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Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia, 1930–1942

Christopher Wilkinson

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xvi

Mention the state of West Virginia to many devotees of American music, and they would probably envision small ensembles of white musicians playing fiddles, guitars, banjos, and upright (that is, string) basses. Occasionally, a hammer dulcimer might be part of the sonic mix of such string bands, but no keyboards...

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Introduction: Coal, Railroads, and the Establishment of African American Life in West Virginia

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pp. 3-32

“Well, all the bands were goin’ through West Virginia because the mines were in operation, and everyone, you know, was employed.” Jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Herbert Hall made this observation on February 23, 1980, in the course of an interview with Sterlin Holmesly, a journalist with...

PART ONE: The Economic Foundation of Big Band Dance Music in the Mountain State

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CHAPTER ONE: From the Coal Face to the Dance Floor: Black Miners as Patrons of Big Bands

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pp. 35-47

Understanding the connections between the work of coal miners, the major audience for jazz and dance music, and the big bands that played the music that meant so much to them during the 1930s and early 1940s is key to understanding the economic foundation of this musical culture. This chapter follows...

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CHAPTER TWO: Validating Herbert Hall’s Contention: Paul Barnes’s Gig Book

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pp. 48-58

Herbert Hall’s recollection that “all the bands were goin’ through West Virginia in the 1930s because [emphasis added] the mines were in operation . . . and everyone was employed” is supported by evidence found in a rarely encountered document: a record...

PART TWO: Big Bands in Black West Virginia: 1929–1935

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CHAPTER THREE: Newspapers and Radio Bring the World of the Big Bands to Black West Virginia

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pp. 61-67

The establishment of big band music as a vital part of the musical culture of black West Virginia reflected the impact of multiple forces of which the two most powerful were newspapers and radio. African Americans in West Virginia were avid readers of the Pittsburgh Courier, “the newspaper for people of color” as Francis Flippen...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Local and Territory Bands in the Emerging Culture of Big Band Jazz and Dance Music in the Mountain State

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pp. 68-85

The early 1930s were a time of near economic chaos in the coalfields. The newspaper record shows that in the Mountain State the vast majority of live dance music was provided by local bands and by touring “territory bands,” mostly based in the southeast and south-central part of the country as well as in the Midwest. These...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Big Band Jazz Comes to the Mountain State: 1929–1933

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pp. 86-101

The complexities of the musical culture of black West Virginians before World War II should by now be obvious. Sacred and secular, oral and notated, indigenous and imported, the styles and genres of African American music found in the Mountain State during the 1930s were every bit as diverse as those found elsewhere in the nation. Situated between urban northern and rural...

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CHAPTER SIX: Comparative Prosperity Arrives, September 1933–April 1935

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pp. 102-122

The fortunes of the Price Hill miners photographed in 1931 changed dramatically after September 18, 1933, as did those of miners throughout the Mountain State. For it was on that day that President Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 6137, “Code of Fair Competition for the Bituminous Coal Industry.” That order...

PART THREE: West Virginia in the Swing Era, 1935–1942

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CHAPTER SEVEN: The Place of the Mountain State on the Road Traveled by the Big Bands

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pp. 125-139

Conventional wisdom, first expressed in 1956 by Marshall W. Stearns, holds that the Swing Era began on August 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles (Stearns 1956, 211). On that night, following a decidedly lackluster tour that originated in New York, the Benny Goodman Orchestra appeared suddenly to find its audience for big band jazz. When the band played Fletcher Henderson’s...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: The Big Bands’ Audience in the Mountain State

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pp. 140-147

We know where dances were held and who was responsible for getting the bands to those venues. But who danced to the music of the black name bands of the period in West Virginia, and what did they hear? First, we must examine the available evidence concerning the identity of the potential audience based on what can...

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CHAPTER NINE: The Dance Repertory Played in the Coal Fields

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pp. 148-164

In what ways does the admittedly rough sample of the black population of the southern coalfields discussed in the previous chapter—by implication an equally rough sample of those likely to attend dances—shed light on the variety of music which the touring bands would perform? First of all, consider the age...

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CHAPTER TEN: The Party Winds Down

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pp. 165-178

The coal industry provided the economic foundation for the culture of big band jazz and dance music in the Mountain State during the 1930s, and it would be that same industry that initiated its decline. Events following the start of World War II would complete that process....


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pp. 179-183

Works Cited

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pp. 185-189


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pp. 191-197

E-ISBN-13: 9781617031694
E-ISBN-10: 1617031690
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617031687
Print-ISBN-10: 1617031682

Publication Year: 2012