The visibility of stagnant and trenchant attitudes in the “progressive era” mean that reference to it in 2018 almost requires the use of those scare quotes. There really was a lot of progress happening in some areas, however, and this conservatism was in large part a reaction to genuine radicalism being pushed into mainstream consciousness for the first time. Suffragism and Socialism were both on the rise, and while they were yet to bear fruit, this is the time when the foundations were being laid.
In the stuffy world of government planning, things were also shifting direction, albeit in the stuffier ways bureaucracies generally move. Incomprehensible 19th century issues like bimetallism were falling by the wayside, food and medicine were being regulated, national parks and monuments were being created and – our topic today! – city planning was no longer a radical fantasy, but a recognized field of expertise.
Much of this was down to Daniel Burnham, architect of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and father of the City Beautiful Movement. He had already submitted plans for a redesigned San Francisco in 1905, and the destruction of the city by earthquake and fire would surely be reason to put those plans into action. He hadn’t reckoned with the dominance of private capital, however, which moved to rebuild their premises as soon as the embers were cold, and all that can be seen of his plans now are a few elegant buildings.
Back in Chicago, on the other hand, the foundations laid down by the World’s Columbian Exposition meant that he would have more influence over the future of the city. His “The Plan of Chicago” laid out comprehensive plans for the controlled growth of the city, and while only parts of these plans were implemented, they set a standard for city planning worldwide.
Not the first animation ever, not exactly the first on film (Pauvre Pierrot holds this record, though it was figures projected on painted backgrounds), “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” is nevertheless the inception of the animated short.
With a framing device of the artist drawing on a blackboard, it prefigures artistic animation rather than the commercial sort due to take off a couple of decades later. Still, it was fun enough to keep both me and my 3-year-old son entertained for four minutes, and 112 years later I’d consider that to be a mark of quality.
We’re very pleased to announce that the inaugural Centuries of Sound radio show will go out on Cambridge 105 Radio this evening (Saturday 15th September) at 8pm BST. In contrast to the usual mixes, which feature original sounds only, it will include discussion of the recordings and the era from James and Sean.
You can listen on 101FM, on digital radio, or online here – https://cambridge105.co.uk/listen/ – right now the show isn’t due to be uploaded to Mixcloud, but may be later (in which case I’ll update this blog post.)
The show will continue on the third Saturday of each month.
As Hurricane Florence bears down on the East coast of the USA, it would be amiss not to mention what happened across on the other side of the continent 112 years ago. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 remains vivid in a culture that has built (and built fairly high) on the ruins left behind after the 7.9 magnitude quake and (more importantly) the subsequent fires which killed up to 7000 people.
This clip shows quite what level of devastation the city suffered
…and this is perhaps the best documentary about the event, from PBS.
I don’t have my own phonograph, and it’s impossible to have physical representations of my collection of antique mp3s, but at least I now have a bookshelf full of books about years. Unbelievably, this is only the second or third* one I’ve come across so far (the number is due to go up quite a lot in the 1910s) except it isn’t about the year, it’s a novel set before, during and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. So basically the kind of thing I’m not reading. But since I bought it, why not give it a go?
Did I like it? Not really. it’s a perfectly serviceable, regular novel, with a standard storyline which doesn’t do much to surprise, though it does its best to mildly shock. The historical context has obviously been thoroughly-researched, but something just doesn’t ring true. The dialogue and inner monologues just don’t seem convincing, everything seems like the voice of the author with imitations of ethnic accents on top. It may just be that I’ve been listening to the cadences of progressive-era speech for too long, but I simply can’t suspend my disbelief.
Here is a scene where the protagonist describes listening to a phonograph recording of Caruso. It’s a good illustration of how factually right and how tonally wrong I found it.
So, yes, I didn’t really like it. But if that’s your sort of thing then you can apparently buy it at Amazon for 1p here.
Williams & Walker are a great deal to blame for being the originators and establishing the name “coon” upon our race. They met a white man in San Francisco by the name of McConnell, who put them on the circuit. In order to achieve success and to attract the attention of the public they branded themselves as “the two real coons.” Their names, accompanied with “coon” songs, were soon heralded North, East, South and West…. Williams & Walker and Ernest Hogan were not old enough then to know the harm they had brought on the whole race. They needed the money, what little they received, and the white people needed the laugh [and made the money]. Colored men in general took no offense at the proceedings and laughed as heartily on hearing a “coon” song as the whites. But where the rub came is when the colored was called a “coon” outside of the [theater].
“Coon Songs Must Go,” Editorial in “Freeman”, Jan. 2, 1909
Before I got through with ‘Nobody’, I could have wished that both the author of the words and the assembler of the tune had been strangled or drowned… ‘Nobody’ was a particularly hard song to replace.
It’s a tough gig to be the bridge to a much-needed change. The old guard will consider you a heretic, the next generation will view you as a link to an embarrassing past. Bert Williams is not only the first black star of the 20th century, he stands alone in the world of 1900s popular music, a figure to define the decade as much as Caruso. These days perhaps that’s all the attention he gets – a paragraph in black histories, vaudeville histories, cultural histories of the progressive era, a footnote in histories of ragtime and jazz. But, here’s the thing, his music is still with us! This mix features his signature piece, ‘Nobody’, a brilliant piece of work which showcases his dry wit, laconic delivery and universally-relatable humanity in an era of grotesque, lazy stereotypes. He would go on to make several other recordings of the song, but none would capture its essence quite as well. The mix also features two other Bert Williams songs – Pretty Desdemona, performed with backing from his stage partner George Walker, and He’s a Cousin of Mine, written by Chris Smith and performed here by Bob Roberts, but made famous by Williams. We also have the final recording from the last generation’s great black singer, George W Johnson.
