed, the Andrews Sisters started performing on the road to support their family. Inspired by the likes of Boswell Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Torme, they began to imitate their style and worked hard on their craft until they laded their first major success with “Bei Mir Bist Schön,” an originally Yiddish song that sold 350,000 copies. That song became the first spot on the Billboards and earned the sisters their celebrity status.

During the height of their popularity, the Second World War broke out. During the war, they continued producing songs and records that often had military-style themes. The Andrew Sisters performed
their hits in military-themed comedy films such as Private Buckaroo and Bick Privates. Like other artists of their time, they entertained the troops, both inside the United States by visiting US military bases and outside the homeland, in Africa and Italy, often in war zones, hospitals, and munition factories. Their most critical work for the war is performing Irving Berlin’s “Any Bonds Today?” which helped encourage citizens to purchase war bonds to support the war effort. They often treated random service members to dinner while they were on tour and volunteered to help establish the Hollywood Canteen (a retreat for service members) while also performing and dancing with the servicemen in the retreat. They cooperated with V-Discs (a record label owned and operated by the armed services) in producing records for service members and appeared on military radio service shows. Their contributions to the war effort led to them being known as “The Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service.”

The group continued their musical career after the war but not in the same fashion. Patty separated from the group to pursue a solo career in music. She continued to make appearances in guest shows and found herself in a musical theater piece called the Victory Canteen in Los Angeles. She performed with her sister
Maxene, in another musical called “Over Here,” which showed life during WWII at the homefront. Maxene accepted a teaching position at Tahoe Paradise College and rose to become Vice-President. LaVerne died of cancer in 1967, which made both Maxene and Patty unable to perform as a group without her presence.

Despite their humble backgrounds, they grew to be iconic figures in swing and blues during WWII with their parents’ help. They brought a sense of joy through their entertainment during a dark time in American and world history. Overall, they sold more than 900 million records, recorded seven hundred songs, and earned nine golden records.

Photo – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrews_Sisters_Billboard_4.jpg

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The Patriotic Artist

During the German Empire’s reign, a future actress was born days after Christmas in 1901, in Berlin. Marlene Dietrich’s mother was from a wealthy family, and her father was a police officer. She studied violin in her youth and was attracted to the theater and poetry as a young woman. Her early beginnings involved playing violin for silent films, singing in the choir, and playing small and vital parts in many German movies. Her role in musicals attracted attention to her talents. After massive success in a film called the Blue Angel, in which Marlene played a singer, she moved to the United States.

Through her connection with director Josef von Sternberg, she starred in six films under his direction. She cultivated her image as a glamorous actress, using her musical talent often to star in movies that were somewhat provocative for her era. After starring in other films that proved to be a commercial success, she becomes one of the best-paid actresses of her time. However, she later declined in her popularity and was placed at the 126th rank in the box office.

At this time, the Nazi Party approached her while she was in London and offered her lucrative deals in return that she agrees to return to Germany as a film star, boosting the Third Reich image. Marlene declined and applied for US citizenship. She used her resources to create a fund that helped Jews and other dissidents to escape Nazi Germany. Marlene used her entire salary from one of her movies, “Knight Without Armor,” to put it in the fund. After renouncing her citizenship, she helped sell war bonds, succeeding at it than any other celebrity. Marlene performed to allied troops through the war in Algeria, Italy, UK, France, Netherlands, and Germany. She played a critical role in assisting the Office of Strategic Services (known today as the Central Intelligence Agency) to record and broadcast her music in German to be used as propaganda against enemy soldiers. For her actions during the war, she received the Medal of Freedom for entertaining the troops and was also awarded Légion d’Honneur by the French government for her contributions. The tours that she went on often resulted in her being put in difficult and dangerous environments. There were reported instances where Marlene was working on the front lines of the war. She adapted to those environments and was found sleeping in tents and giving performances without power.

