The 1930s were a forgotten decade when it came to popular culture. Despite the revolutionary innovations in recorded sound (i.e., the advent of radio and the demise of silent film), the Great Depression muted the music industry. Nevertheless, the Top 10 Music Artists of the 1930s persevered, helping to ease the burden for listeners across the country.
And so, without further ado, here are the Colin’s Review Top 10 Music Artists of the 1930s.
10. Jimmie Rodgers
Jimmie Rodgers more or less invented country music in the 1920s, and his discography in the 1930s helped propel the genre into a profitable future. Despite his untimely death in 1933, Rodgers remained one of country’s most influential voices. He has three songs in Colin’s Review’s 50 Best Songs of the 1930s, the only country artist to repeat the feat back-to-back.
9. Artie Shaw
As one of the most popular bandleaders of the Swing Era, it’s no surprise that Artie Shaw features prominently throughout the 50 Best Songs of the ‘30s. He pushed big band swing to its limits and still had the time to craft some of the decade’s biggest pop hits.
8. Al Bowlly
British bandleader Ray Noble deserves an honorable mention here, as his partnership with South African-born singer Al Bowlly was Europe’s finest musical export of the decade. However, Bowlly was the one who brought their collaborations to life — highlighted by “Midnight, the Stars and You,” the third-best song of the decade (and one of the greatest of all time).
7. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday was only a teenager when she burst onto the scene in the ‘30s. Yet she possessed a uniquely expressive voice that was wise beyond her years. Holiday’s highly personal style made her one of jazz music’s most unforgettable artists. She places twice in the Best Songs of the ‘30s list.
6. The Boswell Sisters
The Andrews Sisters may have been more popular, but they weren’t nearly as inventive (or original) as The Boswell Sisters. Their intricate vocal interplay (which included a complex scat language known as “Boswellese”) helped them become one of the most successful female acts of the Swing Era.
5. Fats Waller
Fats Waller probably deserved to be on the 1920s version of this list. His songwriting was even better in the ‘30s, which is why his inclusion here should come as no surprise. For the second decade in a row, Waller has a song featured inside the Best Songs Top 10, making him one of the only artists in Colin’s Review history to accomplish this feat.
4. Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington adapted seamlessly to the Swing Era, as evidenced by four of his songs being featured in the Best of Decade list (including the #4 selection for the second time in a row). By this point in time, Ellington was only surpassed by Louis Armstrong in terms of modern music legacy — and he was quickly closing the gap.
3. Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson only recorded a handful of songs, yet his legacy lives on. That’s an understatement; he’s undoubtedly the most legendary musician in blues history. Of course, much of that has to do with the popular myth that he sold his soul to the Devil. But let’s set that aside for now — Johnson’s music proves that he was the genre’s most creative and captivating performer. The King of the Delta Blues Singers compilation is the decade’s second-best album, while three of Johnson’s songs place in the decade’s top 15.
2. Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert was a turning point for jazz and pop history. From that point on, big bands became as famous as baseball clubs, and fans could recite an entire lineup on any given night. The Benny Goodman Orchestra featured a murderer’s row of jazz giants, including Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, with Goodman himself as the mastermind behind it all.
Goodman’s run in the ‘30s was incredible: the best album of the decade and two songs featured inside the ‘30s Top 10.
1. Bing Crosby
No one changed pop music more than Bing Crosby. In fact, the numbers don’t even do him justice: three songs in the decade’s Top 50 and one album in the Top 5 are only half the story. Crosby was prolific, innovative and adaptable, and he also was a star on radio and in movies. He mastered every form of media. As far as Crosby’s music goes, nothing beats the intimate crooning of his early period. Every song he made in the ‘30s is good — and there are hundreds.