February 11, 2012

Paul Whiteman - World's first Pop Star.

Okay, this is a real stretch tonight. As long as we've been on the subject of Pop Music and Mainstream Pop artists, I thought I would go all the way back to the 1920's and give an example of what Pop Music was all about 90 years ago.

Paul Whiteman, who was alternately referred to as either "Pops" or "The King Of Jazz" was quite possibly the first million selling artist in the history of recording. His first huge hit was a song called "Whispering" which, according to whoever was keeping sales and popularity records at the time, was in the Number One position for 11 weeks and dropped to number 2 for another 20.

As much as the title "King Of Jazz" has been disputed over the years, one thing was certain - he was the world's first Pop Star, raking in an estimated $1million a year in sales and appearances (in 1920's money) and was a widely influential figure in music. In 1924 he was the one who introduced audiences to Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue for the first time. He was largely responsible for the early career of Bing Crosby as a member of Whiteman's singing group The Rhythm Boys. He was one of the first bandleaders to cross the color line by working with arrangers such as Fletcher Henderson and recording with such artists as Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday (one session for Capitol in the 1940's).

When the genre of Roaring 20's Jazz morphed into Swing in the 1930's, Whiteman's popularity began to wane, but by that time he had already established a place in musical history. He went largely into retirement in the late 1930's and briefly emerged in the 1940's.

But in the 1920's, Whiteman was riding the crest of a huge wave of popularity and he recorded a vast amount of records for RCA Victor including tonight's entry - a 1922 recording of Bygones which sounds remarkably like a follow-up to his 1920 hit Whispering.

Yes, the mainstream Pop Music machine was already getting started and it's first honest-to-god Popstar was born.

If the record sounds strange, this was state-of-the-art in 1922. The new-and-improved method of recording didn't get underway until late 1925. But remember, we're talking 90 years ago.

It had to start somewhere.

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