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DID YOU KNOW that Irving Berlin wrote The Easter Parade?  He also wrote White Christmas.  And, he was Jewish. Well, that’s not so unusual when you realize that Leonard Bernstein, former director of the New York Philharmonic, wrote his own Mass!  Of course, it was widely criticized when it was first introduced but then, recognizing its inspiring beauty, it was embraced by the Catholic Church and even celebrated at the Vatican.  

     All of which adds up to a simple fact:  It is good to see people of such remarkable talent ready to share their creativity with others, even those outside of their own faith.


Much of this became apparent recently when Public Television aired its momentous documentary, American Songbook, covering American music, from about 1890 through 1965.  Oh, this was an event to remember, and if you haven’t seen it, look up your television listings and see if it will be played again soon. 


This is history at its best, showing not only the music of the times, but the events, the participants, the fashion, the incredible melting pot of people from all over the world.  What entertainment!


Here was George M. Cohan, the Ziegfeld Follies, the music of World Wars I and II. Kate Smith sang God Bless America.  Songs from the greatest theatrical productions of American history, such as Showboat, and the classic, Porgy and Bess, thrilled audiences.  It was moving, it was sad, it was joyful, it was intriguing.  Even more fascinating, it was the story of the American people, vividly expressed in music, lifestyles, wardrobes, and even expressions. 


“Over There.” “The Last Time I saw Paris.”  “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”  These are just a quick sampling of the war songs that helped boost morale during so many of the nation’s fighting years.


                                           The Dark Years


SO MUCH WAS ALIKE, but much was also different. The glorious Ziegfeld Follies girls had small breasts and sometimes slightly rounded bellies. Men were shorter.  We all were much younger, if we were on the scene at all. Costume jewelry still hadn’t come into its own during the early years covered by the film, so jewelry worn by the average woman was often small, inconspicuous, real. 

   –But hats?  That was something else again!  Big brimmed hats were high fashion, and absolutely required wearing for any dressup occasion, especially something like Easter.



  • Stunning ladies’ dress hat with gorgeous, trendy bow trim.
  • Organza ladies’ hat with floral lace pattern.


Mickey Rooney as a young man: wasn’t he delightful?  And Lena Horne, oh…she was so beautiful! A quick clip of Ronald Regan in a Grade B movie was entertaining; could he ever have imagined back then that he would one day be President of the United States?  Judy Garland sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow, modestly attired as few present day gals would be. 


Benny Goodman played to packed audiences and dancing devotees in the spectacular Big Band Era. Ira Gershwin shared his musical genius with the world, Rogers and Hammerstein wrote America into world musical history with their remarkable South Pacific (to name just one of their Broadway musicals), with its Some Enchanted Evening, Bali H’ai, and Younger than Springtime.  The musical genius here was breathtaking!


                                   Long Strands of Pearls


Then the times changed, radically.  At the turn of the century, well-dressed ladies wore long dresses and piled on jewelry, Victorian style, and not so different from the way it is worn today.  The Twenties brought in truly radical short skirts, bobbed hair, plenty of fringe, and long strands of beads and pearls dropping below the waist and swinging with every movement. Doesn’t this sound like today?  It was fun seeing the likenesses and differences.


The Thirties opened with seductive dresses, major movie stars, and the tragedy of a deep Depression that was to last ten years.  Things were hard, clothing was anything but fashionable in most hometowns.  Paul Robeson sang Old Man River, and touched the souls of everyone who heard him.  “I gets weary, and sick of trying, I’m tired of living and feared of dying, But old man river, he just keeps rolling along….”     


                                             The New Deal


Happy Days are Here Again, the song declared as Delano Roosevelt came into office with fierce determination.  The New Deal was on, and prohibition was off, relegated to the past.  Things got better.  Smiles returned. 


But then…Pearl Harbor shook up the nation, and another war was on.  Over There was sung, once again.  God Bless America took on new meaning, once again.


After World War II, music helped a nation grapple with myriad changes and chores, bringing light to everyone.  Fashion, too, did its part, with classy long skirts and large shoulder pads, an unmistakable Forties look.  Fabulous brooches made an appearance.  The waistline was defined with belts.  Practical handle bags appeared.  Holidays could once again be celebrated with ease and lightheartedness.








Comments (0) Posted by Mary McGarry on Monday, April 26th, 2010

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