Thursday, September 27, 2012

WJR Bans Jive

First things first. When anyone writes that a radio station "banned" a song, they're usually referring to an era when DJs had some sway over programming and an owner intervened to prohibit the play of one song. Today no such freedom exists to be abridged in the first place. This was earlier than the numerous rock n' roll bans of the 1950s. This ban started with the 1937 Maxine Sullivan & The Claude Thornhill Orchestra released a swing version of “Loch Lomond” on Vocalion records (Matrix 2147 / 3654) the B-side was "I'm Coming Virginia."

750 WJR-AM in Detroit banned Maxine Sullivan's swinging of classics back in the mid-1930s. The station owner, G.A. Richards hated jive and hot jazz. Richards was the owner of Goodwill Stations" and was also president of Pontiac Automobiles for southern Michigan. (He also owned the Detroit Lions from 1934 to 1939.)  He said "In our opinion, hot jive music which usually emphasizes suggestive lyrics, arouses degenerate instincts and emotions."  GM Leo Fitzpatrick called her song blasphemy and said "they'll be swinging Nearer My God To Thee next." Time Magazine covered the story as well
"Last week Leo Fitzpatrick, doughty Celtic manager of Detroit's WJR and radio adviser to Father Coughlin switched off Tommy Dorsey's band right in the middle of their swing. The trouble was they were swinging Loch Lomond. Said Manager Fitzpatrick: "It is a sacrilege to make a swing version of a tune sacred to a lot of Scotsmen." Cleveland's WGAR and Beverly Hill's KMPC nodded their heads, pursed their lips and proclaimed a ban on swing versions of eleven old songs, including Comin' Thro' the Rye."
This was a big deal. Life magazine gave Maxine a full page picture and teeny tiny text at the bottom below the title "Negro Girl Swings A Scottish Tune And Blows Up A Radio Storm."  She had taken the song "Loch Lommond" and made it into a vocal jazz number. It caught on with the college crowd and sold over 50,000 records. She re-recorded it in 1955 as a "modern" jazz number and it sold all over again. Her music continues to be classic. G.A. Richards died in 1951, and in 1964, Goodwill Stations was sold to Capital Cities Communications. That company was later bought by ABC and  in turn merged with Walt Disney. They still haven't played anything interesting in over 70 years.