Well, it’s not too often that my musing stars align with a trifecta–the anniversary of a feat by a young American hero, a link to neighbor Northampton’s Smith College, and vintage ukuleles in my collection! Wow. It’s fun to muse these days about something that has nothing to do with contemporary politics and international conflicts. So, who is our hero? None other than “Lindy” himself, Charles Lindbergh, with a bit of a tarnished reputation today but definitely not on this date back in 1927!
His solo flight from New York to Paris, on May 20-21 of that year, was a thrill for Americans living in the Roaring Twenties and adulation on both sides of the Atlantic poured out. Men cheered and ladies swooned as Lindbergh’s picture was in every newspaper, magazine, and movie newsreel for months.
Needless to say, music publishers jumped all over this and a score of sheet music offerings—some joyful, some banal, mostly forgotten today—were on music store shelves all over America.
Here’s a contemporary recording of the “angel” tune with some great graphics. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.
There are more! The next one shows Lindy and his mother. By the way, his father was a US Congressman from Minnesota. Who knew?
Here’s a bouncy version of this George M. Cohan tune. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen.
Here are a few more of the dozens of songs that were out there in the sweet old days.
Tap or click on the triangle in the next image to hear this hearty, fox trot salute to the hero.
Here’s a more modern version of a “Lindy” tune but well worth a listen and a look. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for a historical treat.
Now for the second part of the trifecta–Ukuleles, no less ! As would be expected, most sheet music published in those days had uke chords printed right above the score. Here it is in the popular “D” tuning of the day.
Everyone seemed to be playing and singing the tunes and, of course, there were ukuleles to be had! Here are three in my collection.
The larger one is a Stromberg Voisinet “Aero Uke,” probably the rarest of the lot today–at auction about $2K! Here’s a reproduction I made to fill a hole in my collection. It sounds pretty good!
Here’s a banjo uke version, an original in my collection.
And, the latest addition–a trifecta within a trifecta!
Now for the third part of the trifecta, the Northampton connection. According to our favorite local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Lindbergh flew into the local airFIELD (it became a commercial airPORT in 1929) multiple times in order to visit his then girlfriend, Anne Morrow, a student at Smith College, class of 1928. They were married in 1929.
That year, Anne–a budding aviatrix herself– flew solo for the first time.
Needless to say, aviation was in the couples blood and, in the 1930s, they explored and charted air routes all over the world. There was even a song about them!
Whether or not he courted her by taking her up in his airplane over our Happy Valley and Smith College has, alas, always been a matter of conjecture. Let us simply note the fact that he was a frequent visitor.
Anne went on to literary fame with her most popular book being Gift from the Sea. In 1955, she was described as “one of the leading advocates of the nascent environmental movement” and the book became a national bestseller.
There are, of course, autobiographies, biographies, articles, and all sorts of scholarship on the Lindberghs. And, their life story is way, WAY beyond the scope of this simple musical muse. Suffice it to say that the charmed life of Charles and Anne was shattered by the kidnapping and subsequent death of their infant son in the 1930s.
The Lindbergh name was again plastered over newspapers and newsreels all over the country. Alas, in sadness this time.
Alas again, Charles, a highly visible public advocate for keeping America out of Europe’s troubles in the years leading up to World War Two, had his reputation tarred by many (including Franklin Roosevelt in the White House and Woody Guthrie in song) as being a German sympathizer as well as an isolationist. Whereas Anne became renowned for her writing, Charles faded from public esteem during the war years although he did join the American forces once the war started. He flew on fifty missions in the Pacific Theater, albeit as a civilian consultant rather than in the military.
Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to listen to Woody Guthrie’s musical diatribe on Lindberg. Sounds a bit like what we are hearing today. SAD.
But, at least, Lindberg’s early heroics were re-appreciated thanks to James Stewart in the way only movie magic can do.
But we still have the stories, the songs, and the ukuleles! So, gentle readers, we wind up this musical trifecta with a peek at a dance that reached a peak of popularity in the late 1920s. Some say it got its name from the popularity of Charles Lindberg at the time; Some say something else. But, it’s too good not to include–“The Lindy Hop.” Click or tap on the next image to be flown away, musically speaking.
Stay safe, keep strumming, work on that footwork, understand world history, study up on local lore, stay grounded, and STAY TUNED!
(As an aside, Alison’s mother was a Smithie, class of 1930, and remembered sharing a few classes with the then Anne Morrow. Small world . . .)