Time travel through audio history with James Errington, this time joined by Cambridge 105’s own Kasia Wozniak to listen to the sounds of 1911, featuring Eastern European émigrés Al Jolson, Irving Berlin and Sophie Tucker; the future president of Poland playing some Chopin; scat singing 15 years before it was supposedly invented; a story about three trees and a bunny rabbit and another story where a baby is mistaken for a piano, and hilarity ensues.
Listen to the show on 105fm in Cambridge, on DAB digital nationwide, on the Cambridge 105 website here, or on any good radio apps, or, as you have already missed it, just use this handy player:
If a certain war had not begun in 1914, the 1910s would likely be best remembered as a decade of progressive social unrest. Movements for workers rights and against racial segregation were now getting into full swing, and, in the UK especially, the period from 1910 to 1914 saw the most militant action of all from the suffragette movement. Women having the vote was thought at the turn of the century to perhaps be a frivolous idea, or at best a distant goal, but then the suffragettes had done everything they could to draw attention to their cause, including chaining themselves to railings, refusing to pay taxes and fines, setting fire to letterboxes, graffiti, smashing shop windows, and even bombing the house of the Chancellor, David Lloyd George. In 1909 Marion Wallace Dunlop had begun the first hunger strike, and though she was released, the government would soon resort to force-feeding those who followed her lead.
Then in 1911 along came the national census, carried out in the UK every ten years. This was an ideal opportunity to demonstrate anger at “taxation without representation” and naturally one that was seized with both hands.
The story is taken up here by Jill Liddington, who has written a book about it, no less.
Vanishing for the vote recounts what happened on one night, Sunday 2 April, 1911, when the Liberal government demanded every household comply with its census requirements. Suffragette organisations urged women, all still voteless, to boycott this census. Many did. Some wrote ‘Votes for Women’ boldly across their schedules. Others hid in darkened houses or, in the case of Emily Wilding Davison, in a cupboard within the Houses of Parliament. Yet many did not. Even some suffragettes who might be expected to boycott decided to comply – and completed a perfectly accurate schedule.
1911 is an exciting time for literature, but I would venture that the most important event of the year was not Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s launch of the Futurist Manifestito, nor the publication of the first of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown novels, and not even Virginia Stephen, Leonard Woolf, Adrian Stephen, John Maynard Keynes and Duncan Grant all moving into a house at 38 Brunswick Square to start The Bloomsbury Group.
Instead let’s turn our eyes towards the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, where itinerant painter & decorator Robert Noonan died from pulmonary tuberculosis on the third of February, aged 40. In a box, hidden under her bed, his daughter kept his sole novel, then titled ‘The Ragged Arsed Philanthropists’, a semi-autobiographical account of his time working in Hastings. It had been rejected by three publishers, and he had wanted it burned. By chance his daughter met poet Jessie Pope, best known for stirring patriotic motivational poems issued during the first world war. He took it to his publisher (extensively Bowdlerized) and had the thing published. It wasn’t until 1955 that the original was reassembled from notes and scraps of paper which could easily have been lost a dozen times.
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthopists, then, is a seminal work of socialist literature, and inspiration to generations of politically active people of all varieties. As such, I expected it to be more moralistic and preachy than it is, and was pleasantly surprised to find it full of complex characters who are far from ideologically pure. Even in the first chapter there is a debate about whether immigrants are to blame for stagnant wages which works effectively as a demonstration of the kind of “false consiousness” later described by Theodor Adorno, while remaining entirely convincing as a depiction of life as he lived it (and, more importantly maybe, a scene which could play out exactly the same way in the england of 2019.) The nearest parallel I can think of is Emile Zola’s Germinal – but Tressell cares more about his characters, he is not willing to give any of them quite as terrible an ending as he himself suffered.
The book is widely available (here for example) and for people who don’t feel like reading right this moment, here is a very good BBC radio dramatization featuring Andrew Lincoln, Johnny Vegas, Timothy Spall, Paul Whitehouse, Bill Bailey, Shirley Henderson, Kevin Eldon and John Prescott MP(!?)
Civic disasters in the pre-regulation days of the early 20th century are on a scale I find hard to comprehend, but the thing that shocks the most isn’t the loss of human life, it’s the careless way it was thrown away.
The 145 lives lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York were largely caused by nobody having taken the time to think about them. The factory, located in the top three floors of the Asch Building, was a real sweatshop, the employees mostly young non-English-speaking immigrant girls, their workplace cramped lines of sewing machines. From four elevators, only one was in working order, and it was at the other end of a long, narrow corridor. There were no sprinklers, because the factory owners wanted to keep open the possibility of burning down their building for the insurance money, something they had done twice in the previous decade.
The fire started in a rag bin. An attempt was made to put it out, but the hose was rotted and the valve was rusted shut. As the fire rapidly spread employees were crushed in the stampede, the one elevator stopped working, and those lucky enough to find their way down a fire escape found a locked door at the other end. The fire brigade, when they arrived, could not help the workers trapped on the roof, their ladders only reaching to a floor below, and their nets breaking when multiple girls tried jumping into them.
