Music of the Roaring Twenties: Bessie Smith

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Bessie Smith (1894 – 1937) had a short but successful life. She began by busking on the streets of Chattanooga with her brother to earn money for their family. Her big break came when she was signed to Colombia Records in 1923.

Before the 1920s the Blues was considered lower class music not worthy of listening to. Fortunately, by the 1920s, Blues had become mainstream as people discovered how much the Blues had to offer the world with its simplicity and real-life gritty themes. We can thank early Blues artists for later inspiring generations of rock musicians right up until today. In 1989, Bessie Smith was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame as an ‘Early Influence’ which demonstrates the impact she had on 20th century popular music. Here’s a selection of her work:

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Music of the Roaring Twenties: Annette Hanshaw

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Annette Hanshaw was jazz singer in the 20s and 30s. She had a lovely soft and soothing voice mixed the energy and fun of a flapper. She didn’t think much of her own voice and had a short career, quitting the music business after getting married. Personally I think some of that nonchalance added to her charm. Here’s some of my favourite songs by Annette…

Silent Summary

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I’ve been getting into silent films lately. I decided to sit through The Birth of a Nation to start with. Would not recommend. It’s three hours long and not very exciting. Of course, it’s also racist. They use white people to play black characters which confused the heck out of me. You have to remind yourself that that obviously white guy is playing a black political leader. Sigh…

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Next up was The Sheik which I also didn’t love but it was ok. It seems a lot more commercial than other films I’ve watched from the 20s and 30s but now I understand why girls wept at the death of Rudolph Valentino. What a handsome fellow! I would say he’s the best reason to watch the film. I watched the sequel The Son of the Sheik which was much the same.

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A film that I did love was Flesh and the Devil. Here comes my Garbo crush again. She was captivating in this film, divine! Just watch this scene…It makes me want to get a matchstick tattoed on my body (Ok maybe not. Maybe just a tiny portrait of Greta Garbo ;-) )

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Another great film that I watched was 7th Heaven. It’s a lovely romantic film set in France at the time of the First World War.

Greta Garbo and Jackie the MGM Lion

I saw this picture in a book I’m reading, Walking With Garbo. This was just one of the many photo shoots she had to do for MGM when she was starting out in Hollywood. Apparently on this one she made a bee line for the bathroom and had to be “thrust into the cage”. Poor girl.

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Nice kitty, good kitty…

This is the same lion with a trainer.

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He’s just playing!

I am never getting that close to a lion.

Shameless Garbo Fangirl Post

If I were still a teenage girl I would make a make a Garbo shrine. It would sit next to my David Bowie and Blondie pictures in my old bedroom and look awesome. Unfortunately the phase has passed when I used to cut pictures of beautiful stars out and pin them to a corkboard (we have Pinterest now anyway) so I’ll dedicate a blog post to her.

Who’s your favourite classic Hollywood star?

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Adrian – Costume Designer

After enjoying the fashion in Grand Hotel I was curious about the designer behind the costumes. It turns out a rather prolific designer made the gowns in that film. He was known simply as Adrian and born in 1903. He started out at the New York School for Fine and Applied Arts and later went to study at the Paris campus of his college. There he was asked by Irving Berlin to design costumes for Berlin’s Music Box Revue.

Adrian got his first break in Hollywood after being hired by Rudolph Valentino’s wife to design costumes for The Sainted Devil in 1924 (a lost film).

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In 1928 he moved from Paramount to MGM, where he stayed for the rest of his career, designing costumes for over 200 films. He made costumes for many of Greta Garbo’s films including Queen Christina, Anna Christie and Anna Karenina.

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Do a Google Image Search for Joan Crawford and you’ll be flooded with pictures of her in floor-length gowns. Pick any one and chances are Adrian designed it since he made costumes for 28 of her films. She was a stunning model…

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Saucy!

He also dressed Jean Harlow in the sexy bias-cut wonders she was famous for.

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Katharine Hepburn’s gown in The Philadelphia Story is also an Adrian creation.

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But his most famous costumes are undoubtedly those in The Wizard of Oz!

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