Propaganda Swing

In Gene Sharp’s 198 methods of nonviolent protest, one of the ideas is “music” as rebellion.  Music has been a tool of transference of emotions and ideals since it began (the oldest known sheet music is a hymn to a sun god, praising and exalting the deity), but one of the more interesting moments in the history of music comes from World War II.
File:Entartete musik poster.jpg
A propaganda poster from 1938, depicting an Black man playing jazz and wearing a Star of David on his jacket.  It was meant to implicate the “racial inferiority of jazz music” by linking it to two populations that the Nazis actively debased.

In 1930s Germany, Hitler was on his rapid rise to power pontificating about the purity and superiority of the German people.  One of his first attacks was on the growing jazz culture of Germany.  Jazz was widely considered to be “Negro music as seen through the eyes of the Jew” (-Henry Cowell, American Jazz musician)  The jazz that Germany feared was largely a product of New York’s hip (predominantly Jewish and African American) musical atmosphere, with deep borrowings from African-American blues songs.  Hitler’s brain trust was not blind to the cultural diversity that was present in Jazz and swing music; Black musicians were banned from performing, followed by a ban jazz on the radios of Germany in 1935 because it was damaging to the German culture.

During this ban soldiers and citizens who were caught listening to jazz would be subjected to severe punishments, but the music found a way to survive and musicians dodged Nazi agents who tried to crack down on the playing of swing.  When the Nazi war effort seemed to be going well, the harsh bans were somewhat relaxed, allowing jazz to flourish.  In 1940, Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister) formed a state-approved band called “Charlie and his Orchestra”.  The band would play a style of jazz that is now known as “propaganda swing” because of its lyrics that lauded German submarine attacks and stirred up fears that American soldiers would come and ravish England’s women (the jazz was predominantly broadcast into England, so much so that a BBC survey found that 75% of British adults had heard Nazi Jazz).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLkhRMBOtzk (Charlie and his Orchestra music)

For more information on the German jazz bans and propaganda, look to Jazz: A History of America’s Music (Ken Burns documentary) for a fair shake on it.

Citations:
http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/resources/nonviolent/methods.php
http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/jazz-and-world-war-ii-rally-resistance-catalyst-victory#sect-introduction
http://holocaustmusic.ort.org/politics-and-propaganda/third-reich/jazz-under-the-nazis/
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2004/oct/27/popandrock
http://www.pbs.org/jazz/time/time_wwii.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_and_his_Orchestra
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negermusik
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz_in_Germany

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