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Morin's Violin Class

St. Cecilia Boys Band, circa 1920

Stanislas Larock's band, circa 1920

 

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The Roaring 20s to Swing


The Power of Music exhibition series continues as we explore music - nationally and locally - from 1865 to today.

The Roaring 20s to Swing focuses on an important and transitional moment in American musical history.  American culture underwent dramatic changes in the years following the First World War.  A younger generation that had experienced the war firsthand could no longer reconcile their experience with the Victorian mores of late nineteenth century America.  Their refusal of the old codes and beliefs manifested itself in new attitudes towards music, sexuality, and daily life. At the same time, this youth revolt provoked a backlash among older generations, who responded to new dances, music, and attitudes with a kind of moral panic. The implementation of Prohibition in 1920 was their response to a culture they viewed as having spiraled out of control. 

In the midst of this environment, there emerged a new music, created in large part by African Americans, which rapidly spread from New Orleans through to new sites of popularity in Chicago, New York, and other Northern cities. Jazz, with its driving rhythms, interwoven melodies, and challenging new sounds, was grounded in a spirit of improvisation, and came to represent the spirit of the age. Artists ranging from Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet to Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson had introduced a radical new sound to American culture, a musical embodiment of freedom that was both celebrated and reviled by a generation of Americans.

The meteoric rise of the stock market in the 1920s was closely bound to this new spirit of freedom. However, the reckless speculation of the Jazz Age would soon give way to a day of reckoning. In the social and economic cataclysm that came in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, tens of millions of Americans were out of work, with many unable to secure even the most basic necessities of life.

With the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, and the introduction of the so-called New Deal, Americans experienced the second dramatic cultural transformation in the span of twenty years. Americans formed new institutions to come together in the face of loss and uncertainty, and this, too manifested itself in the musical styles of the age. The big bands of the Swing era, based upon the ebullient, propulsive music of Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and many others, reflected a more populist age, as people pulled together to face the challenges of the Great Depression and the onset of the Second World War.

The period extending from the 1920s to the Second World War was a period of energy and dynamism in the musical life of Lewiston-Auburn. Classical institutions, such as the Club Musical-Litteraire and L’Orphéon, coexisted alongside other groups and sounds, such as the “snowshoe club” band of Le Club Montagnard, or the bands of Lloyd Rafnell and Clifford Lachance. The period also saw the growth of Local 409 of the American Federation of Musicians, one of only four chapters in Maine. With The Roaring 20s to Swing, we hope to capture the energy and rapid change of this fascinating era, both locally and nationwide.

- Prof. Dale Chapman,  
  Bates College
  Co-curator