These horrors turned out to be enough to turn public opinion firmly toward the regulation which would have saved the girls’ lives. You could perhaps say that it’s necessary for these things to happen for things to really change, but it would be better if we could find a way as a society to act before rather than after for once.
Listening chronologically to music in this way, one of the things I have noticed is that there are sudden lurches forward in certain years. 1911, for all its quality, is not one of those years. Most of what you can hear in this mix sounds pretty much like the music of 1909 or 1907, but there are a few things here which seem completely out of their time, premonitions of aspects of music from the 1920s. A little later on, the growth in record labels and home consumption of music will mean that new trends catch on like wildfire, but for now these novelties will fade comfortably back into the background until they finally find their moments.
Sophie Tucker was born Sofya Kalish in 1886 to a Jewish family in Tulchyn, Podolia Governorate, Russian Empire, now Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine. She emigrated to the USA as a baby, and grew up in Boston and Hartford, Connecticut, where her parents opened a restaurant. At a young age, between serving customers, she started singing for tips. In 1903, she eloped with Louis Tuck, a beer cart driver, but in 1905, shortly after their son was born, the couple separated. Tucker found jobs in cafés and beer gardens, singing for food and tips from the customers and in 1907 made her first theatre appearance. Always a large woman, she was at first made to wear blackface during performance, as she did not fit the mold of the waifish white girl singer, but later managed to lose the makeup, telling her audience “you all can see I’m a white girl. Well, I’ll tell you something more: I’m not Southern. I’m a Jewish girl and I just learned this Southern accent doing a blackface act for two years.” Her first recording, “Some of These Days” on Edison Records became her signature tune and was later the title of her autobiography. Calling it “the first blues song” would be complete hyperbole, and yet it sounds more like the barrelhouse mamas of the early 1920s than anything of its time. Female vocalists have up to this point been an exception (their voices allegedly not coming through as well on a wax cylinder) and reedy-voiced Victorian vaudeville singers like Ada Jones are hardly standard-bearers for the near future. Sophie Tucker, however, a white woman from the north, really is a sea change towards the black music which will eventually sweep away most of what we hear in 1911.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band is more interesting perhaps for what it isn’t than what it is. Despite the name, it isn’t a ragtime song at all, more a standard Tin Pan Alley vaudeville piece, which wouldn’t particularly sound out of place in 1900. A good case could even be made for calling it a “coon song” – ‘Alexander’ being the kind of old-fashioned upworld name which would allegedly be comical if given to the leader of a low-class black musician (if this sounds unlikely, bear in mind that this was pretty standard content.) It was Irving Berlin’s first huge hit – and while it wasn’t ragtime it did as much for the genre as it did for Berlin – from this point on songwriters seem to feel that making references to ragtime is more likely to make a song a hit,. How this relates to the ragtime dance band craze of a year or two later is hard to say, but it certainly made it famous around the world. Later on the song became something of a jazz standard, its lack of syncopation allowing spaces for expression and improvisation, and hit versions from Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Judy Garland and many others would make it perhaps the song from this era which lived longest in creative and popular consciousness.
According to one of those enduring myths of Jazz, Louis Armstrong invented scat singing on February 26th, 1926, when, during the recording of ‘Heebie Jeebies’, his sheet music fell off the stand and he was forced to improvise a vocal solo without lyrics. This story is roundly refuted by the existence of “King of the Bungaloos,” a fairly odd humorous vaudeville recording by a jobbing performer called Gene Greene from Chicago. The innovation was not particularly noted at the time. It was long after Greene’s death in 1930 that the incongruity of its very existence came to light, and for this reason the origins of the performance are unclear, though some say he picked it up from Ben Harney, a songwriter who billed himself as “The King of Ragtime.” While Harney did more than anyone to popularise the genre, he seems to be more of a borrower than a creator, so presumably scat singing came from the same well of undocumented black culture that ragtime did.
