History of Swing Music


How swing music began is pretty hard to pinpoint. in fact, the word ‘swing’ appears in the title of a famous Duke Ellington number from 1932, and it’s entitled ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing,’ and on that same year, another song called ‘Moten Swing’ by Bennie Moten came out. Several experts believe that the song called ‘Star Dust’ by Hoagy Carmichael, which topped the charts in 1932 is the first true swing music. This music was composed in 1927, and it was first recorded in 1929. In 1931, they decided to add lyrics to the song, and then on the following year, it quickly rose to fame. 

What is Swing Music?

The 1920s jazz bands became the swing bands of the 1930s and 1940s. Swing became a subtle form of syncopation that rose to fame during the Depression. As we all know, the Great Depression followed on the heels of the 1929 stock market crash, which resulted in life to become more restrained as thousands of Americans suffered economic hardship, which is why most swing music listeners sought music to uplift their spirits. The fine musicians who composed these ensembles became creative and competitive with their song arrangements. Which is why each band aimed to have and make a unique sound, not unlike the rock and pop groups that we know of today.

More often than not, swing bands would feature a soloist. Some of the famous artists in the swing music scene were trumpeter Louis Armstrong, trombonists Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey, drummer Gene Krupa, saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey, pianist Fats Waller, clarinist Artie Shaw, and vocalists such as Tony Bennett, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday. A riff, or call-and-response style, developed as a way for a band to support a solo improvisation.

In the Swing

The swing era reached its peak popularity in 1941 when the United States joined the Second World War. During this time, Duke Ellington and his orchestra released a song called ‘Take the A-Train.’ After a year, Glenn Miller released his song entitled ‘String of Pearls’. As America moved on from the Depression into World War II, swing music helped the people to keep their spirits high. 

An interesting trend that started during the swing era was the bands started to adapt classical and popular music themes. They mix and perform them in dance tempo. In fact, a pianist named Freddy Martin transformed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance.’ Glenn Miller joined the trend did the same with ‘Little Brown Jug,’ ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ and,’ and Dvorak’s ‘Humoresque.’

The Decline of the Swing Era

Several events and trends contributed to bringing the swing era to an end. Musicians arranged a strike which started from August 1942 to November 1944 in order to earn their rights over royalties and keep union players from making recordings or performing in broadcasts. This move paved the way to a new generation of singers, like Frank Sinatra, being backed by the vocal accompaniment. Another thing that contributed to the decline of the swing era was the need for personnel to fight World War II. That is why it was difficult to create big bands. And since swing had become associated with World War II, the end of the war was another reason why it loses its popularity. New instruments such as the electric guitar and new recording techniques that were developed during the swing era helped pave the way for the next popular style, which we now call as  ‘rock and roll.’ On the other hand, Jazz music moved in a new direction.

The handful of recordings made during the 1930s and 1940s was able to preserve swing music and swing music, and it is enjoyed by several revivals. Swing has also been able to blend with other styles of music in order to create new sounds such as gypsy swing, and new jack swing.


Although swing music examples can be found in the early 1930s, the swing era became popular from 1935 to 1945. The rise and decline of this music genre seem to coincide with the Depression and World War II because swing music that helped lift the nation’s spirits up during these challenging times.

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