The principal force that shaped the lives of Americans in the 1930s was the great economic Depression that began on October 29, 1929, and continued until a measure of recovery and stability was achieved by the New Deal, under the guidance of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Coincidental with the breakdown of industrial and economic machinery was a series of significant technological developments in the entertainment industry — primarily in motion pictures, commercial radio, and sound recording — which determined, to an important degree, the forms and the directions that American popular culture was to take.
Although it was in 1927 that the painted, mock-minstrel lips of Al Jolson uttered the screen’s first synchronized words, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet, folks,” in The Jazz Singer, it took more than a year for the film industry, theater owners, and movie audiences to adjust to the novelty not only of pictures that could speak but of pictures that could sing as well. Then, composers, lyricists, arrangers, conductors, and musicians clearly heard the sound of money and the challenging ring of new problems issuing from Hollywood, and a new gold rush began. It seemed heaven sent. New York’s Tin Pan Alley — with vaudeville in decline, the record business at its nadir, nightclubs in bankruptcy, and the musical theater in trouble — was wasting away. Suddenly, there was background music to be composed and scored, and songs to be written, conducted, and performed for use in hundreds of feature films, short subjects, serials, and even newsreels. For all involved, it became well-paid, on-the-job training.