HITS of 1920: Whispering
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HITS OF 1920 Original Recordings
Strictly speaking, 1920 was the last year of the 1910s. But musically, culturally, socially and sociologically, 1920 was the year that began The Roaring Twenties. This was the start of The Jazz Age, Prohibition, a ten-year-long party fuelled by bathtub gin, to a soundtrack of machine guns and saxophones.
The years following World War One had seen unrest, strikes and disturbances. 1920 was marked by inflation and "the high cost of living", hunger strikes and violence in Ireland, the birth of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party in Germany, and a Red Scare across the United States. Nearly three thousand suspected Communists and sympathizers were arrested, and the long-dormant Ku Klux Klan was reborn. Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in resolving the issues behind the Great War, but the United States refused to join the League of Nations.
The big American story, of course, was the "noble experiment", the prohibition of liquor which officially began on January 16th, and which would stay in effect till the end of 1933. This was the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The 19th Amendment, which became law on August 26th, gave women the right to vote. 1920 was the year Mah-Jongg became popular, along with the Ouija Board. You could now "dial" a telephone instead of asking the operator to connect you to your desired party. And radios began appearing in homes, as the first commercial broadcasters began to take to the air, including WWJ in Detroit and KDKA in Pittsburgh.
Top books of the year included "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence", Carl Sandburg's poetry collection "Smoke and Steel", and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise". Eugene O'Neill's "The Emperor Jones" was one of the dramatic standouts of 1920, and successful musicals included "Sally", "Irene" and "Mary". At the movies, Charlie Chaplin introduced child star Jackie Coogan in "The Kid" and Mary Pickford, who married Douglas Fairbanks on March 29th, starred in "Pollyanna". Enrico Caruso sang his last performance on Christmas Eve, and Beniamino Gigli made his American début on November 17th, both at the Metropolitan Opera House.
The music of 1920 was there to reflect the tastes of the day, including a yen for exotic places Dardanella, The Japanese Sandman, Avalon. The search for alternative sources of alcoholic refreshment inspired I'll See You in C-U-B-A and The Moon Shines On the Moonshine. Now that aviation was available for civilian use, would-be lotharios were advised to Wait Till You Get Them Up in the Air, Boys, and the distaff side, 80 years before Sex in the City, could coyly hint that You'd Be Surprised. But old-fashioned values hadn't disappeared, as proven by the popularity of The Love Nest (familiar years later as George Burns and Gracie Allen's theme song), I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time, Pretty Kitty Kelly and Alice Blue Gown. A war having been fought and won, many people were ready to settle down and return to Swanee and Let the Rest of the World Go By, but the pulsating rhythms of Jazz weren't to be ignored, even if nobody really knew what Jazz was just yet. Marion Harris popularized W. C. Handy's St. Louis Blues, Ted Lewis and his Jazz Band introduced his famous theme When My Baby Smiles At Me, and a dance band led by a former viola player from Denver, Paul Whiteman, sold over a million copies of Whispering. The saxophone began to be heard everywhere, and virtuoso Rudy Wiedoeft's records were studied and copied (especially by young Hubert Pryor Vallee, who as Rudy would be heard from later in the decade). And Ben Selvin, better known for his thousands of recordings with studio orchestras than on the bandstand, had his first top-seller with Dardanella.
Many veterans of stage and vaudeville were popular on records in 1920, such as Nora Bayes, Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams, all stars of the Ziegfeld Follies. Al Jolson was still on top, Margaret Young (whose niece was Margaret Whiting) made her first recordings, vaudevillians Gus Van and Joe Schenck blended their voices on disc, and established recording stars such as Billy Murray and Henry Burr (here teamed with Albert Campbell for two duets) were still in demand. Recording in 1920 was still made by the process known as "acoustical"; microphones wouldn't be used for another five years, and singers and musicians who could project were the ones who made the best records.
The party was just getting underway, and the end would be an abrupt one ten years later. The 20s were beginning to roar.
David Lennick, 2002
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennicks work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, Syracuse University and others.
Transfers & Production: David Lennick
Digital Noise Production: Graham Newton
Original 78s from the collections of David Lennick, John Rutherford & Steven C. Barr
Cover photo: Dancers in 1922 (b/w original Hulton/Archive)