Early Theater Music
The roots of a great national lyric theater began to spread through the subsoil of the entertainment industry in the late 1800s. It began in earnest right after the Civil War, and soon all America was alive with musico-theatrical activities. Being so open ended as an entertainment experience, "the theater" came in different forms – some story driven, some music driven, some just a series of eye-oriented pleasures, some dance driven, some merely a vehicle for a particular star, some humor driven, and some that were "all of the above".
Theater professionals doing these shows tried to be fairly accurate, but they freely modified their "titles" to bring in the biggest crowd. The theater critics and journalists who reviewed the shows often quarreled in print over a given show's real identity, and scholars came along years later to offer a third opinion.
At least seven distinct kinds of shows had existed through the 1800s, and their general style and manner still can be found in the world of entertainment today.
For more than fifty years, the dominant form of musical theater in America was vaudeville, and all-embracing stage show derived from English beer hall traditions.
It began with a rotund vocalist with a gift for comedy, Tony Pastor (1837-1908). He had spent his youth in minstrel shows and circuses, and at age 24, Pastor began to show his entrepreneurial skills. He opened an "Opera House" in the Bowery in 1865, specializing in what were then called "variety" shows, exactly what the name suggests – jugglers, dancers, dog acts, strong men, singers, comedians, female impersonators, brilliant musicians and such. Variety shows had been getting a little rough and vulgar during the 1840s and 1850s, and Pastor thought that if he cleaned them up, he could get women and children to come. His instincts were good, and he did just that.
He moved to a better section of town, 201 Broadway, and offered groceries, dress patterns, and toys as door prizes. He hired the best variety acts he could find. Before long the shows came to be called "vaudeville", from the French term vau-de-vires deriving from a 15th-century tradition of peasants around the Vire River singing and dancing after a day's work. In time, the French term was corrupted to the word "vaudeville" (Ewen 1977, 87).
B. F. Keith (1846-1914) and E. F. Albee (1857-1930) left the circus to open their own theater, the Bijou in Boston, in 1885. Instead of the traditional two shows per day, they offered continuous shows from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., and soon these shows were a dominant force in the industry. Keith and Albee purchased and built a chain of some four hundred theaters in the East and Midwest, then developed a talent exchange, the Keith-Albee circuit (later called the United Booking Office), which in time handled the bookings for vaudevillians all over America.
The Orpheum Theater in San Francisco and the Majestic Theater in Chicago became the giants through which a Western Vaudeville Association sent an army of talented entertainers. Marcus Loew purchased one hundred fifty smaller theaters from coast to coast, filling in the market for vaudeville in the hinterlands.
The jewel in the Keith-Albee crown of theaters was the Palace Theater located at the intersection of 47th and Broadway in New York. This was the ultimate achievement, the Carnegie Hall of vaudeville. Routine acts at the Palace Theater were "headliners" anywhere else in the nation. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker, Bert Williams, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, and the other superstars sang and played the latest popular music of the day – often written specifically for them – at the Palace Theater. When it converted to movies in 1932, the newspapers called it the end of an era. It was.
Soon most of the hundreds of vaudeville theaters in America changed to movie houses, and vaudeville, as a dominant theatrical industry, died a natural death. It lay dormant for a few decades, then came back in an electronic form in the great days of early television, in the 1950s and 1960s, with The Ed Sullivan Show and other similar variety shows, which featured dog acts, jugglers, comedians, magicians, singers, strong men, and anything else to capture the interest and delight the senses of a vast audience always hungry for the pleasures of variety entertainment. Today a vague resemblance to vaudeville can still be seen on late-night variety TV shows hosted by the likes of David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon. And vaudeville is still around today on college campuses, in retirement homes, and in summer camps. "Variety" entertainment is always fun.
In its original form, a burlesque show was not a striptease affair. That came later. Burlesque (from the Latin burla, meaning "joke") was a form of theater specializing in satirical skits and outrageous parodies designed to entertain the audience by revealing the frailties and imperfections of the human condition. Singers and dancers would perform between the skits and other novelty acts.
