Redhead Quickie – Depression Era Series

This is a spin off of the “popular” series Redhead Record Review. It is a celebration of the poetry of Langston Hughes and popular American music of the Great Depression.

For those of you who are of the belief that there is nothing new under the sun, this may help to explain why we sometimes feel we are born into the wrong period in history. The post-hippie conservative inflationary 70’s I grew up in probably had a lot in common with the edge of the Jazz Age Roaring Twenties leading into the Great Depression of 30’s America. Some of my earliest and most lasting memories are of my grandfather sharing the music of his youth on old 78’s, Hi-Fi records and reel-to-reel tapes.

The poetry of Langston Hughes, from his 1935 collection The Dream Keeper, echoes the popular music of the times.

langston hughes

Negro Dancers – Langston Hughes

‘Me an’ ma baby’s
Got two mo’ ways,
Two mo’ ways to do de Charleston!’
Da, da,
Da, da, da!
Two mo’ ways to do de Charleston!’
Soft light on the tables,
Music gay,
Brown-skin steppers
In a cabaret.
White folks, laugh!
White folks, pray!
‘Me an’ ma baby’s
Got two mo’ ways,
Two mo’ ways to do de
Charleston!’

Our featured redhead is Mae West. I think she was actually platinum blond, but since photos and movies were in black and white, I can take some liberties. Besides, I already featured Shirley Temple in an earlier post.

Just kidding; representing the period is the great Katharine Hepburn with her performances in Little Women and Morning Glory for which she won an Oscar in 1933.

Katharine-on-the-set-of-Morning-Glory

To lift the spirits of a nation suffering under the weight of desperate times, many of the popular songs featured optimistic and dream inspired melodies and lyrics.

On the Sunny Side of the Street is credited to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, but there are some who claim that it was actually written by Fats Waller who sold the rights. The song has been covered so many times, with slight variations. I’ve selected an excerpt from a Billie Holiday recording.

On the Sunny Side of the Street

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worry on the doorstep
Just direct your feet
To the sunny side of the street
Can’t you hear a pitter pat
And that happy tune is your step
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street

I used to walk in the shade
With those blues on parade
But no I’m not afraid
This Rover crossed over

If I never have a cent
I’d be rich as Rockefeller
Gold dust at my feet
On the sunny side of the street

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