cf. Earl Browder's 1936 presidential campaign slogan: "Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism"
(back to the past as forward to the future)
"Star-Spangled Banner" as substitute for "The Internationale"
"Star-Spangled Banner" as complement to "The Internationale"
"Black America Sings of Bolshevism!"
intersection w/ story of the CP & black American musicians & artists
Dec. 1934: Paul Robeson's 1st trip to the Soviet Union
He did not seem to have sung much about Russia during the 1930s but he did talk a lot about it.
Thus, on picket lines in Chicago during the mid-1930s, rural blacks newly arrived from the South could be heard singing:
Gimme that new Communist spirit, Gimme that new Communist spirit, Gimme that new Communist spirit, It's good enough for me. It was good enough for Comrade Lenin, It was good enough for Comrade Lenin, It was good enough for Comrade Lenin, And it's good enough for me.
(as per the Reusses' American Folk Music and Left-wing Politics (p. 94))
A glimpse of her work in the musical "South Pacific" can be enjoyed here.
A 1980 interview, here, with Jester Hairston discusses some of Hall's activities in 1932, but makes no mention of a trip to Russia.]
Also on the 1932 Russian trip, as a couple of the above sources also note, was the singer TaylorGordon, author of the 1929 memoir of life in the American West, Born to Be.
W.E.B. Dubois was quite unimpressed by Taylor's book but highly praised his singing (of spirituals, not of Bolshevism), as set forth in "The Browsing Reader" column in The Crisis for April 1930, as viewable (at p. 129) here.
During Gordon's year following his return from Moscow, he seems also to have appeared on stage with Fred Astaire in the Broadway version of "The Gay Divorcee."
More info on Gordon's fascinating life can be found on the Taylor Gordon and Rose Gordon Biography Project blog, here.
The fuller story of the "Black and White" journey and (non-)film was told nicely in American Heritage magazine, here, and in detail in Joy Gleason Carew's Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise (2008).
The NYT obit of Louise Thompson, who organized the trip, is here.
further (non-musical) context:
March 1932 = Fortune magazine's special "Russia Russia Russia" issue
featured classic cover lithograph by Diego Rivera, viewable here
Nicholas Fraser's recent review of a new Henry Luce bio puts it that the "early, extremely long article in Fortune was among the first attempts to make sense of the new Soviet regime."
Meanwhile, Margaret Bourke-White, in Luce's publications, at around this time helped fix images of Five-Year Plan-era Russia for the American imagination, as gathered for example in her Eyes on Russia (1931).]
the Russian Rev. or USSR as depicted in 30's musical theater
distinctions to make: "mainstream" Broadway and / or / with / vs. "folk opera," workers' musical theater, agitprop street theater, etc.
a non-musical but funny Broadway skit, & interesting reflection of public opinion vis-a-vis the Rev.:
The initial location is outside the Balalaika Nightclub in Montmartre just after World War I. An old man is singing a sad ballad, "Where Are the Snows?" and the audience is transported back to the Russia of 1914 by way of the story of a lovely ballerina and singer, Lydia, and her high-born lover, Peter. These two young people survive the Revolution, foil and attempted assassination of the Tsar and finally, melt into each other's arms while in exile in Paris.
the appearance of the last true, ultimate "America Sings of Bolshevism!" show?
(born Sonia Kalish-Abuza, in 1884, as parents fled Russia)
ST sang "I'm Taking the Steps to Russia"
(the ultimate, funniest "ASoB!" song evar?)
I'm taking the steps to Russia, I'm showing 'em how to dance, I'm starting the shag in Moscow, I'm putting red ants in their pants. . . .
I know what's the matter with 'em, What they need is Harlem rhythm, So I'm making Communithm Thwing!
Those proletari-ats And agitators Will all be alley cats And alley-gators. . . .
Old Stalin will hush his gush-a And strut like a Roxy usher When I make the steppes of Russia Swing!
(for the rest, see The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter, here.)
The above jab at Stalin's long-windedness reappears later in the show, in "To the U.S.A. from the U.S.S.R." The song marvels at how "backward" and "slow" the USSR must be to prefer listening on the radio to Uncle Joe, rather than to Charlie McCarthy, as do folks in the USA.
Why end America Sings of Bolshevism! at 1938?
Bordman's American Musical Theatre: a Chronicle, in discussing "Leave It to Me!" (see p. 565, here) explains indirectly why the above year is a convenient and merciful place to end the book:
Leave It to Me's first-act finale was set in Red Square. The Communist anthem, "The Internationale," was sung, and a friendly Joe Stalin (Walter Armin) condescended to do a little dance.
By the time the show embarked on a national tour during the next season, Stalin and Hitler has signed their pact, Stalin was eliminated as a character in the show, and a warning was added to the program insisting that the evening bore no relation to current events.
In any event, 1939 & the years immed. thereafter seem to show evidence of even wider interest in USA in "folk forms" (a step backward? or away? or beyond? or "deeper"? who knows/cares?), and not just those of the USA:
Decca's 1939 album by the Russian Imperial Singers, Russian Folk Songs; from the liner notes:
With the changes which have taken place in the musical as well as the political life of Russia, a tremendous interest has grown up abroad in the music of the earlier days, and the distinctive manner of its performance. . . . The Russian Imperial Singers is a group of five men who are carrying on the artistic traditions of the music of Czarist Russia.
A final advantage of a brief digressionary epilogue into 1939 would be to mention Garbo's immortal "Ninotchka" (1939).
"Ninotchka" is not a musical -- but what if it were?
Thus could be bootstrapped in a final quote from the lyrics (as noted here, on Clive Davis's cool blog) of that show's "Siberia":
Then we're sent to dear Siberia, To Siberi-eri-a, When it's cocktail time 'twill be so nice Just to know you'll not have to phone for ice. When we meet in sweet Siberia, Far from Bolshevik hysteria . . .
Final (and perhaps only) good reason that America Sings of Bolshevism!* should exist at all:
inclusion of CDs of recordings of all the songs.
*(a title that admittedly is silly, if not ridiculous, if not stupid.