Longfellow's Evangeline and many of the Shakespeare dramas got reworked into musical slapstick. Hamlet suffered frequent treatment, as did Friedrich Schiller's William Tell. Edward "Ned" Harrigan (1844-1911) and Tony Hart (Anthony J. Cannon, 1855-1891) became the supreme masters of burlesque. Their Harrigan and Hart creation, "Mulligan's Guard", satirized all quasi-military groups in situations of crisis. They presented a dozen or so hugely successful "Mulligan's Guard" musicals (burlesques), which established the model that the second generation team of Joseph Weber (1867-1942) and Lew Fields (Lewis Schanfield 1867-1941) further developed.
Hollywood's "Keystone Cops", the Laurel and Hardy series, and the Abbott and Costello movies continued the great burlesque tradition, as did Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and Lucille Ball in the days of classic television humor.
By the early 1900s, burlesque moved into its more common association with the female body. May Howard, the first dancer to be called a "burlesque queen", had her own company as early as 1888. Mabel Santley and others often appeared totally nude in "living pictures", and, partially clothed, they danced the "Hootchie-Kootchie" and the "Can-can". Little Egypt (born Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, c. 1871-1937) had introduced the "Hootchie-Kootchie" at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, and it swept the nation.
The piece-by-piece removal of clothing seems to be a later development, and it's not until 1915 that Gaby Deslys did so in Stop, Look and Listen to a tune by Irving Berlin. Soon, Ann Corio, Margie Hart, and Gypsy Rose Lee personalized that "striptease" technique into their own special form of dance routine for Billy Minsky's circuit of theaters.
In fact, there were several burlesque circuits right along with the vaudeville circuits. A booking in the Eastern Circuit of House Managers (burlesque) would guarantee 35 weeks of performances. The same holds true for the Empire Association, sometimes called the Western Wheel (wheel = circuit) for 30-35 weeks. Besides pretty girls, burlesque shows featured a wide assortment of novelty acts, comedy routines, dialect songs (especially Yiddish and "Negro"), jugglers and singers. A popular song presented in a vaudeville or burlesque show on one of the big circuits was heard by thousands of people, many of whom bought the sheet music the next day.
In both its classic forms – satire and striptease – burlesque, too, got replaced by the new film industry. The satire version is still around in "I Love Lucy" reruns, Saturday Night Live skits, Chicago's Second City productions, and in the works of Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and Benny Hill. The striptease version is still around in wet T-shirt contests and the regular strip-joint activities found in the low-rent districts of every major city of the land.
The term "extravaganza" appears here and there in the 1850s and its full meaning becomes evident in 1866 with William Wheatley's production of The Black Crook.
It was a stunning production, lasting five and a half hours, revealing to the startled eye such spellbinding effects as demon ritual, a hurricane in the mountains, a carnival, a "ballet of gems", a march of Amazons, and a splendiferous finale with angels and fairies.
Suggestive dances and partially undraped females added spice to this sumptuously prepared dish. A new quality of sex insinuation was introduced in dance and song, starting the American musical theater on its long journey toward sex exploitation. The girls also did the cancan, an importation from France that was witnessed in America for the first time (Ewen 1977, 84)
The Black Crook received strong negative reviews from many of America's leading journalists, and was the subject of numerous sermons from outraged preachers. All decent and respectable citizens were offended by this "degrading spectacle", similar, indeed, to "ancient heathen orgies" (Ewen 1977, 84-85). Ticket sales went up, and up, and up, and American show business has mined that field ever since.
Ewen cites the first staging of The Wizard of Oz (1902) as a continuation of the extravaganza traditions, with its tornado scene, poppies turning into real girls, and similar stage effects. Spectacular doings reached a zenith in 1905 with the opening of the appropriately named Hippodrome Theater at 6th and 43rd in New York. With seating for 5,000 and a stage that must have been the size of a football field, the Hippodrome was the scene of a naval battle (Battle of Port Arthur, 1908), an airplane fight (Sporting Days, 1908), a tornado and an earthquake (Under Many Flags, 1912), and assorted specialty numbers like a giant swimming pool 40 feet deep into which bespangled girls descended never to return, a rush hour Grand Central Station scene (complete with trains), and a colossal presentation of herds of stampeding deer and elephants.
Specific music for these shows was written by music director Manuel Klein (1876-1919) from 1905 to 1914 and then later by Raymond Hubbell (1879-1954) from 1915 to 1922 (Ewen 1977, 199). Hubbell is remembered fondly for a tune, "Poor Butterfly", which captured all of America in 1916 and became a jazz classic in the 1930s.
