While singers reign in today’s music world, the big band era held its vocalists in a much different light. Though a few managed to transcend their status, most remained interchangeable faces who stood up in the middle of a performance to sing one chorus before sitting back down into obscurity again. The canaries and crooners of yesteryear drifted in and out of bands regularly, most staying only a few months at a time. Of those who went solo, the vast majority disappeared into the dark depths of musical history never to be heard from again.
BandChirps celebrates the uncelebrated—those often forgotten vocalists who sang our favorite songs of yesteryear. Much of what’s been written about these performers is incorrect, based on the failing memories of those who lived during that era or on press releases sent out by publicity agents. Neither source can be described as accurate. BandChirps tries to cut through the inaccuracies and errors of past research to compile the best history possible for these often obscure singers.
A band chirp is someone who made their living primarily as a singer in an orchestra. Not all band vocalists qualify. For example, while Billie Holiday sang with Artie Shaw’s orchestra for several months in 1938, she was already an established artist at that time, not the contracted, itinerant vocalist on which this site focuses.
Scholars vary in what they consider the Swing Era. A general and oft-used consensus is from 1935 to 1945—from the year of Benny Goodman’s historic concert at the Palomar ballroom in Hollywood to the end of World War II. Swing began to be developed in the mid-1920s, however, with Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington defining it further in the early 1930s. By 1933, the swing style had been adopted by most black orchestras, though only a few white bands had experimented with it. Swing was pretty much over as a developing music form by the late 1930s, as young black musicians rebelled against its commercialization and turned to the emerging bop style. Goodman himself was struggling by 1938 and had to retool his band to remain relevant.
Most white bands of the era mixed swing with sweet, and by the 1940s sweet dominated the pop charts. Swing remained a commercial style, however, into the early war years, though much diluted. The loss of good musicians to the service along with war-time rationing and changing tastes took their toll on bands during the mid-1940s, resulting in rising costs and lowering profits. The band industry collapsed in late 1946 as many leaders, in debt and losing money, folded. Some formed new orchestras in 1947 and continued on through the late 1940s, though nowhere near as relevant as they once had been. By the time the 1950s rolled around, the era of the big bands was truly over.
BandChirps is the work of Autumn Lansing. Autumn holds bachelor’s degrees in history and film studies from the University of Central Oklahoma and did graduate work at the same school in 20th Century Studies, with an emphasis on film. She’s also an artist and web developer.
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