Marlene is one of the icons of Hollywood cinema. However, she is also an example of a musically talented celebrity who put their fame and skill into good. Not only did she entertain Allied troops, but she saved many lives by financing their escape from the fascist regime. And while she continued to have financial success in her musicals and films, she suffered from her contribution to the war effort. Her visit to West Germany in 1960 was met with negative press, hostility by nationalistic Germans who felt she was a traitor, two bomb threats, and protests chanting “Marlene Go Home!”. Her visit and tour in Germany were not successful financially, and she felt drained by the attitude she met there. When her career ended in show business, she continued to be politically active and in contact with many world leaders, attempting to exert whatever influence she had to advance positive change.

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Photo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tom-margie/1547775492/in/photolist-3mLKJm-7XyhE4-9KdRG5-2dMfc6y-HZXRnM-4VqfD4-4VqfHX-9EtbGQ-9EqgDe-KCwLy-2gxrQJQ-Tqq9cA-WDFnTC-W2r7pt-WDFn5d-W2r8JT-XftNqT-X3AhQK-XftSrZ-WDF3WE-W2r8qM-aC7fuw-VXFqGZ-mit4pe-aUVmRx-aUVrsH-hmj8gp-2gpEjsF-93S6xH-93Vakq-93VamQ-93VaiS-93S6uD-93VagU-9364g3-9364id-932WRZ-9364jN-9364j3-932WUt-2ebWGkW-dEZTaG-ctV9xE-MzHhNJ-dEZQLE-mLhrc2-DNseFp-e8TFmy-bA8q8C-bQdaMa

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Diversity’s success, in times of prejudice

During the height of the racial tensions in the United States, a group of women from multiple ethnic and racial backgrounds formed a group known as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. It was the first racially integrated all-female band in its time. It all started in Mississippi, with a principal named Laurence C. Jones in the impoverished African American neighborhood’s Piney Woods Country Life School.

Inspired by the Melodears, he set out to create an all-female jazz band at Piney Woods to fundraise the school. The Swinging Rays of Rhythm was born to get money for the school. Later the band would become independent and later get the name the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. They get their independence by stealing the school bus when they find out that many will not graduate from school because they have devoted their time to the band. So they severed their ties with the school. They are in high demand, so they decide to take the patronage of a wealthy donor in Virginia and leadership from Anna Mae Windburn (who lost many male musicians to the draft from her former band, The Cotton Club Boys, during WWII).

The group performed predominantly to black audiences in Harlem, Washington DC, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis (Missouri), Omaha, and Los Angeles. Due to the Jim Crow laws, the girls were forced to live on the bus that they were using to tour the country to avoid trouble. The bus was used for music practice as well as studying for regular school classes. The band’s white members often had to wear dark makeup to look black or say that they were mixed in order to avoid trouble. One of the white members, Roz Cron, was unsuccessful in convincing a police officer that she was mixed and as a result, spent a night in jail. The musicians also didn’t make a lot of money themselves, being compensated $1 a day for food and $1 a week for allowance. On top of all this, the group had to face casual sexism from other more experienced male musicians who thought less of them due to their gender.

Yet despite these harsh circumstances, the group rose in prominence. Their performance in the Howard Theater in DC set their box office record to 35,000 patrons in one week. It was honored with the title, “America’s No. 1 All-Girl Orchestra” by DownBeat magazine. They had a significant fandom among African Americans as they performed in majority-African American venues. Their most crucial contribution was their role in WWII. Their popularity in the African American populace slipped into the military, with African American soldiers writing the ban fan letters and asking them to come to Europe to perform. The band answered the call and started touring in Germany, France, and Belgium.

It was after the war ended that the band began a slow process of disbanding. Reasons involved marriage, aging, career changes, and starting families.

The band holds a special place in American history. Despite the racial discrimination and segregation, combined with oppressive gender norms, during one of the bloodiest wars in human history, the band made of a mixed and integrated group of young women were able to have considerable success in their short journey. They were so popular that their talents were used for a good cause: contributing to the war effort. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm stand as a symbol of diversity and overcoming hardships when their very existence was illegal in many of the places where they have performed.

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Photo – https://www.npr.org/2011/03/22/134766828/americas-sweethearts-an-all-girl-band-that-broke-racial-boundaries

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The Force’s Sweetheart

At the age of seven, a young girl started performing publicly on stage. Daughter of a plumber and a dressmaker, Vera Lynn came from humble origins. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with diphtheritic croup and nearly died. Her first hits were “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” and “Red Sails in the Sunset,” two years later, her career will be shaped and defined by her participation in the Second World War.