The Shuberts built the Winter Garden on Broadway at 51st Street in 1911, and it became the home of many a spectacular musical feast for eye and ear, with special acts by Al Jolson and other giants of the day, and with music written often by Jerome Kern and that early generation of big-time Broadway composers.
The extravaganza is still around, of course, in the form of stadium rock concerts, Las Vegas shows, and half time shows during major professional football games. There is always something compelling about sheer size and volume.
Gone now, for good reason, the minstrel show had its roots in the English music hall. The Irish buffoon was a standard item in English entertainment, and in the transfer to America, the character was switched to a stereotyped blackface, with possibly the first professional minstrel show, the Virginia Minstrels, debuting on February 6, 1843, at the Bowery Amphitheater on the East Side of Manhattan. The minstrel show is a terrible chapter in America's history of race relations, but it made a substantial contribution to musical theater traditions and innovations from the 1840s into the early 1900s.
Edwin Pearce Christy (1815-1862), known professionally as E. P. Christy, formed his Christy minstrels in 1843. The troupe is generally credited with the standardization of the minstrel show's three-section structure.
The first section would consist of a Grand Entrance of the whole crowd in ill-fitting, swallow-tail tuxedos, all in blackface except the middle man, Mr. Interlocutor. This entire first part of the minstrel show was a series of vocals solos, virtuoso instrumental performances, several duets, trios, and such, designed to show the audience that the troupe had some genuine high-level talent in its ranks.
But, to keep the spirit light, these musical numbers were interspersed with frequent exchanges between Mr. Interlocutor and his "end men", Mr. Tambo on the right and Mr. Bones on the left. Mr. Tambo (because he played a tambourine) and Mr. Bones (because he played the "bones", a pair of animal rib bones or wooden stick that clicked together) peppered Mr. Interlocutor with verbal gags, double meaning jokes, and one-line zingers. Part One would often conclude with a stirring ensemble number combining voices and instruments.
The second section of the minstrel show, sometimes called the Olio, was a couple of short satire sketches or parody skits on popular social or political topics of the day.
Widely imitated were the jigs and jubas of the black field hands and the cakewalks of the house servants. The plantation stick dance became a standard comedy number for the minstrels in which a white made up as a very old blackamoor tottered on stage in rhythm to do the most amazing steps and leaps over his cane.
"Patting juba" became an accompaniment to a whole series of intricate dance steps. The Negro custom of creating rhythms for dancing without instruments was a big part of many minstrel show routines - striking the hands on the knees, then striking the right shoulder with one hand, the with the other, all the while singing and keeping time with their feet" (Southern 1971, 169).
Part Two would conclude with a major spoof, a black version of Macbeth, for example. The entire show would then be wrapped up with Part Three, a General Ruckus or Walk-Around, a spectacular parade of singing, hand clapping, and marching about the stage to celebrate a joyous evening of high-energy entertainment. It was considered a delightful entertainment package at the time, but it feels ugly and cruel in light of today's improved racial awareness and respect.
If there is a "Father of American Minstrelsy", it would be Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808-1860) whose song-and-dance routine, "Jump Jim Crow", enjoyed huge popularity all through the age of minstrelsy. Rice took the shuffling step and verbal mutterings of an old stable hand he had observed one day, and embellished this character concept. Rice gave him an outlandish costume with a wide-brim hat, patched trousers, ill-fitting coat, and a shoe with a sole flapping and a toe sticking out through the top. The new theatrical character, "Jim Crow", became a standard part of the minstrel show for a long time, and the term came to designate racial discrimination in American society.
Jim Crow was a rustic type. His city counterpart, "Zip Coon", was the other side of the coin - a dandy dressed in the latest fashion, a "larned skolar", and an experienced man with the ladies. Two composers, George Washington Dixon and Bob Farrell, claim to have written the original Zip Coon lyrics. The tune goes way back in British history, no doubt. An instrumental version, called "Turkey in the Straw", is stilled played by country fiddlers today.
The black-owned and black-managed Hicks and Sawyer Minstrels, Richard and Pringles Famous Georgia Minstrels, and McGabe and Young Minstrels enjoyed "international vogue", as did the white-owned and managed F. L. Mahara and W. A. Mahara Minstrels along with Callendar's Minstrels. A few minstrel shows were mixed, Lew Dockstader's, for example, even though they did not integrate except for a final number (Southern 1971, 260-261). Some all-girl minstrel shows, either all black or all white, traveled the nation, also, mixing suggestions of a subdued burlesque mentality with the standard minstrel offerings.
