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avatar for Andrew Berish

Andrew Berish

Andrew Berish is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida. His book, Lonesome Roads and Streets of Dreams: Place, Mobility, and Race in Jazz of the 1930s and ’40s (University of Chicago Press, 2012), examines how swing-era jazz represented geographic and demographic transformations of American life. He has published articles on Duke Ellington, 1930s “sweet” jazz, and guitarist Django Reinhardt. His current research focuses on affect and sentimentality in Tin Pan Alley ballads.

“The Sentimental Voice in a Hardboiled Era: Tin Pan Alley and Mainstream Pop During World War II"
In recent years, popular music scholars have renewed the critical analysis of the “mainstream.” Work by Carl Wilson, Eric Weisbard, Mitchell Morris and others offer new, more sympathetic accounts of pop music’s middle, a place frequently derided as inauthentic and sentimental. The new attention to the mainstream, however, focuses overwhelmingly on the post-1950s. Missing is close scrutiny of the commercial “mainstream” in the years before  rock ‘n’ roll. Rock and pop may have transformed the industry and the audience for popular music, but it did not invent the commercial mainstream. In this talk, I will consider a pivotal moment in the development of mainstream popular music—the early 1940s—an era near the apex of the 20th century industrialization of music. Wartime mobilization triggered an economic boom that buoyed a struggling music industry. Working in tandem, radio, records, sheet music, and Hollywood film shaped an emergent mainstream sound built on singers, particularly white male singers. In contrast to the hot sounds of dance band swing, these new singers specialized in sentimental love songs, ballads in the language of the time. Looking closely at popular baritone Vaughn Monroe and his string of early 1940s success—“My Devotion” (1942), “The Shrine of St. Cecilia” (1942), and “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)” (1942)—I will show how the singer redefined the middle of the popular music landscape. These recordings eschewed references to jazz and blues in favor of lush string arrangements, backing vocal choirs, and a “straight” approach to vocal performance. Song lyrics downplayed erotic love in favor of sentimental tropes of hope, faith, and devotion. Together, words and music revitalized and masculinized a long tradition of American sentimentality for a tougher, hardboiled age.


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