At the beginning of the war, she would sing to the people using the London tube station to hide from the air raids. During this time, she had a popular hit, “We’ll Meet Again,” that made her quite famous in that era. The song resonated with the British populace for their lyrics, which included the following verse, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” This popularity led to Vera being chosen as the top favorite when British service members were asked to list their favorite artists. She was named “The Forces’ Sweetheart.” Her popularity continued as she kept performing songs requested by British troops and visiting hospitals to meet new mothers and send their letters to their husbands overseas. Her other contribution to the British war effort included entertaining the troops in Egypt, India, and Burma and appearing in three movies with wartime themes.

After the war, her song “Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart” became a top chart hit in the US. Her other two singles, “The Homing Waltz” and “Forget-Me-Not,” became popular in the UK. The three songs landed spots on the UK Singles Chart. She was the first British singer to hit a top chart in the US. She continued to have lots of success in her career, but her dedication to the troops who fought in WWII never went away.

In 1995, she sang outside the Royal Buckingham Palace in a ceremony that marked VE Day’s anniversary (The day in which the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany). Ten years later, on the same anniversary, she made an appearance with a speech praising the veterans of the war, reminding the younger audience of the sacrifices that they made for their country. She followed with a performance of her song, “We’ll Meet Again.” In that same year, during the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance, she made a speech in which she said about the World War II veterans “These boys gave their lives, and some came home badly injured, and for some families, life would never be the same. We should always remember, we should never forget, and we should teach the children to remember”. For her contribution to the war, she received the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Burma Star for her work in Burma.

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Photo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/growlroar/3767893231/in/photolist-6JXrop-RNvZP3-aWBhXe-eVUc4R-7Hkggg-23S5b7f-2j185Ai-9VRBqK-bSnwze-2g82saD-2g82dG2-2g82k5o-2g82oHo-24RjVdt-2jjUiWx-23S5aUG-6kaoQd-8C4G3s-aC3cUZ-2g82h6b-svqynS-atX8f8-2jk85ka-2g82vsS-2g82evH-2g82crn-2g828o2-2g828Xn-2g82ado-2g82pck-9QG5bR-2g82aPU-2g82D8L-e1zwG5-2g82qLs-2g82hEy-2g82rF3-2g82ozo-sg8wPG-rAUGWp-sxxNgd-sxFCaV-sgg7MP-rAUxEi-rAUuLn-2iZi1nu-sxxQcC-sxFAyi-2g82D2y-2g82DEx

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The Multiplex of Art

Born to a musical family, Noel Coward was attracted to the performance arts since the early age of seven, attending the Chapel Royal Choir School as a youngster. Noel had little formal education and could not read musical notes; however, he was curious and eager to learn and didn’t let it stop him. His father worked as a salesman, selling musical instruments. Financial struggles were very known to Noel in his childhood. His ambitious mother enrolled him in a dance academy in London. Noel became acquainted with many in the theater industry who had a significant effect on the young playwright, such as Charles Hawtrey, Philip Streatfelid, and Astley Cooper. Unfortunately, one of them, Philip Streatfelid, was struck by illness from tuberculosis and died.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, he made a trip to America to pursue his career, with little early luck. Later, however, he would forge great success and popularity. Plays like Young Idea, The Vortex, Fallen Angels, and Hay Fever laid the foundation of his career as they received wild popularity in England and America. Because of these achievements, he kept producing and working on plays until he collapsed on stage while starring in The Constant Nymph. His biggest theatrical failure was Sirocco, which generated a violent reaction from theatergoers.

When WWII broke out, Noel left the theater and wanted to contribute to the war effort directly. He was tasked with running British propaganda to influence the American public and political opinion to aid Britain. He excelled in his job and later moved on to doing musical work by entertaining British troops in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. After London was struck and bombed by the German forces, he wrote and recorded patriotically-themed songs such as “London Pride” and “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.” During the war, his dramatic project was a naval film called in Which We Serve, in which he was both the writer, director, and composer in the film production.

