Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment that was popular from the early Victorian era circa 1850 and lasting until 1960. It involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts, and variety entertainment.
I’M sure that for quite a few readers, nothing will bring back memories of Sunday lunchtimes with the smell of the roast in the oven more than these words: ‘The time in Britain is twelve noon, in Germany it’s one o’clock, but home and away it’s time for Two-Way Family Favourites’, and this tune.
The programme started in 1941 as Forces Favourites, in which requests from families at home could be heard by servicemen overseas. It went out several times a week with the theme tune When You Wish Upon a Star. I can’t discover if it was the Disney version from Pinocchio sung by Cliff Edwards, or by Vera Lynn, who released it in 1940, so I have given both.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones – originally titled “Man of the Year” – is a 1938 satirical song written by Harold Rome. It was first recorded and released as a single by Ella Fitzgerald in 1938 and was performed by Judy Garland in blackface in the 1941 musical picture Babes on Broadway. The song satirizes the then contemporaneous practice of African American parents who named their children after Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States.
The song was written by Rome for his and Charles Friedman’s 1938 satirical musical revue Sing out the News, where it was introduced by Rex Ingram and chorus and bandleader Hazel Scott. The song was performed in the musical in the context of a block party in Harlem. Rome’s biographer, Tighe E. Zimmers, described the song as “Rome at his tuneful, liberal best, celebrating the birth of a black baby while paying homage to Franklin D. Roosevelt.” It has also been described as “patronizing, if well-meant” by Guido van Rijn in his 1995 book Roosevelt’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Artists on President Franklin D. Roosevelt. [Wikipedia]
Garland’s Babes On Broadway performance
The song was performed as part of a minstrel medley by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in blackface in the 1941 musical film Babes on Broadway medley was subsequently described by Michael Feingold in a 1998 review of recent Garland reissues in the Village Voice as “otherwise unstomachable” apart from Garland’s performance of the song which he felt was a “triumphant rendition…innocence joyously cubed and that “…she largely eschews the genre’s racist mannerisms. It’s just Judy, proud and happy, as a nonwhite male American, a role like other roles”.
Feingold concluded that “Distressing as the sequence is, Judy’s spirit gets past it. She does not seem to be playing to the blackface, as Jolson does in similar numbers; what stays in the memory is her vocal clarity (the crane shot climbs over a single bell-toned long note), not the horrific racist cartoon. It’s the ultimate indication of her power to transcend: There’s very little uglier than this in American pop culture, yet even here Judy can find a reserve of dignity, and not be brought down. She does not “sell” racism; at her bosses’ behest, she merely wears its costumes”
Flanagan and Allen
Flanagan and Allen were a British singing and comedy double act popular during World War II.
Bud Flanagan (1896–1968) and Chesney Allen (1894–1982) were music hall comedians. They would often feature a mixture of comedy and music in their act; this led to a successful recording career as a duo and roles in film and television.
In the 1970s and early ’80s, dusky-voiced Linda Thompson with her singer/writer/guitarist husband Richard won cult status for their dark discs echoing trad folk amid the rock.
She was born Linda Pettifer in London on August 23, 1947. When she was six, her parents moved the family back to their native Scotland. After growing up in Glasgow, she returned to London for university. Gravitating to its folk clubs, she sang as Linda Peters. She and Richard (whom she wed in 1972) had three children: Muna, singer/writer/producer Teddy, and Kami, who sings with her husband James Walbourne in the Rails.
Shoot Out the Lights (1982) marked the fiery end of her and Richard’s marriage and musical collaborations. The breakup fed into pain-drenched songs each subsequently wrote. In 1984, she sang in National Theatre’s production of medieval mystery plays. Her solo debut album, 1985’s One Clear Moment, included “Telling Me Lies” (her co-write with Betsy Cook), which garnered a 1987 Grammy nomination for Best Country Song after Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris covered it on Trio.
Then dysphonia (a condition impacting her voice and ability to sing) kept her from putting out albums until drolly titled Fashionably Late in 2002. Her most recent solo, Won’t Be Long Now, came out on Pettifer Sounds in 2013.
Flashback to 2005, when she organized My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m on the Stage, a salute to Britain’s music hall entertainment of the 19th and 20th centuries offering plenty of laughter with tears too. On stage at the Lyric Hammersmith in London, its performers included son Teddy, son-in-law Walbourne, and family friends such as Martha Wainwright, actor Colin Firth, and, from the trans community, Justin Vivian Bond. Now, fashionably late, a CD of the show has been released on Omnivore Records.
Here Linda Thompson talks with Goldmine via email about music halls and more.
Goldmine: Is the CD’s humor especially British (say, the title track and “I Might Learn to Love Him Later On”)?
Linda Thompson: Let’s take “I Might Learn to Love Him Later On” about a young women marrying a rich older man. Is that British? Ask Melania. Continue reading →