HYMNS of the 1920s

The 1920s was a decade of exciting social changes and profound cultural conflicts.  For many Americans, the growth of cities, the rise of a consumer culture, the upsurge of mass entertainment, and the so-called “revolution in morals and manners” represented liberation from the restrictions of the country’s Victorian past.  Sexual mores, gender roles, hair styles, and dress all changed profoundly during the 1920s. But for many others, the United States seemed to be changing in undesirable ways.  The result was a thinly veiled “cultural civil war,” in which a pluralistic society clashed bitterly over such issues as foreign immigration, evolution, the Ku Klux Klan, prohibition, women’s roles, and race.

The 1920s was the first decade to have a nickname: “Roaring 20s” or “Jazz Age.”  It was a decade of prosperity and dissipation, and of jazz bands, bootleggers, raccoon coats, bathtub gin, flappers, flagpole sitters, and marathon dancers.  The major sport was baseball and the most famous player was Babe Ruth.  It was, in the popular view, the Roaring 20s, when the younger generation rebelled against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in critical speculation.  The 1920s was also a decade of bitter cultural conflicts, pitting religious liberals against fundamentalists, nativists against immigrants, and rural provincials against urban cosmopolitans.

1920

–  The US population was 105,710,620.  Life expectancy had risen to 54 years from 49 years in 1901.

–  Prohibition of alcohol in the US began with the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, and it continued throughout the 1920s.  Prohibition would be repealed in 1933.  Organized crime turned to smuggling and bootlegging of liquor, led by figures such as Al Capone, boss of the Chicago Outfit.

–  The Woman’s Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote.

–  Kenesaw Mountain Landis was named the first Commissioner of Baseball.

–  The Negro National League was formed (baseball).

–  Babe Ruth began playing for the New York Yankees.

–  The National Football League was founded.

1921

–  Warren Harding was elected the 29th President, and served from 1921-1923.

1922

–  Sinclair Lewis published Babbitt (1922), Elmer Gantry (1927), and other novels that reflected that period.

1923

–  Calvin Coolidge was elected the 30th President, and served from 1923-1929.

1924

–  The Immigration Act of 1924 placed restrictions on immigration.

–  Two states, Wyoming and Texas elected women governors.

–  The first Winter Olympic Games took place.

1925

–  The Scopes Trial, which declared that John T. Scopes had violated the law by teaching evolution in schools, created tension between creationism and evolutionism.

–  Clarence Birdseye invented a process for frozen food.

–  F. Scott Fitzgerald published some of the most enduring novels of the 1920s, characterizing the Jazz Age, including The Great Gatsby.

–  John Logie Baird invented the first working mechanical television system.  In 1928, he would invent and demonstrate the first color television.

–  Record companies (such as VictorBrunswick and Columbia) introduced an electrical recording process on their phonograph records, resulting in a more lifelike sound.

1926

–  Henry Ford introduced the 49-hour work week in the auto industry.

–  Robert Goddard made the first flight of a liquid-fueled rocket.

–  A. A. Milne published Winnie-the-Pooh.

–  Gertrude Ederle swam the English Channel, the first woman to do so.

–  Gene Tunney won Jack Dempsey’s world heavyweight boxing title.

1927

–  Charles Lindbergh flew from Long Island to Paris in 33 hours and 29 minutes.

–  The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie,” premieres.  The first words: “You ain’t heard nothing yet.”

–  The first selective Jukeboxes were introduced by the Automated Musical Instrument Company.

–  The first Ryder Cup golf tournaments were held, in Massachusetts.

1928

–  The first electric razor was patented by the American manufacturer Col. Jacob Schick.

–  The Women’s Olympics took place for the first time, in the 1928 Summer Olympics held in Amsterdam.

1929

–  14 members of a Chicago gang are shot to death in a Chicago warehouse on orders from Al Capone; it was named The “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”.

–  Black Tuesday.  The bull market of the late 1920s comes to a crashing end. Between September 3 and December 1, stocks declined $26 billion in value.

The 1920s are considered the first decade to have real personality. And much of that personality came from music.

The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald termed the 1920s “the Jazz Age.” With its earthy rhythms, fast beat, and improvisational style, jazz symbolized the decade’s spirit of liberation. At the same time, new dance styles arose, involving spontaneous bodily movements and closer physical contact between partners.

Two appliances – the phonograph and radio – made popular music more accessible than ever before. The 1920s saw the record player enter American life in full force. Piano sales sagged as phonograph production rose from just 190,000 in 1923 to 5 million in 1929. The popularity of jazz, blues, and “hillbilly” music fueled the phonograph boom.

There were also several hymns from the 1920s that we still sing today… though not as many as you might expect from such a time of music and creativity. I guess it’s possible people were distracted by all the “culture” going on around them.

Some of the hymns you might recognize are:

1920…           Blessed Redeemer

1921…           Lead Me to Calvary

1922…           Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus; I’d Rather Have Jesus

1923…           Great Is Thy Faithfulness

1924…           In My Heart There Rings a Melody

1925…           Rockin’ on the Waves; Let Us Break Bread Together

1926…           Satisfied with Jesus (McKinney)

1928…           On the Jericho Road

1929…           I’ll Fly Away; Spirit of the Living God

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