The days of minstrelsy were numbered, however, and it was displaced in the big cities by 1915 or so, even though it carried on in rural small towns well into the 1930s. Many of the biggest stars of the 1920s and '30s got their start as minstrel performers. Al Jolson was certainly the most famous of the blackface entertainers. He was adored by millions of Americans both white and black. Missing from Jolson's blackface routines was the insensitivity associated with most minstrel characters. In an unusual way, Jolson's sentimental, likeable black characters actually opened up the industry for real black performers who followed him.
Often used interchangeably with "comic opera", the term "operetta" came to mean something quite clear and specific in the minds of American theater-goers in the late 1800s – a fantasy world of military brass, noblemen, elegant ladies, beautiful princesses, and bumbling colonial bureaucrats enmeshed in preposterous intrigues in some far off exotic land (Ewen 1977, 202). The model, of course, was the European form so well developed by Gilbert and Sullivan, Johann Strauss II, and Jacques Offenbach.
Americans John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) and Reginald de Koven (1859-1920) added their operettas to the already abundant repertoire. Victor Herbert (1859-1924), Gustave Kerker (1857-1923), Rudolf Friml (1879-1972), Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951), and several other foreign-born but thoroughly Americanized composers flooded the industry with dozens of highly successful operettas, almost interchangeable in their convoluted story lines, romantic lovers, and charming melodies. Romberg was especially prolific, composing 175 numbers for 17 Shubert shows, 15 of which came within a 22-month period (Ewen 1977, 209).
Many of the best of the operettas were turned into movies in the 1930s, so they got a second period of exposure and financial success. Nelson Eddy (1901-1967) and Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965) starred in several of them; Romberg's Maytime, Herbert's Naughty Marietta, and Friml's Rose-Marie survive strong and clear on DVD today.
The stage operetta would live on for a few years in the high schools and colleges of America, but by the late 1920s, a new and somehow more satisfying musical had thrust itself center stage. Spunky and irreverent, this new kid on the block would not be denied.
The "new" musical pushed vaudeville, burlesque, extravaganza, minstrelsy, and operetta into the strange position of gradually looking and "feeling" a little odd, not quite up-to-date "American". It seemed to be more "with it", more consistent with what it was to be a 20th-century American.
Musicals came in several forms, and scholars use different terms for different concepts – "musical comedy", almost a generic term for the entire field, but meaning, usually, that the songs and humor carry the show; "musical play" or "book musical", meaning that the story holds the show together; "American operetta", meaning just that, an American version of the European-conceived form; and "revue", meaning the story is incidental to the individual vignettes presented.
For the sake of clarity, the two least confusing terms have been selected to explain the two basic approaches to a musical – revue and book musical.
First developed by George Lederer (c. 1862-1938) to give vaudeville a little respect and class, the revue drew on the other current "musical" forms, to be sure, but it paid more attention to artistic details and sophistication. However – and this is what augured well for the future – new compositions were written specifically and exclusively for each revue by established professional composers.
The greatest of all were the revues of Florenz Ziegfeld (1868-1932). From 1917 to 1931 (omitting 1926, 1928, and 1929), the Ziegfeld Follies stunned the theater world in their imagination and pageantry. Each year seemed to surpass the previous. New stars were created overnight. The best of everything was the rule, and salaries were outrageous.
Others followed suit. Earl Carroll's Vanities, George White's Scandals, the Greenwich Village Follies, Shuberts' Passing Show, and the Music Box Revue of Sam Harris and Irving Berlin, with music especially composed for each year's edition, lifted American musical comedy to new heights of creativity. All the great composers eventually got involved: Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Sigmund Romberg, Walter Donaldson, Fred Fisher, Gus Edwards, and George M. Cohan among them.
And most of the famous movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s got started in the stage revues of the 1920s. Indeed, they just moved from stage to film when Hollywood began to sign up all the talent in the country. So, for a while, the film revue carried the stage revue tradition quite comfortably into the new age of talking pictures.