Sophie Tucker – Some of These Days 0:00
Arthur Pryor’s Band – Canhanibalmo Rag 2:08
Collins & Harlan – Alexander’s Ragtime Band 3:47
Six Brown Brothers – The Bullfrog and the Coon 6:41
Ada Jones & Steve Porter – the Piano Tuner 7:32
Ada Jones – Grand Baby Or a Baby Grand 10:41
Gene Greene – King of the Bungaloos 12:20
Fisk University Jubilee Singer – The Old Tunes / I Know the Lord Laid His Hands 14.52
Ignace Jan Paderewski – Chopin- Nocturne in F, Op. 15,1 17:56
Agustín Barrios – Milonga 19:45
Po Sein and Ma Kyin U. – Romantic Duet 22:26
Mingala Ma Thein Nyunt, Ma Sein Thin, Ma Sein Thi a Ngyeint, Lay Pyay Htoh Lu Byet Ka, Ma Sein Hkaw – Welcoming Ma Thein Nyunt 23:34
Surat Band (Mr. Razak’s) – Bagesri 26:29
Uncredited Chinese Wedding Ensemble – Pengantin Berarak 27:57
George Bastow – Captain Gingah O T 28:58
George P. Watson – Emmett’s Favorite Yodel , Alpine Specialty 30:18
Manuel O. Campoamor – Joaquina 32:36
Manuelita Tejedor ‘La Preciosilla’ – Chiqui Chiqui 33:37
Flora Gobbi Con Orquesta – Minguito 34:16
Banda Municipal De La Ciudad De Bs as – a Mí…Manís! 35:38
Venetian Instrumental Trio – Dear Heart 37:56
Orquesta Tipica Genaro Esposito – Felicia 38:17
Bransby Williams – The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God 39:45
Joseph Solinski – Rum Nische Fantasien (Pt. 1) 40:02
Yangos Psamatyalis – Zmirneikomanes 41:06
Ma Kyin U, Ma Gyee, and Duck Oh – the Crying Princess 42:04
S. Kosh – Doina (Pt. 2) 43:25
Al Jolson – That Haunting Melody 44:42
Tom McNaughton With Orchestra – The Three Trees (Part 1) 46:18
Fred Van Eps – Red Pepper (A Spicy Rag) 46:54
Tom McNaughton With Orchestra – The Three Trees (Part 2) 49:05
Eugene Jaudas National Promenade Band – Virginia Reel 49:59
Dolly Connolly – Red Rose Rag 52:11
Maurice Burkhart – Ragtime Violin 54:15
Pipe Major Forsyth and Drums – Hundrerd Pipers 55:41
Cal Stewart – Fourth of July at Punkin Center 56:49
Arthur Collins – Chicken Reel 57:30
Harry Champion – I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am 58:34
Paul Lack – La Coca Kola 59:28
Ignace Jan Paderewski – Paderewski- Humoresques De Concert, Op. 14 – #1 Minuet in G 1:00:51
Enrico Caruso – Core ‘ Ngrato (Catarii Catarii) 1:02:51
January 2 – Police fight a gunbattle on London’s Sidney Street
January 18 – Eugene B. Ely becomes the first person to land an airplane on a ship
February 1 – Thirty people are killed in an explosion at Communipaw, New Jersey. The blast is felt 50 miles away, rocking office buildings and breaking windows in Manhattan.
March 18 – The Song ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ by Irving Berlin is published for the first time, in the form of sheet music.
March 18 – Theodore Roosevelt formally dedicates the Roosevelt Storage Dam in the Arizona Territory. At 248 feet, it is the second largest dam in the world.
March 25 – A fire breaks out on the 8th floor of the Asch Building in New York. The 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the building housed a company that made women’s blouses, 123 female employees die, along with 23 men.
April 3 – Zaifeng, Prince Chun, becomes China’s regent for his 2-year old son, Emperor Puyi (standing)
May 21 – The French Minister of War Berteaux is killed, and Prime Minister Monis injured, when their airplane crashes into reviewing stand.
May 23 – New York Public Library is dedicated.
May 30 – Ray Harroun wins the very first running of the Indianapolis 500 automobile race, driving car number 32, a Marmon Wasp.
May 31 – The White Star liner RMS Titanic, at the time the largest mobile object ever constructed, is launched from Belfast at 12.13 pm.
June 4 – On the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy, a crowd of one million people turn out in Rome to watch the unveiling of Il Vittoriano, a 250 foot high monument in honor of King Victor Emmanuel II.
June 22 – King George V of the United Kingdom is crowned at Westminster Abbey and his wife is crowned as Queen Mary
August 11 – Britain’s House of Lords approves limits on its power with the Parliament Act
August 21 – The Mona Lisa is stolen from The Louvre
September 5 – Reports of the flood that will drown 200,000 people are relayed to the world by Western missionaries, after China’s Yangtze River overflows its banks.
September 14 – Pyotr Stolypin, the Prime Minister of Russia, is shot in the stomach while attending the opera in Kiev. He dies of his wounds four days later.
September 25 – 300 are killed in the explosion of the French battleship Liberté
September 29 – Italy goes to war with The Ottoman Empire, and invades Libya
September 30 – 78 are killed by a damburst in Austin, Pennsylvania
October 4 – The first viable escalator, designed by Charles Seeburger, begins operation at Earl’s Court Underground Station in London.
October 10 – A group of Chinese revolutionaries in the city of Wuchang set off an explosion by accident. The resulting police invasion leads to the Wuchang uprising, which in turn leads to the Chinse revolution.
October 23 – An experimental cable entertainment and news service is launched in the United States
November 7 – Marie Curie is awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, making her the first person to win a second Nobel Prize.
December 12 – George VI of Great Britain and Ireland is crowned at Delhi as Emperor of India.
December 14 – The South Pole is reached by human beings for the first time, as the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition arrive at 3 in the afternoon.
December 29 – In Nanjing, Dr Sun Yat-Sen is elected the first President of the Republic of China by 16 of the 17 provincial representatives there. He takes office on January 1.