November 2011

Lecture to Focus On Songs of the Great Depression

Michael Lasser to Speak on Music Related to LeConte Stewart Exhibit

Music historian Michael Lasser will speak about popular songs of the Great Depression in conjunction with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts' exhibition "LeConte Stewart: Depression Era Art."

The lecture is titled " 'Let's Go Slumming, Nose Thumbing, at Park Avenue': The Songs of the Great Depression" and will take place Sunday, Nov. 6, at 1 p.m., at the museum. There is no extra charge for the lecture with admission to the museum.

Lasser and Philip Furia are co-authors of the new book, America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley.  Those songs are the basis for Lasser's nationally syndicated public radio program, Fascinatin’ Rhythm, winner of a 1994 Peabody Award.

There will be a book signing of his America's Songs after the lecture.

Tin Pan Alley still cranked out its full quota of love ballads during the darkest days of the Great Depression, but there were also popular songs about unemployment and social unrest. Because popular songs are always rooted in the everyday experiences of ordinary people, there were also songs about getting your hands on some money and even drinking coffee.

An unusually large number of songs from the time have a dark and smoky feel, and even the most optimistic songs feel driven rather than spontaneous. Songs ranged from the desperate confusion of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” to the insistently optimistic “Happy Days Are Here Again,” to the satiric “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee.” In its own time, even “Over the Rainbow” (1939) was a quintessential Depression anthem.

"I do think popular music has something valuable to tell us about ourselves if we stop and listen to it," Lasser says. "It opens a revealing and entertaining window on American attitudes for the last 150 years. For the last 25 of those years, I've been talking about popular music as social history–about songs and the America they reflect."

Read more about Lasser here.

The LeConte Stewart exhibit continues at the museum through January 15.

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Broadcaster and music historian Michael Lasser will speak Nov. 6 in conjunction with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts' exhibit "LeConte Stewart: Depression Era Art."

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