But there was something different forcing its way up through the soil, craving air and sunlight. It would forever change the character and identity of America's lyric theater. It would make even the magnificent Ziegfeld Follies feel a little shallow and inconsequential. As American as baseball and soon to be as well known and loved all over the world, the "Broadway Show" – called here for scholarly accuracy, the "book musical" – would finally integrate music, words, dance, and story into a substantive artistic whole.
This is what people think of immediately when they say they would like to go to New York to see a Broadway show. This is the art form that pulls together all the diverse energies and inclinations of the previous one hundred years of American show business. It borrows shamelessly from all those earlier (and concurrent) show types – satire, travesty, and slapstick from burlesque; song-and-dance and novelty scenes from vaudeville; clever plot twists among romantic lovers from operetta; lavish sets, scenery, and costumes from revue; one-line zingers and outrageous puns from the minstrel show; strong and original tunes from Tin Pan Alley.
But – and here's the profound difference – the book musical gives its audience something to take home. In addition to stunning sets and imaginative lighting, in addition to electrifying dance routines, and in addition to lovely, haunting, memorable melodies, the book musical gives the audience a modest lesson about the beauty, mystery, and meaning of life. Not just any old life, but American life, as felt subliminally by every member of the audience. No foreign princes and colonial potentates, but genuine American types – businessmen, cowboys, housewives, show girls, New York street folk, ghetto kids, secretaries, politicians, innocent girls from Ohio, factory workers – All-Americans, every one of them. As Leonard Bernstein once said, "The Broadway musical is America's middle-brow opera."
A modest lesson, however, not a serious drama. The history books are full of musical disasters that aspired to give the audience too much to take home. Broadway insiders cautioned each other, again and again, to remember that the tired businessman with his respectable wife (or fashionable mistress) out there in that gaping dark hole called "the house" had just come from cocktails and dinner, had plunged through maddening traffic, had put a couple of big deals on hold, and now wanted an evening of pleasant diversion and entertainment. He did not want to be told that his life lacked depth and significance. Nor did he want some high-brow musical bath. He wanted to tap his toes, smile at the foibles of the characters on stage, and walk out humming a memorable tune.
George M. Cohan
The first man to fully grasp the sum and substance of the book musical was George M. Cohan (1878-1942), sometimes called the Father of the Stage Musical. "Cocksure, egocentric, chauvinistic, energetic, gigantic in scheming and planning, he was a symbol of the new day in America" (Ewen 1977, 210). His first big hit, Little Johnny Jones (1904), set the model for things to come. A jockey, Johnny Jones, goes to London to ride in the Derby for King George. He is accused of throwing the race, and is detained in England as his friends sail back to America. Standing on the edge of the pier, he sings, "Give My Regards to Broadway". He is later exonerated, of course, and says, that he wouldn't throw a race. After all, he sings, I am "The Yankee Doodle Boy".
Then followed George Washington, Jr. (1906), with its infectious intonation "you're a grand old rag" hurriedly adjusted to "You're a Grand Old Flag" when patriotic groups protested. That was followed by Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway (1906), with "Mary's a Grand Old Name" and "So Long Mary". Not among the five hundred songs from forty shows was the most famous of all World War I songs, George M.'s blockbuster, "Over There".
He talked to audiences as if to his barroom friends, pointing a forefinger at them as he spoke. He was the merchant of corn which he delivered in song, monologue, and unrehearsed little addresses.
As a creator, as well as a performer, he brought to the musical comedy stage a dynamic American identity. His characters talked in American slang, and they behaved the way Americans do. They sang the kind of simple, sentimental songs to which Americans were partial. Their problems and complications, as well as their dreams and ideals, were those Americans recognized as their own (Ewen 1977, 212).
"A seminal figure in the history of popular singing and pop song," Al Jolson (1886-1950) sang, danced, and pranced around the stage with such brash exuberance and confidence that he was billed the "world's greatest entertainer" (Shaw 1982, 199). Asa Yoelson from Srednicke, in Russian Lithuania, arrived in 1890 in Washington, D. C., when his father took a position as rabbi in a small synagogue. By age eight, he was out on the streets with his brother, Harry, singing and dancing for pennies. He never once looked back.
In bars, circuses, minstrel shows, burlesque, vaudeville, and finally in big time stage musicals, "Jolie" stole the show every time. He once worked two shows per day in three different vaudeville houses – rushing from one block to another in New York's theater district.