The other great pioneering black musician of the era was, of course, Scott Joplin, whose music has lasted a great deal better than Williams’, even if not in the form it would have been heard in at the time. Joplin was more well-known as a writer than a performer, so we have no recordings of him playing, but his ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ was already selling enough copies to guarantee him an income for the rest of his short life. Though it was composed initially for the piano, it was a popular piece with both upworld brass bands and underworld dance bands, the like of which we will later hear mutating into early jazz. Here it’s performed in a surprisingly swinging fashion (that is, perhaps 2% swinging) by Sousa’s United States Marine Band.
1906 was also an important year for the way music was consumed. For the last decade both cylinders and disc records had been played on devices with large external horns. These worked well enough, but were large and ungainly, the focus of a parlour whether in use or not, and liable to be damaged by minor knocks. Victor, by now a major player on the scene, introduced a new phonograph named the “Victrola” which folded the horn down into the base of a large, luxurious cabinet designed by the Pooley Furniture Company of Philadelphia. Though the Victrola was very expensive – more than double the price of other gramophones – it was an immediate success, and would be the standard design for the next couple of decades. In a sense it’s a minor change, but it turned the gramophone from a novelty into a standard piece of household equipment, a democratization which would broaden the audience enough to mean that recorded music was no longer the preserve of dedicated enthusiasts.
Herr Dr. Professor & George Donahue – Bringing In 1906 0:00
Bert Williams – Nobody 0:18
Ada Jones And Len Spencer – Bashful Henry And His Lovin’ Lucy 3:00
United States Marine Band – Maple Leaf Rag 3:24
Edison Minstrels – At The Minstrel Show no. 3 5:17
Vess L. Ossman – Medley Little Bit Of Everything 5:57
Prince’s Military Band – Destruction Of San Francisco 8:01
General William Booth – Don’t Forget 9:36
Edison Concert Band – Chopin’s Funeral March 9:54
Orchestra Of The Republican Guard – Dawn With Torches 10:15
Marianna Cherkasskaya, Nina Panina, Acc. Orchestra – Already The Evening Enfolds The Distant Fields 12:00
Alexander Davydov – Hermann’s Appearance In The Countess’s Bedroom 13:22
Mlle Korsoff – Il Bacio (Arditi) 15:24
Richard Waldemar – Der Fensterputzer- 1. Teil 18:12
Leo Tolstoy – Thoughts From The Book ‘for Every Day’ 18:50
Selma Kurz, Acc. Orchestra – The Bird In The Forest 19:05
Arthur Pryor’s Band – Carmen Selection 20:07
Siegel-Myers School Of Music – Vocal Record F 22:40
Bob Roberts – He’s A Cousin Of Mine 23:04
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh At The Roller Skating Rink 25:09
Charles P. Lowe And The Columbia Symphony Orchestra – Medley Of Popular Airs 25:20
Len Spencer & George W Johnson – The Merry Mail Man 26:31
Edison Male Quartet – Stop That Knocking At The Door 27:44
Harry Spencer – Sale Of Pawnbroker’s Goods 28:37
Albert Müller (Xylophone) With Orchestra – Katie 28:55
Ada Jones and Len Spencer – Mandy And Her Man 32:08
Ada Jones – Waiting At The Church 32:20
Two Unidentified Men – Black Wax Home Recording Of Two Unidentified Men Singing And Laughing 33:25
Ebrahim, Royal Orchestra – Bidad (Homayun) 33:44
Hopi Indians – Eagle Song 34:54
Ajukutôk’ – Kayak-song 35:36
3 women and 3 men – Traditional song 36:00
Patápio Silva – Primeiro Amor 36:08
Vengopal Chari – Laughing 37:24
Boris S. Troyanovsky – Mazurka No 4 37:35
G.Marenich, A.Leverenko, Ryabtzov – Three Paths Across The Field 38:55
John Taylor – Speed The Plow Reel 39:50
Thomas A. Edison – The Liver Complaint Story 41:08
Bohumir Kryl – Sing, Smile, Slumber 42:02
Polish Band – Down The Petersky 43:43
Dranem – Le Gardien Des Ruines 45:36
Charlus – S’ils Parlaient 46:23
Albert Benzler – Spoontime 47:44
Len Spencer And Alfred Holt – Barnyard Serenade 48:45
Helen Trix – The Bird On Nellies Hat 49:03
Edison Concert Band – Old Heidelberg 50:16
James C. Mcauliffe – The Minstrel Boy 52:20
The Scots Guard Pipers – Sword Dance 53:23
Mah Thane May – Yodaya Bwe Gyi 54:32
Miss Gauhar Jan – Hindustani Female Song 56:08
Professor N. M. Chuckerbutty Of Calcutta – Esraj Instrumental- Bahar Kawali 57:21
Nebe-Quartett – O du fröhliche, o du selige Weihnachtszeit 58:41
Nebe-Quartett – Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht 59:34
Columbia Quartette – Steamboat Medley 1:00:29
John J. Kimmel – American Cake Walk 1:00:46
Billy Murray And The Edison Male Quartet – Lazy Moon 1:02:01
Ossman Dudley Trio – St. Louis Tickle 1:03:47
Columbia Band – An Arkansaw Husking Bee 1:05:57
Edward Meeker And Joseph Belmont – Song Of The Nations 1:07:56
Eugene C. Rose – La Traviata- concert Waltz 1:09:45
Figure Five Orchestra – Lanciers From Miss Dolly Dollars 1:11:50
G. H. Chirgwin – A Few Eccentric Gaglets 1:13:40
Herbert Lincoln Clarke And Leo Zimmerman – Cousins 1:14:07
National Military Band – The Girl In The Train 1:14:47
Bert Williams – Pretty Desdamone 1:16:14
Len Spencer – Meister’s Musical Masterpiece 1:18:55