The Pioneers

If you consider 1920 as roughly the beginning of jazz, the early vocalists were strong influencers -- mainly by changing the popular singing style into a more intimate, conversational delivery, helped by the invention of the microphone. Also, this more relaxed delivery of lyrics fit with a new music style called swing, which was based on 4/4 time.

The Jazz Age was a period in the 1920s and 1930s in which jazz music and dance styles became popular. It’s often referred to as the Roaring Twenties and overlapped with the Prohibition Era (1920-1933), when the sale or consumption of alcohol was against the law.

Vaudeville, a farce with music, was popular from the mid-1890s until the early 1930s. A show consisted of 10 to 15 individual unrelated acts, featuring magicians, acrobats, comedians, trained animals, jugglers, singers, and dancers. Today we’d call it a variety show.

Hollywood musicals were very popular from the B&W Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films of the ‘30s to the MGM color extravaganzas of the ‘40s and ‘50s. The “golden age” of Broadway musicals was in the 1940s-50s.

image of Bessie SmithBESSIE SMITH (1894-1937) was the original Queen of the Blues, a tremendously powerful vocalist who was the genre's first recording star and influenced all who followed. This is from NPR’s Jazz  Profiles.

image of Ethel WatersETHEL WATERS (1896-1977) was an early jazz vocalist and accomplished actress who was a huge star of the 1920s and '30s. She is best known for bridging the gap between the black and white music worlds.

Image of Louis Armstrong

LOUIS ARMSTRONG (1901-1971), nicknamed "Satchmo", "Satch", and "Pops".  A trumpeter and vocalist, he is probably the most influential figure in jazz, introducing an entirely new way to play and sing.

Here’s NPR’s Jazz Profiles:

image of Bing CrosbyBING CROSBY (1903-1977) was the first multimedia star and one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century, introducing a new relaxed conversational style that became the norm. He helped develop the microphone.

Image of Mildred BaileyMILDRED BAILEY (1907-1951) was called Mrs. Swing, a blues and jazz singer of the 1930s & '40s, with a fragile, uncloying, sweet-toned voice belied her ample proportions.


  • The First Radio Broadcast 1910
  • Bing Crosby made his first recording using a microphone in 1930.
  • Half of American homes had a B&W TV set in 1955
  • The First Phonograph Records for sale 1892
  • The First Movie with sound "The Jazz Singer" in 1927
  • The First Movie in Color "The Wizard of Oz" 1939

How a 1920s Technology Changed Music
By Kate Kelly

During the second decade of the twentieth century, two developments were being refined that were to forever change music: The development of electrical disc recording, and improvements to what became known as the microphone.

By 1925 vast improvements were made with the microphone, and engineers were finding a way to record by using electricity. Developments in these two areas were soon conjoined.

Musicians soon realized that the microphones permitted them to be heard better in theaters and auditoriums because their sound was amplified.

These discoveries had a vast effect on music. Instead of a singer belting out a song so that it could be heard in the back row of a theater, they could sing softer, almost in a whisper. For the first time, emotions could be conveyed with the sound of the voice. Lyrics could be about love and the tones could be intimate and suggestive, as if the performer was whispering the song to each listener. The term, “croon,” meaning to sing softly person-to-person, came to describe this new musical style. Bing Crosby was known as a “crooner”, followed by Sinatra and others as this style became the standard.

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"Down in the Dumps"
Coot Grant-Wesley Wison

"Cabin in the Sky"
Vernon Duke-John Latouche

Harry Akst-Sam Lewis

"Swinging on a Star"
Jimmy Van Heusen-
Johnny Burke
Oscar WInner 1944

"Small Fry"
Hoagy Carmichael-
Frank Loesser