His great gifts were musical delivery and salesmanship. And when the words and melodies seemed insufficient, he broke into whistling and dancing. His best songs were declarations of strong emotion, "I'm Sitting on Top of the World", "Sonny Boy", "My Mammy", and such. His rich, resonant, baritone voice carried the lyrics into the hearts of theater audiences everywhere.
His signature tune, a black-face rendition of "My Mammy", brought listeners to tears. He would fall to one knee, his voice racked with pathos, and belt out the last line, "I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my little Mammy." Vowels and consonants were freely distorted for the sake of dramatic punch. He sold the tune, every time.
After the historic movie, The Jazz Singer (1927), he appeared in ten more films and dozens of radio shows. But he was best with live audiences, and a few months before his death, he was still entertaining American military troupes in Korea. "You ain't heard nothin', yet," his favorite remark, really meant, "I ain't through with you, yet!" "He needed applause the way a diabetic needs insulin" (Sieben, quoted in Pleasants 1974, 49).
Jolson combined the best attributes of black and Jewish inflection and emotion with the rhythmic and melodic language of American pop music. The result was stunning. He was the dominant voice of his time.
In the 1920s, there were singers in abundance – Norah Bayes, Sophie Tucker, Emma Carus, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith, Gene Austin, Jack Norworth, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, George M. Cohan, and hundreds of others. The world of entertainment is often derivative, however, and truly original talent is rare.
Just such an original talent was Ethel Waters (1900-1977). Starting out as a vaudeville blues singer, Ethel Waters quickly moved into pop singing, stage drama, and the movies. Tall and slim, "Sweet Mama Stringbean" then toured with Fletcher Henderson's band and recorded on W. C. Handy's Black Swan label.
In addition to "St. Louis Blues", "Dinah", and "Heat Wave", her special treatment of "Stormy Weather" is best remembered.
I was telling the things I couldn't frame in words. I was singing the story of my misery and confusion, of the misunderstandings of my life I couldn't straighten out, the story of the wrongs and outrages done to my people I had loved and trusted. Only those who are being burned know what fire is like. I sang "Stormy Weather" from the depths of my private hell (Ewen 1977, quoting from His Eye Is On the Sparrow).
Ethel Waters was a "transitional figure and a towering one, summing up all that had been accumulated stylistically" from earlier black music, and anticipating the inflections of the swing era (Pleasants 1977, 85).
She absorbed the traits of the best singers, both black and white, who surrounded her, reworked those traits into her own special voice, and then delivered a musical statement that was uniquely hers and ultimately right (Pleasants 1977, 85). She influenced all pop singers who followed.
What George M. Cohan did for white musicals, Eubie Blake (1887-1983), Noble Sissle (1889-1975), James P. Johnson (1894-1955), and Fats Waller (1904-1943) did for black musicals.
Shuffle Along (book by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, lyrics by Sissle, musical score by Blake) opened in 1921, and soon a host of excellent all-black musicals appeared all over New York and environs. Blake did several more fine shows: The Chocolate Dandies (1924), Blackbirds of 1930, and Swing It (1937). Among Blake's best known tunes from those shows are "Loving You the Way I Do", "Memories of You", "Love Will Find a Way", and "I'm Just Wild About Harry".
Jazz keyboard giant James P. Johnson wrote Plantation Days (1923) in London, and Running Wild (1924) in America. His pupil, and equal, Thomas "Fats" Waller wrote Keep Shuffling (1928) and Hot Chocolates (1929).
Fats Waller also played organ in many of the burlesque and vaudeville theaters, as did the young William "Count" Basie, during the times when those theaters presented silent films, as they often did. It was a short period for the pipe organs, though, and they disappeared when the "talkies" took over the film industry. Those huge organs – the special creation of the companies Wurlitzer, Page, Morton, and Kimball – are now treasured musico-mechanical marvels being restored throughout America to delight the great-grandchildren of the audiences who first sat transfixed in the glorious sound.
Talking films (1927) and the Great Depression (1929) brought an end to most stage musicals, black or white. Only the white book musical survived the competition from the movies, and it soon found its own special voice. More about this topic soon.
Meanwhile, the black musical stage suffered from the "national market mentality" of the Hollywood film moguls who could not quite discern how to keep the black musical stage gifts alive and healthy without alienating certain audiences. When Lena Horne, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington appeared in 1930s movies, the filming was done so their sequences could be easily deleted when the films were shown in the South.