Types of Music in the 1920s and 1930s

By Bridgette Redman
Jazz was one of the most prominent forms of music in the '20s and '30s.

When World War I ended, people were ready for a change. Nowhere is this seen in the culture as much as in the music of the 1920s and 1930s. There was an explosion of dance clubs, music halls and live performers popularizing jazz, Broadway musicals, barbershop quartets, swing and boogie woogie.

And All That Jazz

The 1920s was "The Jazz Age," and jazz is one of the most influential and prominent forms of music of that decade. The music got its start around the beginning of the century in New Orleans, evolving from ragtime piano music from greats such as Scott Joplin. Musicians migrated north, and clubs sprung up in Chicago and New York. Jazzmen including Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman were at the height of their musical careers and people were dancing in clubs and speakeasies to jazz with new dances such as the Charleston, One Step and Black Bottom.

42nd Street

The '20s and '30s saw the rise of Broadway musicals. The 1920s became Broadways' busiest decade, with high employment rates, record numbers of audience, higher incomes for performers and sometimes as many as 50 musicals opening in a single season. Productions freely adapted from vaudeville and music-hall shows and featured star performers such as Marilyn Miller and Fred Astaire. The decade also saw the work of Jerome Kern, the Gershwin brothers, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and the team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The Great Depression of the '30s caused a drop of audiences and stage shows had shorter runs, but it saw the debut of artists such as Ethel Waters, Ethel Merman, Orson Welles and Noel Coward. This era saw hits including "Babes in Arms," "The Boys From Syracuse" and "Anything Goes."

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

The 1930s marked the revival of barbershop vocal harmony, a form of a cappella music done in four-part harmony. These quartets consisted of a lead singing the melody, a tenor, a bass and a baritone. The popularity of the phonograph contributed to the barbershop quartet's popularity while the development of the radio began to mark a downslide at the end of the '30s.

It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

Swing bands began to make their appearances from 1920 to 1935, with its greatest popularity from 1935 to 1945, years sometimes called "The Swing Era." Swing is created with brass and woodwind instruments playing leads -- sometimes supported by string instruments -- with a strong rhythm section of double bass and drums. The emphasis is on the off-beat, giving it a swing feel. The Swing Era saw performers such as Benny Goodman, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Boogie Woogie

Boogie woogie was a piano-based blues music made popular by African-Americans in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. It features highly percussive music with the left hand playing a repeating rhythmic figure and the right hand performing improvised melody. Artists including Jimmy Yancey, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson played this type of music.

About the Author

As a professional writer since 1985, Bridgette Redman's career has included journalism, educational writing, book authoring and training. She's worked for daily newspapers, an educational publisher, websites, nonprofit associations and individuals. She is the author of two blogs, reviews live theater and has a weekly column in the "Lansing State Journal." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University.