This chapter begins with the end of the big band era. In 1945 the networks dropped 12 bands from their regular radio shows. By December of 1946 Benny Goodman, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Woody Herman, and Les Brown dissolved their big bands – although the last two were to reform their bands later. Clearly something was going on. According to trombonist Johnny Mandel:
“We were playing to empty ballrooms, because the jitterbugs never came back from the war. The kids who used to dance to the bands before the war, they had no thought for tomorrow. When they went to war, they went through all kinds of hell. The ones that made it back, they wanted to go on with their lives, and jitterbugging wasn’t part of it. They married those girls they used to jitterbug with, they were spending all their money on babysitters, on building houses, and nobody was dancing.”
There is a continuing fragmentation of style in popular music in the late forties. While on the one hand, according to the author, jazz is “extracted” from popular music as the remaining big bands and vocal groups focus on “sweet” music, nonetheless, forms of progressive jazz such as bebop emerge. On the other hand, this is countered with what is called “trad jazz” – a revival of Dixieland.
The influence of country music on mainstream popular music, which began due to the 1941 radio boycott of ASCAP songs, continues with such songs as “Buttons and Bows” (1948) “Riders in the Sky” (1949), and “The Tennessee Waltz” (1950). Also, folk groups like the Weavers start to emerge charting with their version of the traditional song “Good Night Irene” (1950).
A major change after World War II is the coming into prominence of the disk jockey. From the 1920’s on, music broadcast via radio was live. Records were initially meant for home use. One of the first major disk jockeys was Martin Block who, on WNEW, played records in between news reports about the Lindberg kidnapping in 1935. He later developed a radio program called “Make Believe Ballroom.” Record companies originally printed “Not Licensed for Radio Broadcast” on records. However, a 1940 Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision found this to have no legal standing. As radio programming shifted from networks to local radio stations after World War II, the final hurdle was cleared, and the phenomenon of a disk jockey playing records became much more prominent.
Finally, the last change to emerge at this time is the pre-rock music, immensely popular with teenagers, of the white singer Johnny Ray. Even though rather tame-sounding to us today, Ray’s emotive, high-pitched singing introduced some elements of black rhythm and blues music to white audiences in 1951, several years before Bill Haley and Elvis.