Although he was not formally educated in music composition and reading musical notes, Noel wrote eight musicals and three hundred songs throughout his career. His theatrical career and musical talent often overlapped. Talented in many forms of art, Lord Mountbatten, a British Naval Officer, once said on Noel’s seventieth birthday, “There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are fourteen different people. Only one man combined all fourteen different labels – The Master.”

Noel Coward was never formally educated in the arts. He was merely motivated, talented, and passionate. This combination led him to a great success that had a massive cultural impact.

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Photo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/53035820@N02/8133606732/

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The story of “Katyusha”

One of the most famous music composers during the Great Patriotic War (the Russian term for the second World War), Matvei Isaakovich Blanter, was born and raised in the town of Pochep during the reign of the Russian Empire. His father was a Jewish craftsman, and his uncle, Solomon Mikhoels, was an actor, director, and co-founder of the Moscow State Jewish Theater.

Matvei studied the musical arts in Kursk and Moscow, including piano, violin, and composition. In his early career, Blanter was known for his light dance and jazz songs. After the rise of Stalin, however, his vocation took a turn. The cultural environment of Russia became more ideologically strict. The musician began to produce work that was used as propaganda for the Soviet Union. A perfect example of this is the song “Stalin is Our Battle-Glory.” He wrote other military songs during the period before WWII.

By far, the most famous piece he ever wrote was “Katyusha.” The folk song is both upbeat in its character as well as militaristic in nature. The song represents a woman named Katyusha, who yarns for the love of her life, serving on the Soviet border. The woman sends her song to the young soldier to remind him of his lover and help him protect the Motherland, while Katyusha will preserve the love and bond between them. It gained fame and popularity during WWII. It became an inspiration to participate in the war effort against Nazi Germany, especially after Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Soviet Russia. The song was played by female students from the Soviet Industrial school in Moscow, offering a farewell to soldiers going to the front against the Nazi regime. It became an international hit, played by many singers in many nations, including Italy, where it became a favorite of Italian partisans fighting against both German and Italian Fascists in Italy.

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Photo – http://aaron-kreiswirth-f8fa.squarespace.com/blog/bfe7d491-ace3-4dae-bfcf-bab12a24ffe1

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Dmitri Shostakovich from Saint Petersburg

The son of an engineer and grandson of a Polish revolutionary, Dmitri Shostakovich, was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with a musical talent noted by his mother, a pianist. Dimitri went to study the musical arts at the Petrograd Conservatory at 13 graduated when he was 19 years old.

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Because of the nature of the political environment he lived in, the composer and pianist had a difficult career. Pravada, a newspaper owned and operated by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, harshly criticized his work for the first time after Joseph Stalin himself attended to listen to one of his early works, known as Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Other artists were pressured to criticize his job even if they admired him. After his light ballet, The Limpid Stream, Dimitri feared that he might be arrested. He was instructed by the Chairman of the USSR State Committee on Culture to reject his “formalist errors” (which meant works of art that didn’t serve the political interests of the Communist Party). Because of the Soviet campaign against art that did not toe the line, Shostakovich’s income fell sharply. This repressive environment affected the work of the composer and got him in trouble during his later years.

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However, his art shined and was backed by the Soviet government during World War II. His most famous work is the Seventh Symphony, which he composed while living under siege of German forces in his home city (named “Leningrad” at the time). The Soviet forces conducted offensive operations against the Germans to silence them during the Philharmonic Hall’s performance to lift the residents’ spirits from mass starvation and sickness and use it as a form of psychological warfare against German forces. The piece was played by hungry, sick, and tired musicians who were victims of a brutal siege. It displayed the peaceful life before the Nazi invasion, the horrors and pains of the war, and the heroism of Leningrad’s population in the face of brutality. The symphony was heard by some in the German army stationed at Leningrad and was touched by the music. It displayed a strong will that Leningrad’s people had when placed against the most hopeless situation humanity can experience.

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Photo Credit: Tahir Salahov. Portrait Of Dmitri Shostakovich (1974-1976)